STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The University of Wisconsin’s game at Penn State on Saturday was the last of its kind for the Badgers this season.
There won’t be a breakthrough to the College Football Playoff for UW, or even a third straight trip to the Big Ten title game after the Badgers’ 22-10 loss to the Nittany Lions and Northwestern’s victory over Iowa clinched the West division for the Wildcats.
Moving on from a loss isn’t always quite as difficult when there’s more left to play for, goals still to achieve. The Badgers won’t have much incentive heading into their final two regular-season games — particularly this week at Purdue, when bowl positioning and pride are all that’s on the line.
If nothing else, they simply want to prove they’re better than the team they’ve been through 10 games — an unranked, four-loss squad that fell miles short of preseason expectations.
“No one’s happy right now,” UW left guard Michael Deiter said. “It’s not what we wanted to do. But the reaction can only be, ‘Move on. Get better.’ Simple as that. We’re a good football team, and we just need to play good football the way we can and we’ll win football games. We’ve just got to go do it.”
After a third loss in five weeks, many would disagree with Deiter’s assessment that the Badgers are a good football team, and that negative perception is only amplified by their No. 4 ranking to begin the year.
UW’s experienced other years in which it failed to live up to preseason hype, but this could ultimately mark the first time since 1994 that the Badgers finish a season unranked after beginning in the top 10.
Since the Big Ten Championship game came into existence in 2011, the Badgers have only entered two regular-season games in which they were already eliminated from making the trip to Indianapolis. The most recent came in 2015, a win over Minnesota with Paul Bunyan’s Axe on the line. The other was a puzzling 2013 loss to Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium as 24-point favorites.
UW coach Paul Chryst said he doesn’t believe he’ll need to create any added motivation for his players over the final two games this season.
“You don’t have to spin it with these guys,” he said. “From the get-go we’ve been straightforward with everything. I think we’re all on the same page with the messaging, and it’s clear it helps. We’ve got guys, leaders on this team that help it. So I don’t worry about that part with them.”
Senior captain D’Cota Dixon agreed that leadership could be key to ending the season on a positive note.
The Badgers, understandably, have experienced some ongoing frustration as their season continues to veer off course, and they want to make sure none of those emotions boil over into something more negative.
“I think it’s easy when you’re losing, when you’re down, to always point the blame at someone else, point the attention at somebody else,” Dixon said. “I think that can be easy. I think you do kind of have to be a little careful, and that’s where the leadership I think is vital.”
Chryst often says he wants the Badgers to maximize the season, with the idea being to focus on what the season can be moving forward rather than what’s already happened.
That could be more difficult than ever to live by this week.
“The way you’ve got to approach it is to make the most of each moment,” Chryst said. “We didn’t win (Saturday), and that’s frustrating, and yet we’ve got more opportunities.
“You want to maximize the opportunity that is the season. And we’ve still got a chance to do that. … We’ve still got two games left in it, in the regular season, and it’s, how can we finish this thing out the best we can?”
UW-Purdue kickoff time announced
UW’s game at Purdue on Saturday will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CST from Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., the schools announced Sunday. It will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
The Badgers have won 12 straight over Purdue, with their last loss against the Boilermakers coming in 2003.