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Today is Tuesday, Nov. 15, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
No assuming here
For the Wisconsin football team, the upsets that happened all over the country this past week served as a reminder to not taking anything for granted. Any day at any place, any team can pull out a win that no one else thought was possible. The Badgers can’t assume just showing up this week at lowly Purdue will result in a fifth straight win and put them on the verge of a Big Ten West division title.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst has made sure to let his team know that.
“You have to be (in the moment). There’s recent history — real recent — if you just assume something (will happen),” Chryst said Monday. “We do a little dictionary game, make sure they understand what assume says. And that’s the truth.”
PC said he doesn't worry about his team overlooking teams. Says he worries more about the messages the team hears from the outside world
— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) November 14, 2016
Deconstructing the word — (ass)(u)(me) — into three parts will give you Chryst’s meaning, and it’s something that hits home for players. They watched on Saturday night as three of the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings lost. It’s not to say those teams took winning for granted, or just assumed they’d walk away with a win. But it happened, and the Badgers don’t want that to be them this Saturday.
“It’s crazy to see what just happened this past weekend. I don’t think we want to put ourselves in that position,” Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “Our motto is win the day. That’s Monday, and that goes all the way through the week until Saturday. I think we’re going to continue to stay that course.”
And why not? It’s served them well so far. Everyone questioned whether there would be a letdown following a win over then-No. 5 LSU to open the season. Wisconsin smashed Akron 58-10 the next week. Following the toughest five-game start to a Big Ten schedule in school history, many wondered if the Badgers would lack juice against Northwestern or Illinois in the two games after the brutal stretch. They beat the pair by a combined score of 69-10.
You: Hey, can we get highlights from today's win?
Us: Say no more. https://t.co/HeV29uRgyZ
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 13, 2016
So with another so-called “trap game” against Purdue facing them in West Lafayette, the question of where Wisconsin is mentally has surfaced again considering the big games the Badgers could have down the line. But the players say nothing has changed, and perhaps the focus is even stronger after watching the upsets on Saturday night.
“In order to get where we want to go, we’ve got to beat Purdue, (and) we’ve got to be Minnesota, and then whatever happens after that,” running back Dare Ogunbowale explained. “We were just excited to watch the (upsets). Now we know we’ve got to beat Purdue to make (those games) matter.”
To stay or go?
With two games left in the regular season, questions are already starting to come to a few players regarding whether they will declare for the NFL Draft or return to Madison for their senior years.
Ryan Ramczyk, who some have called the best left tackle prospect in the draft, said recently he’ll talk it over with his family and coaches once the season is done. And on Monday, T.J. Watt, listed by NFL Draft Scout as the third-best outside linebacker prospect, was asked by 247Sports whether he’d be back in Madison for his final year.
“I don’t really read much of that stuff, so I don’t really know what people are saying,” Watt said. “At this time, I’m focused on the here and now. I’m not focused on what’s going to happen after the season.
“Right now, the only thing on my mind is Purdue.”
Both guys have shot up NFL draft boards this year, going from virtual unknowns to two of the best players on Wisconsin’s roster. A first-year starter after sitting out last season following his transfer from Division III UW-Stevens Point, Ramczyk was on numerous midseason All-American teams and can be found in the first round of many mock drafts. Watt leads the team in sacks (7), tackles for loss (10.5) and hits on the quarterback (9). It would be a luxury for the Badgers to get either one back for another year, but it’s also unlikely.
The offensive tackle class is said to be down from recent years, making Ramczyk much more sought after, while Watt has dealt with injuries his entire career and might not want to chance another serious one without the benefit of getting paid. He also has the example of his brother, J.J., who went from an early second or late first-round pick when he declared to going No. 11 overall to the Houston Texans.
If either decides to stay, it would be a coup for Chryst and his staff. If Ramczyk sticks, it would allow them to keep the entire offensive line together, and it’s been clear in recent weeks what that type of continuity can mean for the run game.
Meanwhile, if Watt were to return, he could pair with fellow senior Garrett Dooley and sophomore Zack Baun to give the Badgers another outstanding group of outside linebackers to go with the stellar guys they have on the inside.
It’s hard to see either staying, though, and it’s impossible to blame them for striking while the iron is hot.
Still looking good
We’ll find out late Tuesday night where Wisconsin sits in the College Football Playoff rankings, but at least one writer believes the Badgers are in a good spot as the regular season enters the final two weeks. In his breakdown of potential playoff contenders, Fox Sports Stewart Mandel put Wisconsin in his “Still in good shape” category along with one-loss Washington.
“Wisconsin: The Badgers could finish as an 11-2 Big Ten champ that would beat a Top 10 team in the conference title game on top of two Top 25 wins already (AP No. 16 LSU and No. 19 Nebraska). And their two losses were to Top 5 teams Ohio State and Michigan. They’d trump the Big 12 and possibly Pac-12 champs.”
The Badgers will likely come in at No. 6 in the rankings, jumping Washington after its loss to USC. And that’s a perfect spot to be with a whole lot to play out with the teams in front of them. It seems incomprehensible that Louisville and Clemson will both make it out of the ACC, while Michigan or Ohio State will pick up its second loss when the two meet later this month.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 13, 2016
For the Badgers, it’s simple. Win and watch others fall by the wayside. Do that and Wisconsin should be in Atlanta or Glendale, Ariz. on New Year’s Eve for one of the two semifinal games.
Future walk-on honored
The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association released its all-state teams on Tuesday, and there were plenty of future Badgers represented, including Darlington running back Hunter Johnson, who was named the offensive player of the year.
Johnson, a walk-on commit, has run for 2,071 yards and 40 touchdowns so far this season as his Redbirds prepare to play in the WIAA Division 6 state title game on Thursday.
Wisconsin’s walk-on program has been key to its success in the last 25 years. Former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez made it a priority and the players have thrived. Guys like J.J. Watt, Jared Abbrederis, Mark Tauscher and Jim Leonhard are the main attractions, but other recent names like Alex Erickson, Joel Stave, Jack Cichy and Dare Ogunbowale have all made significant contributions.
No one knows what Johnson or the other walk-ons will do once on campus. But everyone knows they’ll get a chance. And that is all they — or anyone — can ask for.
- Michigan DL knocks down an Iowa fan in the celebration following the Hawkeyes’ upset win
- Nebraska’s Mike Riley has quietly built himself a solid Coach of the Year resume
- Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh says he hasn’t heard whether his QB, Wilton Speight, will miss the rest of the year
- Will Ohio State jump to No. 2 in the CFP rankings? The Buckeyes have a case
- Michigan State’s next big task? Taking down No. 2 Kentucky