Expectations have been high inside the University of Wisconsin football program for months now, so Chris Orr and others say it’ll be business as usual even though the outside world is starting to take notice.
Signature victories change perceptions, and that was certainly the case after the Badgers rolled to a 35-14 victory over Michigan on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. A day later, UW vaulted five spots to No. 8 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“It doesn’t change anything, for us at least,” Orr said after the game when asked what, if anything, changes now that others are catching on that the Badgers might be in store for a special season. “It might change what the critics say about us, it might add more cameras. But it’s not going to change anything that we do. At all.”
Back in August, when preseason predictions were trickling out, the general consensus was that if anyone was going to wrestle the Big Ten Conference title away from Ohio State, it’d be Michigan. Now it’s the Badgers (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) and not the Wolverines — who dropped nine spots to No. 20 in the AP poll — in that position.
In fact, it’s tempting to start imagining how big the game between UW and the No. 5 Buckeyes on Oct. 26 in Columbus could be.
Don’t worry about the Badgers falling into that trap. They have three home games to play before meeting Ohio State, starting with one Saturday against struggling Northwestern (1-2, 0-1).
“People get so caught up in being satisfied,” Orr said. “We try to focus on staying forever hungry, so we have to prove it every week. Just because, ‘Oh, you had a good game last game,’ that doesn’t mean Northwestern’s going to be like, ‘Oh, they’re really good, let’s just lay down.’ You have to prove it to them to. They have to see it.”
What opponents have seen from the Badgers so far is a balanced offense led by junior quarterback Jack Coan (No. 14 nationally in pass efficiency) and junior tailback Jonathan Taylor (No. 1 in scoring).
Meanwhile, Orr and Co. rank No. 1 in several major categories: scoring defense (4.7), total defense (171.3), rushing defense (27.0) and third-down conversion percentage (10.5).
Michigan went 0 of 10 on third downs, making UW opponents 4 of 38 in that category.
“We came in here today knowing who we were and hopefully everybody kind of gets a better sense of who we are also,” UW junior defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk said. “We came in knowing that, in our heads, we are the best defense, so being able to come out and play the way we did today was good.
“It’s something we expected, but it’s not something that’s going to change us. We’re going to keep doing what we do every day, the same way.”
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UW hasn’t been ranked in the top 10 since early last season, which began with massive expectations both internally and externally.
The Badgers were ranked No. 6 when they played BYU early last September. A 24-21 defeat was the first setback in a disappointing season for the Badgers, who went 8-5 and did some soul-searching in the offseason.
“After the season, going back and watching us as a group last year, we didn’t want to be that group anymore,” UW sophomore cornerback Faion Hicks said. “We didn’t want to look like that anymore. Going into the offseason, coaches and players, we set a goal to be better.
“Last year was unacceptable. We don’t want to (do) that again. We owe it to the fans, we owe it to the whole state of Wisconsin that we have to be better as a team. I appreciate our fans and everybody holding us to a higher standard.”
UW picked up a commitment from class of 2021 offensive lineman Riley Mahlman on Sunday.
Mahlman, a 6-foot-8, 270-pounder from Lakeville, Minnesota, is the second recruit the Badgers secured over the weekend. Preston Zachman, a 6-2, 205-pound linebacker from Catawissa, Pennsylvania, announced his commitment on Saturday.
Mahlman is a four-star recruit at tackle and is the No. 1-ranked player in Minnesota, according to 247sports.com.
“Over the last couple of days something became clear, I would love to be a Badger,” Mahlman wrote in a message on Twitter.
Colten Bartholomew contributed to this report