What LSU hangover? Why Paul Chryst won’t let his newly-ranked Wisconsin Badgers take the foot off the gas
Yeah, yeah, yeah, fine. Go on. Laugh. But a couple words you’ll never, ever, ever, ever hear in Ann Arbor just might be worth repeating in Madison over the next few days:
(Come on, now. Stop it. This is serious, here.)
A little backstory: The last team before Wisconsin this week to shoot from (almost) nowhere to the No. 10 spot in the Associated Press poll on the strength of one massive win was Arizona in 2014.
On October 2 of that year, in the fifth week of the season, the unranked Wildcats, coached by former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, stunned then-No. 2 Oregon in Eugene, 31-24.
A few days later, ‘Zona was in the Top 10, and RichRod was — here come the air quotes — labeled a “genius” again.
For about a week.
On October 11, the 5-0, freshly-minted and newly-feted Wildcats hosted unranked Southern California under the lights. And lost, 28-26.
Worse yet, the post-Ducks hangover continued: Arizona dropped two of their next three coming off that Eugene stunner, falling at UCLA, 17-7, on Nov. 1 to slip to 6-2 overall. In the next poll, the ‘Cats tumbled from 14th to 21st.
The lesson? What goes up — especially in a hurry — sometimes winds up going right back down again.
Think like an underdog, even when you’re not. Play hungry, even if your ego is stuffed like a Christmas goose.
Actually, especially if your ego is stuffed like a Christmas goose.
Badgers coach Paul Chryst prefers to keep it real. And keep it the same. Which is why the approach internally along Monroe Street hasn’t veered, even if all the dang chatter outside the bubble has.
“It doesn’t (change),” said Chryst, whose Badgers are at their highest rank since the final poll of 2011 (No. 10). “I think our expectations haven’t changed. The way we go about things hasn’t changed. The noise has shifted. You know, it’s different. No. (With us), it really — it hasn’t changed.”
Hey! We saw that giggle. And, yes, we know — Akron isn’t USC. It might not even be Western Michigan. But the Zips (1-0) do have a pulse under coach Terry Bowden, winning eight games a year ago and notching their first bowl victory ever as a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
They’re also trotting out a veteran defensive coordinator (and longtime Bobby Bowden assistant) in Chuck Amato and arguably the best defensive line in the Mid-American Conference — a group bookended by two Ohio State transfers at defensive end: seniors Jamal Marcus (5.5 sacks, seven tackles for last fall) and Se’Von Pittman (three sacks, four tackles for losses).
Another fun nugget: The last time a Bowden Akron team played one of Chryst’s crews — Pitt in 2014 — the Zips came away with a 21-10 victory.
Granted, Akron also hasn’t taken down a ranked foe in 14 years. In fact, since 1979, the Zips are 1-24 against ranked opposition, knocking off then-No. 25 Marshall at the Rubber Bowl on November 2, 2002.
Basically, Akron sees Wisconsin the way the Badgers saw LSU. Oh yeah? We’ll show ‘em. Why not us? Why not now?
And therein lies Chryst’s main challenge, really: Not letting the favorites become their own worst enemy just because they’re — well, favorites.
A week of being told how great you are can do awfully funny things to teams that don’t know how to get their noses back to the grind, to kids who think being the hunted is an easier ride than doing the hunting in the first place.
“We wouldn’t be really smart,” Chryst checkled, “if last week, we were the huge underdog and we know that approach that we took, and then all of a sudden, to flip the script and (change) who we are. That wouldn’t be real smart.”
Remember RichRod. Otherwise, an opener to remember runs the risk of becoming an asterisk in a month that everybody can’t wait to forget.