Despite two losses in its first six games, Wisconsin remained ranked 10th in this week’s AP Top 25 poll. Its only losses came to No. 2 Ohio State in overtime and by seven points at No. 3 Michigan.
With six regular-season games remaining, the Badgers still can orchestrate a strong season. They might receive another shot at Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten title game.
The push starts on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPN) with a trip to defending West Division champion Iowa (5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten). A Wisconsin win moves it a step closer to a title and into a showdown with first-place and No. 8 Nebraska next week in Madison.
Paul Chryst is thankful for the respect shown to his program by keeping it in the Top 10. In the end, his team controls its destiny.
“That’s the beauty of the season. It’s a journey,” Chryst told reporters in Madison on Monday.
“What you do each day and each week puts it all into the story of who you were. We want to be the best team that we can be and the only way to do that is to have the best day you can have. And at the end of the year we can write who we were and what we were. We don’t need (the ranking) to validate who we are and what we are, but you appreciate it.”
No team in the country has played a tougher schedule than the Badgers. They knocked off then-No. 5 LSU in the season-opener before facing Michigan and Ohio State the last two weeks. They also won, 30-6, at then No. 8 and defending Big Ten champion Michigan State to kick off the conference slate.
Saturday night’s 30-23 overtime setback against the Buckeyes stung. Wisconsin led 16-6 at halftime and 23-20 midway through the fourth quarter.
After the loss, several Badgers took responsibility for not playing well enough. They included offensive lineman Michael Deiter and Derrick Tindal, who was in coverage on the game-winning touchdown the last two weeks.
“That’s what I like about this group and what I appreciate from this group is that they want to get better. It matters,” Chryst said.
“They want to contribute to the team. And when they don’t, they feel like they’re letting the team down. That’s the balance. You don’t want them to feel the negativity but boy you appreciate that responsibility and that accountability.”
During the tussle with second-ranked Ohio State, Wisconsin gained a return to form for talented running back Corey Clement, who has been slowed by injury the last two seasons. The senior from New Jersey rushed 25 times for 164 yards, his best output of the season.
“I don’t think he doubted himself as a player but I think you still have to go do it. Hopes not a method but he can take that and build on it. There are still some areas that he can see he can be even better,” Chryst said.
Wisconsin also could receive a boost this week from senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel, who missed the last two weeks with a knee injury. The captain and two-time all-Big ten selection is listed as questionable.
“As far as chances, we’ll see how the week goes,” Chryst said. “Vince loves playing the game. He really, in all the right ways, cares about this team. So, that’s been the sting for him.”
Iowa ended a three-game losing streak against the Badgers last season with a 10-6 win in Madison. The Hawkeyes have defeated Minnesota and Purdue on the road the last two weeks.
“They’re playing well. We know going down there it’s going to be a heck of a game. We just need to have a great week of preparation then we get to go play Saturday. Looking forward to it,” Chryst said.