Illinois losing opened the door for the Badgers to potentially win the Big Ten West but their focus is on the present

Wisconsin is well aware of what happened in Champaign on Saturday. The Badgers know very well that Michigan State upsetting Illinois as a 16-point underdog gave them life in the race for the Big Ten West. But while fans and certain members of the media are poring over the division tiebreakers to determine how Wisconsin can make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game, the team says its focus is only on Saturday’s matchup with Iowa.

“It’s awesome to have that opportunity possibly on the table, but on our end winning out is our goal,” tight end Hayden Rucci said Monday. “We have some things to take care of first and hopefully other pieces fall into place.”

As it stands, Wisconsin is in a four-way tie for second behind Illinois. The Badgers, Hawkeyes, Minnesota and Purdue are all 3-3 and one game back in conference play with three games to go. The Illini would win head-to-head tiebreakers with Wisconsin, Iowa and the Gophers, so those teams likely need to have Illinois lose twice more. The Boilermakers could help with that as they travel to face the Illini on Saturday.

“The biggest thing at this point in the season is we don’t control our destiny other than winning,” interim coach Jim Leonhard said. “And that’s the place that we’re in. So we’ve got to handle our business. We have to go and win a big game, keep yourself in the conversation and give yourself a chance to cause some pressure on these other teams going down the stretch.”

The Badgers next two games are on the road — at Iowa this week and at Nebraska next week — before finishing up the regular season against Minnesota at Camp Randall Stadium in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Illinois, meanwhile, will play its final home game this week against the Boilermakers with games at No. 3 Michigan and at Northwestern remaining.

“You just hope that maybe (Illinois is) feeling a little bit of pressure and heat if the rest of the conference plays well,” Leonhard said. “I really don’t care if the rest of the conference plays well outside of us. I’m excited. Our guys are playing well. They’re playing off of each other and it’s a huge stretch of games for us. We just got to take them one game at a time.”