How good was the University of Wisconsin football team Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium?
Good enough to commit four turnovers and still emerge with a 38-14 rout of an Iowa team that was ranked 20th in the latest College Football Playoff standings. Good enough to make a positive statement to a CFP selection committee that has doubted it due to its soft schedule. And good enough to, well, show everyone how good it can be if it ever eliminates the offensive mistakes that have plagued it early in games all season.
"We had four turnovers tonight and we still won by a pretty good margin," left tackle Michael Deiter said. "If we can just tone the turnovers down, just calm everything down, (give) no big plays to defenses, we can be a really good team. I think we are a really good team. We just have to clean that stuff up."
On a day when almost every team in playoff contention made a statement one way or the other, the Badgers put themselves in position to make a jump up from eighth place in the standings, in part because teams ahead of them -- Georgia, Notre Dame and TCU -- lost Saturday and in part because they showed the committee they can utterly dominate a ranked opponent.
Given that quarterback Alex Hornibrook spotted Iowa seven points at the start of both halves by throwing pick-sixes, the committee might have to look at the nitty gritty to see just how dominant UW was against Iowa. But looking at the fine print is what the committee is supposed to do, right?
If the members do their due diligence, they'll see a UW team with very possibly the nation's best defense. They'll see that an Iowa team that scored 55 points -- 48 by the offense -- on then-No. 3 Ohio State one week earlier could do absolutely nothing against a defense that put up historically good numbers.
There were so many stunning numbers it's hard to know where to start. Iowa had 66 yards on 50 plays, the fewest yards UW has ever allowed to a Big Ten opponent in the modern era. Iowa rushed for 25 yards on 26 rushes. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley completed eight of 24 passes for 41 yards while losing three turnovers. Of Iowa's 14 possessions, 10 went three-and-out. Iowa ran only two plays in UW territory, both from the 48.
"They were a lot of fun to watch today," coach Paul Chryst said. "So many different guys stepped up and made plays. That was a heck of a performance by our defense."
This against an offense that had gashed Ohio State's supposedly elite defense for 487 yards and six touchdowns seven days earlier, a startling result that caught everyone's eye, including the committee's.
"We haven't played a complete game until now, I think," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "That's just one game. We've got to keep going. I wasn't shocked or surprised. I think everyone had a fire to them this week. We knew it was Iowa. We would get their best and we had to match it."
UW's defensive performance alone should be enough to turn the committee's head. Even if the members aren't enamored with UW's mistake-prone offense, they have already established a precedent of rewarding one-dimensional teams.
Just last week, the committee overlooked another typically bad performance by Oklahoma's defense, putting the Sooners three spots ahead of UW in fifth after their 62-52 victory over Oklahoma State. Oklahoma has the nation's most explosive offense, rolling up 785 yards against the Cowboys, but its defense allowed 661 yards in the game.
Well, UW's defense was just as impressive Saturday as Oklahoma's offense was the week before. And, even with the turnovers, the Badgers offense was better than the Sooners defense. By routing Iowa, UW gave the committee something to chew on for the first time all season.
"The sky's the limit for us," center Jason Erdman said. "We've got to focus on ourselves and turnovers and everything. We let them score; we threw two pick-sixes. But they didn't have any offensive touchdowns. Our defense is playing phenomenal. We could do great things if we keep playing together."
The last item on UW's agenda is to eliminate the offensive mistakes. Against Iowa, UW had three drive-stopping penalties, Hornibrook threw three interceptions and tailback Jonathan Taylor fumbled twice, losing one. Per usual, the offense recovered to help the Badgers pull away in the second half, but UW's future will depend on eliminating those mistakes.
Much of that falls on Hornibrook, who has thrown 11 interceptions in seven Big Ten games. Asked if he was losing patience with Hornibrook, Chryst didn't sound inclined to give up on a quarterback who has won his last 16 starts and once again demonstrated his ability to rebound from interceptions.
"I think you're trying to find out how can you help him," Chryst said. "Certainly, he's made a lot of really good plays and big plays for us, and certainly there is a theme of turnovers. They're all a little bit different. Even these ones tonight are a little bit different. So I think you've got to look at the whole picture. You can't be (making decisions) just on the result of it."
Chryst didn't attempt to minimize the interceptions, saying they are hard to overcome. But the Badgers have overcome a lot to finally put themselves in position to show how good they really are.