CHICAGO (AP) — Success for the Wisconsin Badgers is about as ho-hum as their leader’s personality.
All Wisconsin does is win under no-nonsense, coach-next-door Paul Chryst.
The Badgers finished a school-best 13-1 last year, missing the playoffs following a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game but beating Miami in the Orange Bowl.
They’re a top contender again to play well into January, let alone the favorites to win the Big Ten West division.
No pressure for the Badgers. Really.
“But I think the part of being a good leader is not showing any weakness in times of pressure and things like that,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “He does such a good job with that, you look to him in times like that, you feel the same way.”
There are few things Chryst likes less than sitting at a podium answering questions, but that’s what he had to do Tuesday in Chicago at Big Ten media days. Chryst answers questions in a polite, often monotone voice. He doesn’t command a room like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer or Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.
Away from the media lights, the down-to-earth personality resonates with players like senior safety D’Cota Dixon. He was asked at one point Tuesday about looking ahead at Wisconsin’s schedule.
“I don’t really look at it like that. Just line up, play football. Whoever is in front of me, beat them,” Dixon said.
A reporter told Dixon that was the kind of simple, one-week-at-a-time response Chryst would deliver.
“Does it? Then that’s a good thing,” Dixon said with a smile.
Chryst characterized the pressure he feels as “doing your job to the best of your ability. Are you doing all you can to help this team?”
Focus on that, on things like making sure players stay in shape or prepare in the classroom, and that in turn gets the team prepared to go for big goals like conference championships.
“I think some of the perceived pressure, because you can’t impact them, I can’t worry about what is being said around the outside,” Chryst said.
Wisconsin is 34-7 since Chryst returned to Madison to coach his alma mater in 2015, the fifth-best mark in the country behind Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. The Badgers are 22-4 in conference play, having won back-to-back division titles.
“They play great defense consistently and they run the ball very well consistently,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Third thing I’d say is they don’t beat themselves. … That’s a pretty good formula for success, you get those three down, it make it tough for people to catch you.”
The Hawkeyes have a reputation of playing tough football, just like the Badgers. Iowa and Northwestern figure to be Wisconsin’s stiffest competition in the West.
“They’ve always had good guys that come through that are big, physical guys and I think especially the line play has been very good,” Iowa defensive lineman Matt Nelson said. “That’s what wins games in the Big Ten.”
At the other end of the division is Illinois, which is 5-19 in two years under coach Lovie Smith. They Illini went winless in the Big Ten last season.
Smith hopes the turnaround starts in Year 3, with a new training facility also scheduled to open in 2019.
“We realize we haven’t won enough football games. But they come, if you continue to do the right things,” Smith said. “We’ve changed the culture of our program. We know the look that we would like to have on the football field.”