Wis­con­sin’s fate?

9-0 Bad­gers not fret­ting over CFP

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NEWS - Jeff Potrykus Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY Net­work

The un­de­feated Bad­gers may face a harsh Play­off re­al­ity.

MADI­SON, Wis. — As he met with re­porters last week, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Leon­hard gave his blunt take on the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off pic­ture and Wis­con­sin’s best path to be one of the four teams left stand­ing in the first week of De­cem­ber.

What did Leon­hard think of un­beaten Wis­con­sin opening at No. 9?

“The big­gest thing is it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter,” he said. “You have to con­tinue to take care of your business. That is what we push to th­ese guys ev­ery week.

“Hav­ing suc­cess, the beauty about that is it makes ev­ery game big­ger. You’ve just got to han­dle business and in the end see where ev­ery­thing plays out.”

Wis­con­sin (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) took care of business Nov. 4 by dom­i­nat­ing the fi­nal 40-plus min­utes in a 45-17 vic­tory against In­di­ana.

Although turnovers and penal­ties have ham­pered the of­fense too of­ten and the Bad­gers strug­gled to put away Pur­due and Illi­nois, Paul Chryst’s team has played well enough to avoid be­ing up­set.

Ohio State and Penn State, which en­tered the week­end No. 6 and No. 7 in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings, were not good enough to do the same.

Ohio State, a 21-point fa­vorite over host Iowa, turned the ball over four times and sur­ren­dered 243 rush­ing yards and 487 to­tal yards in a 55-24 loss.

Penn State, a 10-point fa­vorite at Michi­gan State, sur­ren­dered 400 pass­ing yards and a last-sec­ond field goal in a 27-24 loss.

As a re­sult, Wis­con­sin could jump the Buck­eyes (7-2, 5-1) and the Nit­tany Lions (7-2, 4-1) in the rank­ings (re­leased after Sports Weekly went to press).

On Nov. 5, two days ahead of the next play­off rank­ings, the Bad­gers led all Big Ten teams in the lat­est me­dia and coaches Top 25 polls. Wis­con­sin moved up one spot to No. 3 in the Amway Coaches Poll, but dropped to No. 6 in the As­so­ci­ated Press me­dia poll.

Ohio State dropped from No. 3 to No. 11 in both polls. Penn State, Michi­gan State, Michi­gan and Iowa also filled slots be­low the Bad­gers in the polls.

Leon­hard cau­tioned that col­lege foot­ball can be a volatile sport.

“Col­lege foot­ball is crazy,” he said. “Things hap­pen ev­ery week. Some­body’s get­ting beat. You’ve just got to fo­cus your guys so you’re not one of those teams.”

So how will the losses by the Buck­eyes and Nit­tany Lions af­fect Wis­con­sin’s chances to fin- ish in the top four and qual­ify for the Play­off?

Re­mem­ber that this week will mark only the sec­ond of six rank­ings. The fi­nal re­lease is set for Dec. 3.

One ar­gu­ment is that the losses, par­tic­u­larly Ohio State’s, will hurt Wis­con­sin’s chances. The logic is that the Bad­gers needed to fin­ish the reg­u­lar sea­son un­beaten and then beat a highly ranked Ohio State team in the Big Ten ti­tle game Dec. 3.

Michi­gan State (7-2, 5-1), No. 24 in the first rank­ings, now is in con­trol of the Big Ten East race.

“I thought com­ing into to­day Wis­con­sin needed to run the ta­ble and beat a highly ranked, one-loss team in the Big Ten ti­tle game,” ESPN an­a­lyst Jesse Palmer said dur­ing half­time of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia-Ari­zona game. “Now that can’t hap­pen. The Big Ten needs chaos to hap­pen. ... The Big Ten, they need a lot of help if they’re go­ing to make it.”

The counter-ar­gu­ment is that a vic­tory against Iowa (6-3, 3-3), which just de­mol­ished Ohio State, would be im­pres­sive.

Michi­gan (7-2, 4-2) isn’t go­ing to win the Big Ten East, but a Wis­con­sin vic­tory against the Wolver­ines, too, would still carry some weight with the com­mit­tee. And what if the Wolver­ines knock off Ohio State in the teams’ reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale?

Re­mem­ber that the 2015 Iowa team opened at No. 9 in the rank­ings but en­tered the Big Ten ti­tle game No. 4.

Only a loss to No. 5 Michi­gan State kept the Hawkeyes out of the Play­off.

“You have to push through that and un­der­stand you’ve got to get bet­ter,” Leon­hard said. “Ev­ery game is big­ger than the next one, and it doesn’t mat­ter what the com­pe­ti­tion is. You get one op­por­tu­nity on Satur­day to get it done, and you’ve just got to con­tinue to find ways to win.”

Leon­hard was asked about the pos­si­bil­ity that an un­beaten Wis­con­sin team could fin­ish out­side the top four.

“The big­gest thing is we can’t change that,” he said. “We don’t have a voice in that room that you can say: ‘Look what we’ve done.’ They’re go­ing to hash that out. As a team, you win. Go un­de­feated, and let them fight about it. You’ve just got to han­dle your business week in and week out.”

BRIAN SPURLOCK/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Safety Joe Fer­gu­son, rais­ing the ball, is con­grat­u­lated by his Wis­con­sin team­mates after mak­ing one of his two in­ter­cep­tions in the vic­tory against In­di­ana.

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