This hasn’t been the season Wisconsin envisioned, but coach Paul Chryst remains curious to see where it all leads.
The Badgers take a 6-3 record to Penn State on Saturday, sitting one game behind a Northwestern team it lost to in a West Division race it was expected to win.
“I feel like this team is still trying to find its identity,’’ Chryst said.
He likes the way Wisconsin prepares on a weekly basis and likes the make-up of the group he is working with, even if the Badgers haven’t had the kind of season they anticipated.
“Each season is an interesting time and we’ve had our good moments, but every team wants to go undefeated, wants to do great things,’’ Chryst said. “We’re not there, but we do have a group of players who want to work and improve and see where it leads.’’
Wisconsin plays its next two games on the road, following this week’s game at Penn State with a trip to Purdue before finishing the regular season at home against Minnesota.
The Badgers still cling to hopes of winning a third consecutive West Division title, something that will require not only Wisconsin to win out but will also need Northwestern to lose two of its final three games.
Linebacker T.J. Edwards said the margin for error has evaporated.
“I think every game is a must win at this point,’’ he told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We’re at a point in time where it’s November football and you have to play your best to make it happen down the road. We’re definitely going to need our best.’’
NEBRASKA HOMECOMING: Saturday’s game at Nebraska is a homecoming of sorts for Illinois quarterback A.J. Bush.
The Fighting Illini graduate transfer from Virginia Tech started his collegiate career with the Cornhuskers, spending two seasons in a reserve role there before transferring to Iowa Western Community College.
MAKING A MOVE: P.J. Fleck could have waited until the end of the season to make a change in his coaching staff, but Saturday’s 55-31 loss at Illinois proved to be the last game for Minnesota defensive coordinator Robb Smith.
The move comes after the Golden Gophers gave up a combined 139 points and 1,789 yards in its most recent games against Nebraska, Indiana and Illinois.
Fleck fired Smith on Sunday and named defensive line coach Joe Rossi as the Golden Gophers’ defensive coordinator. Rossi will also assume Smith’s role as Minnesota’s linebackers coach.
“This is something I have been thinking about for a significant period of time,’’ Fleck said. “It wasn’t an overnight thing, but once the decision was made, why not move forward? We have a big three-game stretch coming up.’’
Smith has ties to the Iowa program, beginning his college coaching career as quality control and defensive graduate assistant for the Hawkeyes from 1999-2001 during Kirk Ferentz’s first three seasons at Iowa.