Badgers Looking to Pick Themselves Up, Get Back In Big Ten Race

Badgers Looking to Pick Themselves Up, Get Back In Big Ten Race

Football

Badgers Looking to Pick Themselves Up, Get Back In Big Ten Race

MADISON, Wis. – It would appear the University of Wisconsin doesn’t have much left to play for.

The Badgers are firmly out of the College Football Playoff picture, taken out of the discussion since the end of September. Wisconsin is likely to see its string of three straight appearances in New Year’s Six bowls end, as the Badgers have not seen their name listed in the first two installments of the poll. And barring chaos, Wisconsin will watch the Big Ten championship game from its couches at home.

But with three games left in the regular season, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard doesn’t use Wisconsin’s preseason No.4 ranking as a barometer of failed accomplishments.

“As coaches, you really start the year off trying to get your team to understand you haven’t earned anything,” Leonhard said Wednesday. “Preseason rankings, especially college football, it’s paper football. You haven’t earned that. Maybe you’re experienced or your depth says you’re a great team, but you have to go on the field to get that done. You have work to make that happen. Your results come out on Saturdays. Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’re going to win and have success.

“That message to our team, which Coach Chryst hits over and over, is you earn everything that you get.”

Although the message from the staff has stayed consistent, Leonhard was candid that he felt the Badgers have had moments where they’ve felt sorry for themselves for failing to reach early expectations. When pressed, he pointed to the September loss to BYU, a shocking 24-21 home defeat that the Badgers, who were 21-point favorites, have seemingly struggled to recover from.

Since then, Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) has dug a deep hole for itself in the Big Ten West, losing three of its last five and essentially sit 1.5 games behind Northwestern (5-4, 5-1) after the Wildcats beat the Badgers, 31-17, in Evanston, Ill., two weekends ago.

“You start playing the scenarios some time as a player, (but) you’ve got to play the game,” Leonhard said. “What’s the talk after you lose? Well, if they’re a one-loss team and there’s six different undefeated teams, who is going to get in? It’s not real.”

“I think our young guys are getting past that, watching what the rankings are every week,” Leonhard added. “You know there’s going to be upsets. You just work so you’re not one of those teams.”

One way for Wisconsin get back on track is pulling off an upset of its own, going into one of the toughest venues in the conference and upsetting No.21 Penn State Saturday in State College, PA. If the Badgers can knock off an equally-struggling program, and Iowa can beat the Wildcats this weekend in Iowa City, things could get interesting.

UW would have to win its final two games (at Purdue and home against Minnesota) and have Northwestern lose either at Minnesota or home against Illinois. If that happens, UW would make its third straight trip to the conference title game.

A UW loss Saturday makes a title game appearance practically nonexistent, needing to hope for an array of losses by Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue that would make winning the Powerball more likely.

What the Badgers have earned to this point is a bowl game for the 17th straight season, extending a program record, but where they go depends on its performance over the rest of the month. Finish 9-3 and the Badgers –riding a four-game winning streak – could play in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, Tampa’s Outback Bowl or San Diego’s Holiday Bowl.

Limp to the finish and the Badgers could go to Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl, New York’s Pinstripe Bowl or San Francisco’s Redbox Bowl.

By the end of the month, Wisconsin’s regular season resume will be completed. Where they go and who they play is still to be determined. The only thing for certain is that the Badgers will have earned whatever they get.

“They’re young kids,” Leonhard said. “They do read things. They do hear things. At times they start to get down on themselves. They start to feel like they’re disappointing people around them, but you always have to come back to that message that football is the most beautiful sport out there because you earn it all. You put it on the field and you get one opportunity. It’s not a seven-game series. You get one and if you don’t go out there and execute on Saturdays, you may have had three of the best practices of the season during the week, it doesn’t matter. (We’re) just really focusing our guys on putting in the work, continuing to get better.”

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