No. 20 will have to do for now.
The University of Wisconsin football team debuted at the No. 20 spot of the USA Today America Football Coaches Association poll that was released Monday.
The Badgers, who finished 9-4 last season and tied for second in the Big Ten West, are one of four Big Ten teams in the poll. Ohio State received the No. 2 ranking, Michigan is No. 6 and Michigan State is No. 14.
The poll falls in line with predictions that list the Badgers as the favorite to win the West Division. No other teams from the division made the top 25, though Iowa ranked 26th in points for the poll, just nine behind No. 25 Houston. Purdue and Minnesota received a handful of votes as well.
In addition to junior quarterback Graham Mertz, who will be entering his third year as a starter, the Badgers return second-team all-conference running back Braelon Allen, second-team all-conference defensive lineman Keeanu Benton and third-team offensive lineman Tyler Beach.
A West Division title would be Wisconsin’s first since 2019 when it shared first place with Minnesota and advanced to the Big Ten championship game.
At Big Ten media day last month, the Badgers on hand were excited to get to work.
“There is no better feeling in the world,” junior linebacker Nick Herbig said when asked about starting the season. “I think Wisconsin football has a lot of culture, a lot of history. I’m so excited to get back out there and put that “W” on my chest.”
Alabama is No. 1 in the poll. It received 54 of the 66 first-place votes. Defending national champion Georgia’s six first-place votes were the second-highest total, but the Bulldogs still are third in the ranking behind Ohio State, which received five first-place votes.
With six ranked teams, the Southeastern Conference has the most teams in the poll. The Atlantic Coast Conference is next with five followed by the Big Ten and Big 12 with four each.
Wisconsin, which was ranked No. 15 in the poll at the start of last season, will have plenty of chances to climb in the ranking.
The Badgers, who open the season at home against Illinois State on Sept. 3, open Big Ten play at Ohio State and will get a shot at another ranked team, Michigan State, on Oct. 15 in East Lansing.
“I’m excited,” Mertz said during Big Ten media days. “We’ve got a great team, a bunch of guys that care about each other, love each other.
“We’re ready to go play. We’re going to be a fast offense, an aggressive offense and obviously we’ve got a hard-nosed defense. It’s going to be fun to play with them.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin 20th in USA Today America Football Coaches Association poll