MADISON – Despite Wisconsin’s 25-point loss to Michigan, a result that ended the Badgers’ College Football Playoff hopes, the path to the Big Ten West Division title remains clear.
UW (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) sits one-half game behind Northwestern (3-3, 3-1), which rallied for a 31-28 overtime victory over Nebraska on Saturday.
Northwestern, UW, Purdue (4-2, 2-1) and Iowa (5-1, 2-1) are the only teams in the West with only one league loss.
UW already has defeated Iowa but faces both Northwestern and Purdue on the road.
Take care of business on the field over the next six weeks and UW can plan on traveling to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game Dec. 2.
Falter again and less attractive options come into play.
“That is all still there,” senior left guard Michael Deiter said after practice Monday. “We can win the West. We can win the Big Ten. And then win a really sweet bowl game.”
Her is a look at UW’s remaining Big Ten schedule.
11 a.m. Saturday vs. Illinois (3-3, 1-2): The Illini returned home last week confident they could build on a 21-point road victory over Rutgers.
That momentum lasted less than one quarter in a 46-7 loss to Purdue, which rolled up 611 total yards. Illinois has allowed 591 yards or more in losses to Penn State (591), South Florida (626) and Purdue.
The Illini have struggled to stop the run or pressure opposing quarterbacks.
“We haven’t played this bad in a game,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith, 3-18 in the Big Ten an 8-22 overall with the Illini, said after the loss to Purdue.
Oct. 27 at Northwestern: Meet the Big Ten’s most confounding team. The Wildcats opened with a road victory over Purdue, lost at home to Duke, Akron and Michigan, won at Michigan State and then wiped out a 14-point deficit to stun visiting Nebraska, 34-31, in overtime Saturday.
Northwestern has a suspect offensive line and no marquee tailback. Quarterback Clayton Thorson hit 41 of 64 passes for 455 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions, against Nebraska.
“To have the guys be resilient and find some ways to make huge plays down the stretch was amazing,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Nov. 3 vs. Rutgers (1-6, 0-4): Former UW assistant Chris Ash is enduring another hellish season. The Scarlet Knights have suffered five losses by at least 21 points and are last in the league in scoring offense (15.1 points per game) and 13th in scoring defense (36.0).
Nov. 10 at Penn State (4-2, 1-2): James Franklin still has quarterback Trace McSorley, who is fourth in the league in total offense at 281.3 yards per game. But the Nittany Lions are reeling a bit.
They blew a fourth-quarter lead and suffered a 27-26 loss to Ohio State and last week gave up a late touchdown in a 21-17 loss to Michigan State.
Both losses came at home.
How will the players respond, knowing they’re in danger of falling out of the running for the East Division title?
Nov. 17 at Purdue: The Boilermakers battled UW into the fourth quarter last season before falling, 17-9.
UW will have to play well to emerge with a victory.
Purdue’s offense, led by quarterback David Blough (282.5 passing yards per game, 10 TDs, two INTs) and freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore (45 catches, 558 yards, five TDs), stresses defenses horizontally and vertically.
The defense, which lost 10 starters from last season, has gotten better since the opening loss to Northwestern.
Nov. 24 vs. Minnesota (3-3, 0-3): P.J. Fleck’s crew scared Ohio State last week before falling, 30-14. The Buckeyes looked disinterested, however. UW’s players won’t be, particularly if they can secure a division title.
“If that doesn’t encourage you to play well,” Deiter said. “First of all, you shouldn’t need that. You’re still playing for all the guys in the locker room. …It is never fun to lose. I don’t care what is on the line.
“But we still have a lot to play for.”