IOWA CITY, Iowa – The program goals for the University of Wisconsin remain a closely guarded secret to the outside world, so guessing exactly what the players listed for themselves prior to the season takes a little bit of guess work.
While there appears to be goals that involve trophies and championships for success on the field, the Badgers have daily and individual goals – win each day, do your 1/11th on the field, etc.
So for those thinking consecutive regular season losses – at No.4 Michigan and to No.2 Ohio State - for the first time since 2012 eroded some of the opportunities the players sketched out for themselves, think again.
“We’re going to handle our business … and try to keep playing Wisconsin football,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “Our goals are still on the table and we’re going to keep striving each day to accomplish them.”
It’s fair to say reclaiming the Big Ten West Division crown was on the list, something No.10 Wisconsin can take a first step for when it plays Iowa (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) at Kinnick Stadium Saturday morning.
After beginning the conference slate with three crossover games, all against teams ranked in the top eight in the country, the Badgers (4-2, 1-2) have the knowledge base that it can compete with some of the best the conference has to offer.
It’s part of the reason why players have shaken off last week’s 30-23 overtime loss to the Buckeyes, acknowledging the fact that the only thing separating the program from an undefeated record are a couple of minor corrections.
“Nobody has lost any courage or their mindset hasn’t changed,” receiver Jazz Peavy said. “We’re still in this. We’ve competed better than anybody against these top teams. We’ve shown we can do it. We just have to make sure we put those games away.”
It seems fitting that Iowa is the first opponent in Wisconsin’s run of six straight West Division opponents. The all-time series favors Wisconsin but only by the slimmest of margins (44-43-2) and pits two physical power teams against one another, usually making it a game where the details matter.
Last year in Madison, Wisconsin outgained Iowa, 320-221, and held the Hawkeyes scoreless in the second half. But the Badgers succumbed, 10-6, because it had four turnovers, including one on Iowa’s one-inch line when offensive lineman Micah Kapoi stepped on quarterback Joel Stave’s foot on his drop back that resulted in a fumble.
“I think we were missing a little bit more fire out there, just really loving the game,” tailback Corey Clement said, who was in Germany recovery from hernia surgery. “I think the guys really want that game back.”
The winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin matchup has gone on to represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship game in each of the first two seasons of the league’s East-West divisional split (Wisconsin, 2014; Iowa, 2015), proving how important the head-to-head tiebreaker is.
If Wisconsin wants to win the West, they know the margin for error is razor thin. But while Wisconsin doesn’t control its own fate, the Badgers can easily climb up the ladder.
Sitting in a four-way tie for fourth place in the conference, Wisconsin sits two games behind Nebraska, 1.5 games behind Iowa and one game behind Northwestern. Win out and UW controls the head-to-head tiebreaker against the entire division.
All UW would need is for Nebraska to lose another game, and considering the Huskers head to Ohio State the week after stopping in Madison, not to mention playing at Iowa the day after Thanksgiving, the Badgers have to like their chances.
“Crunch time,” Clement said. “Time is ticking once again. No more bye weeks, so we have to stay in our playbook, take focus of the type of stretch we have for this Western Division. I don’t want to look forward, but you have Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue all fighting to survive. We’re just another team trying to win another game.”
Since the Big Ten went to a championship game in 2011, the Badgers have represented their division three times and come home with two championships. Winning the Big Ten is certainly on the Badgers’ goal list. The next six weeks will determine whether or not the Badgers can check it off the list.
“We can be a special team,” Clement said. “I really don’t think these two losses define who we are. I think we’re still trying to make a big impact here on the national stage. Hopefully we can see one of those two teams again … I think it will be a different battle once we get to them.”