ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Members of the University of Wisconsin football team weren’t shy this offseason about revealing their goal of making the College Football Playoff. After flirting with that accomplishment the past two years, the Badgers — along with many outside the program — believed 2018 could be their time for a breakthrough.
Saturday’s 38-13 loss at Michigan, paired with UW’s shocking defeat to BYU a month ago, crushed any hope of fulfilling those expectations with plenty of season remaining.
With at least six games, and likely more, still to come for the Badgers, they don’t foresee any issues in finding new motivation to carry them forward.
“It’s not like we were saying it’s playoffs or bust for us,” UW left guard Michael Deiter said. “That was never our thing. The goal was to get to the playoffs. Whether or not that’s possible, I don’t know. But it wasn’t, ‘Hey, you guys, we have to make the playoffs or the season’s a wash.’ That was never the mentality, and it’s not going to be now.”
The Badgers’ attention now turns solely to winning the Big Ten West for the third straight year and taking another crack at upending an East Division foe in the conference championship game in Indianapolis.
UW already gained an advantage on its biggest threat to that spot by winning at Iowa on Sept. 22. Even with Saturday’s painful 25-point defeat, the Badgers hold the tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes if their conference records are even at season’s end.
While its recent Big Ten title game appearances haven’t translated to success, losing in 2014, 2016 and 2017, another trip to Indianapolis at least gives UW an opportunity for its first Rose Bowl berth since 2012. For the Badgers, that’s enough incentive to mentally and emotionally pull themselves up from Saturday’s debacle at Michigan Stadium.
“There’s still so much to play for,” UW outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel said. “There’s still a long season ahead of us, and we’ve got a lot of goals that we have yet to accomplish. It starts with the Big Ten West. That’s our No. 1 goal. We still have that right in front of us, and we’ll go from there.”
Van Ginkel also noted UW has too much pride to let this season fall completely off the deep end, and Deiter said the Badgers can’t just lay down midway through the year.
Moving on won’t be easy or instantaneous. How could it be after UW’s worst loss since Paul Chryst took over as head coach in 2015? The Badgers, however, expect to be focused for their game against Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
“Honestly, tonight, it’s gonna hurt,” Deiter said after the game. “You can say keep your head up and stuff, but it’s gonna hurt. You lost a football game that you expected to win. But tomorrow, you’ve got to move on. There’s more football to play.”
UW could make excuses for its poor play — a wild run of defensive injuries, or the preseason departures of key players such as Quintez Cephus and Dontye Carriere-Williams — but the fourth-ranked team in this season’s preseason Associated Press poll simply hasn’t put it together.
The Badgers understand if they don’t move on from Saturday’s disappointment, their play will only worsen in the coming weeks.
“It’s always hard to move forward, I think,” UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “You come here, very high expectations, and to lose like this, it’s tough.
“But the sun will rise tomorrow, so there’s no time for sulking. If we get held in this lull, we’re gonna lose. We have to be at our best every week, so we will be.”