They’ve blocked out what they consider irrelevant chatter for three months:
The Big Ten West Division can’t match up with the East Division.
You avoid Ohio State and Penn State this season.
Your nonconference schedule is awful.
You may be unbeaten, Wisconsin, but you’re also untested.
So how have Paul Chryst’s players responded in 2017?
They’ve gone out and, regardless of the opponent or the venue, have played hard and disciplined football and focused on that opponent, not worrying what might be down the road.
“I do think they’ve done a nice job of that and having fun being in that week,” Chryst said after UW improved to 9-0 in the Big Ten and 12-0 overall with a 31-0 victory over rival Minnesota on Saturday. “I am proud of certainly what they’ve done but also how they’ve done it.
“No matter what the challenge is, the adversity, that comes your way in the course of the week, they kind of handle it together. I do think that is an awfully neat trait this group has.”
Now comes the game of the season.
UW, No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, faces No. 9 Ohio State (10-2, 8-1) in the Big Ten title game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Badgers are expected to crack the top four when the new rankings are revealed at 6 p.m. today on ESPN.
A victory over Ohio State would give the Badgers their first Big Ten title since 2012 and should secure a berth in the playoff.
“There’s definitely a lot riding on it,” redshirt junior left tackle Michael Deiter said. “Most importantly is winning the Big Ten. That is something we want to do.
“All the other stuff, you definitely notice it but there is no reason to put a ton of thought into it. All we want to do is win the Big Ten.”
UW defeated Michigan State in 2011 in the inaugural Big Ten title game. The Badgers routed Nebraska in the 2012 title game but were trounced by Ohio State in 2014 and lost to Penn State last season.
“This will be the third time I’m heading out there and we haven’t won yet,” senior fullback Austin Ramesh said. “It would be awesome to get a win. That is the next challenge."
And the potential playoff berth on the line?
“That has been the talk all year,” Ramesh said. “It’s nothing for us to block it out for one more week.”
Chryst’s players believe a victory over Ohio State guarantees only the opportunity to play a 14th game.
“I don’t want us to get caught up in too much of that,” senior cornerback Derrick Tindal said when asked about a possible playoff berth. “Just play our game. I feel like that’s why we’ve been able to play so well up to this point. Nobody is worried about what the world thinks about us.
“We just worry about who is in that locker room. We’ve just got to keep doing that.”
After capping a perfect regular season by dispatching Minnesota for the 14th consecutive time, UW players were asked whether they envisioned this type of success when camp opened in July.
The answer, offered without a hint of arrogance: Yes, we did.
“We genuinely felt there was no reason we should lose a regular-season game,” senior safety Joe Ferguson said. “We went out there and did it.”
Junior inside linebacker T.J. Edwards concurred.
“I know if we come out and play our best game we can hang with anyone in the country,” he said. “We have to do that week in and week out.”
UW’s players don’t know what they’ve proved to analysts and members of the playoff committee who ultimately will determine the four-team field.
What they do know is they’ve proved to be the better team for 12 games and aren’t finished yet.
“I think any time you go a season without losing, you’re kind of proving that you can bring it every week,” Ferguson said. “As far as proving ourselves to everyone else, I don’t think we worry about that so much.
“We’re going to approach it the same way we have all year and just go out there and try to score one more point than the team against us.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do against Ohio State. We don’t need to change our formula. It’s been working all year.”