Is Wisconsin CFB's most underrated team?

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Wisconsin's RB duo of Melvin Gordon and James White have had a lot to celebrate this season.

Wisconsin heads to Minnesota on Saturday with Paul Bunyan’s Axe on the line. The Badgers enter the game ranked 19th in the latest BCS Standings, but the argument can be made that they are the most underrated team in the country.

The Badgers are 8-2 and have outscored their opponents by 24.5 points per game, seventh-best in the nation. They are ranked 10th in ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings, a system that evaluates teams on the quality of their résumés based on game results, difficulty of schedule and ability to control games. Both of their losses, to Ohio State and Arizona State, came on the road against teams currently ranked in Top 5 of the Championship Drive Ratings.

Many argue that Wisconsin should have won at Arizona State. A controversial ending to the game prevented the Badgers from attempting a game-winning field goal as time expired. If the Badgers were able to attempt the field goal, they would have had about a 76 percent chance to win. For a detailed description of the play, click here.

If Wisconsin had won that game, it would be 9-1 and ranked fourth in the Championship Drive Ratings, slightly ahead of Ohio State and Baylor. That means that it would have been more difficult to go 9-1 against Wisconsin’s schedule than 10-0 against either of the other teams’ schedules.

Ranked outside of the top 20 for most of the season, Wisconsin’s historic rushing offense has not received as much attention as if the Badgers were more highly ranked.

Wisconsin is averaging 307.9 rush yards per game, sixth most in the nation and on pace to break the school record of 287.5 set in 1974. They have run for at least 200 yards in five straight games, including an FBS season-high 554 yards last week against Indiana.

The Badgers are also averaging an FBS-high 7.01 yards per carry, on pace to be the highest average in 125 years of Wisconsin football (current high is 5.52 in 1996). The only team that has averaged more yards per carry in the last 10 seasons was Nevada in 2009, who set the NCAA record for yards per rush (7.4) in a season with at least 500 carries.

On Pace for History
Wisconsin Rushing, This Season

The Badgers are able to create “explosive” plays in the run game. They gain at least 20 yards on an FBS-high 7.9 percent of their rushes, and have 14 rushing touchdowns of 20 yards or longer, tied with Oregon for the most in the FBS.

Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon (1,306) and James White (1,156) have combined for 2,462 rush yards this season, 337 more yards than any other pair of teammates. Additionally, Corey Clement has 515 yards and seven touchdowns. These three players have combined for 17 100-yard games, easily the most in the FBS (Auburn is second with 12) and one more than the Badgers had all of last season.

In the last 10 seasons, Gordon and White are the fourth pair of running backs from the same team to rush for at least 1,000 yards through their team’s first 10 games.

The offensive line deserves a lot of credit for Wisconsin’s success on the ground. The Badgers are averaging 4.3 yards per rush before first contact, most of any AQ team and 1.8 higher than the AQ average. One key has been their ability to set the edge. The Badgers average an AQ-high 9.4 yards per rush outside the tackles and have made it five yards past the line of scrimmage without being contacted on 33 percent of such carries.

On Saturday, Wisconsin will face a Minnesota defense that has recently struggled against the run. The Golden Gophers have allowed each of their past three opponents to rush for at least 185 yards and five yards per carry. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has averaged 333.7 rush yards per game and 7.2 yards per rush in its past three games.

If the Badgers can keep their running game going and win at a nationally ranked 8-2 opponent, they might finally get their due, in the form of a BCS bowl berth.