MADISON – The University of Wisconsin now knows the road it needs to navigate over the next five weeks if it wants a shot to be one of the four teams to make up the third College Football Playoff.
Well, the fans know what the Badgers have to do. A good portion of the players could care less.
“I didn’t even know they make a show out of (the rankings),” tailback Dare Ogunbowale said.
Whether they stumbled upon the show or not, Wisconsin debuted at No.8 in the initial ranking released Tuesday night.
No.1 Alabama (8-0), No.2 Clemson (8-0), No.3 Michigan (8-0) and No.4 Texas A&M (7-1) currently occupy the playoff spots, followed by Washington (8-0), Ohio State (7-1) and Louisville (7-1).
In the brief two year history of the College Football Playoff, Wisconsin had never cracked the top 10 and had not appeared in the initial rankings in either 2014 or 2015. Of course the Badgers haven’t had a resume that compares to the one they currently have.
With wins over current No.9 Nebraska and No.15 LSU, Wisconsin is one of just three teams with a pair of wins over the current top 15 of the Associated Press poll. UW is also 3-2 against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game. The five games against AP top 10 is a school record and a reason the Badgers have played the third toughest schedule in the country, according to the Saragin Ratings
UW’s only two losses were each by seven points – at No.4 Michigan Oct.1 and in overtime to No.2 Ohio State.
“Whatever may be said about this team, confidence wise, we believe in ourselves,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton. “If you put us out there with any team, we’ll give it our best shot.”
Wisconsin the highest ranked two-loss team, meaning UW’s margin for error is razor thin.
The Badgers also don’t have the luxury of facing a team currently ranked in the regular season. UW closes the season with a road game at Northwestern (4-4), home against Illinois (2-6), at Purdue (3-5) and home against Minnesota (6-2).
“Obviously we lost two games and a goal of ours was to win all our games,” Ogunbowale said. “We have to make sure now that we have to do what we have to do to be in that conversation.”
UW would likely have to win out, including win at Northwestern for the first time since 1999 this weekend, have Nebraska lose one its final four games to give Wisconsin the Big Ten West Division crown and knock off either Michigan or Ohio State to have a chance to sneak into the top four.
Of course, a little chaos at the top wouldn’t hurt, but don’t expect UW players to spend the week trying to figure out the scenarios.
“Coach Chryst does a good job of making us focus on one day at a time, and that’s really all you can control,” tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “If we start thinking ahead, we’ll lose what we’re supposed to do during the day.”
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst acknowledged that the College Football Playoff rankings matter to a lot of people and brings a lot of attention. Beyond that, there’s little worry about what Tuesday night revealed to his football team.
“What really matters is what you do that week,” Chryst said. “All the discussions, none of that helps you play the game. You’ve got to play your season out. At the end of that season, you earn the right to play another game.”