MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Wisconsin football team had plenty to celebrate Saturday evening after keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 14th straight year and finishing a regular season undefeated for the first time since 1912.
In a season with more potential than any in recent memory, however, the Badgers aren’t spending much time reflecting before honing in on the upcoming Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State.
“We’ve got to enjoy it tonight and get back to the grind,” UW wide receiver Danny Davis said after the game. “We still have a lot of business to take care of to complete this journey."
Beating the Gophers set the stage for the following week’s contest to be arguably one of the biggest in program history for UW (12-0, 9-0). With No. 1 Alabama and second-ranked Miami both losing over the weekend, the Badgers will likely move up from their fifth spot in the College Football Playoff rankings when they’re released Tuesday.
A win over the Buckeyes would almost certainly guarantee UW a playoff spot and a shot at competing for the national championship.
"We’re 12-0, but all our goals are still in front of us,” UW tight end Troy Fumagalli said. "We’ll still play with a chip on our shoulder and get ready for this week."
While their playoff fate feels secure with a win next week, the Badgers don’t have any assurances that the College Football Playoff committee will feel the same way. Could the Crimson Tide remain ahead of UW? Could a two-loss Auburn leap into the top four?
The Badgers aren’t trying to answer those questions. Instead, they plan on doing what they’ve done all season — focus on the task at hand. Multiple players stated after the win at Minnesota that UW’s simply keyed in on winning a Big Ten Championship, something the program hasn’t done since 2012.
The Badgers can’t completely control what happens beyond that, so they won’t try. All they can do is continue winning.
“We’ve got to really focus on playing Ohio State next week, and then after that, we can’t control where the committee goes,” UW wide receiver Kendric Pryor said. "We just go out there and play ball. If they decide to put us in, they do. If they don’t, they don’t."
Despite its undefeated record, UW enters this week as 6.5-point underdogs against Ohio State, which suffered losses to Iowa and Oklahoma this year.
The Badgers’ accomplishments this season have been somewhat minimized nationally due to their weak schedule. A victory over a top-10 Buckeyes team could be the final hump towards gaining more respect and pushing into a playoff spot.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, UW will view this season as a historic one. Yet another win, though, could elevate it to an even higher level.
"There’s a lot more football to be played, but what we’ve accomplished so far is really a special thing,” UW running back Jonathan Taylor said. "We just think about one more win. That’s the only thing we can focus on.
"We don’t know what the future will hold, but the only thing we know is that we have one more game left and we’ve got to make sure we get it done."