After capturing the inaugural Leaders Division title Saturday, the Wisconsin football team (6-2 Big Ten, 10-2 overall) is preparing to take on rival Michigan State (7-1, 10-2) for the Big Ten Championship in a highly anticipated rematch.
In the Badgers’ previous matchup against the Spartans, the Badgers’ aspirations for a national title run were essentially erased in a game filled with unforeseen calamities culminating with senior wide receiver Keith Nichol miraculously catching senior quarterback Kirk Cousin’s desperation heave for the game-winning touchdown.
The juicy prospect of revenge has been making students salivate for this rematch, but revenge has not been emphasized in the locker room.
“I haven’t really heard that out of my kids, and I get why people say that but I don’t think that’s existed,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I don’t really get into the revenge thing. I just don’t understand the point.”
Instead, the Badgers are focused on winning a championship and establishing themselves as one of the flagship programs of the Big Ten next to Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
“When the whole conference realignments came in I knew they wanted to separate those four big boys just because of history, tradition and national titles,” Bielema said. “Over the last three years, nobody in our conference has won as many games as Wisconsin. I feel Wisconsin and MSU are the two best teams in the conference this year, and I’m glad that worked out.”
The opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship game and possibly go to the Rose Bowl is why senior quarterback Russell Wilson came to Wisconsin
“The reason why I came here is I want to be a part of something great and special,” Wilson said. “I knew if I came here we would have an opportunity to excel and possibly have a chance to play in the Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl.”
In order to solidify these aspirations, however, the Badgers know they have to make use of every opportunity they have against the staunch, aggressive defense of the Spartans.
“We have to take advantage of all the opportunities we can get,” Bielema said. “They are obviously a very good defense, and the one thing that stands out to me is they have key guys at each tier and that allows them to play consistent.”
In addition, the Badgers have emphasized consistency and maintaining focus as their primary endeavors this week in practice.
“Right now we are the only team in the country in the top five in both scoring defense and scoring offense,” Bielema said. “That doesn’t just happen, and it’s what we talk about every day. I think its an indication of a team that plays well together.”
In preparation for one of the biggest games of his collegiate career, Wilson is going to treat it as just another regular season game and continue to put high standards upon himself.
“I go through film and grade myself,” Wilson said. “I think about first technique and second I just trace back to the actual emotion of that particular play. I think about how well we were doing and If I could have changed anything that happened. The mental aspect has to be there on every single play and I think I have done extremely well with that this year.”
Fortunately for the Badgers, they will not have to deal with the raucous crowd of Spartan Stadium but will play at a neutral site in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Field, where 2,000 Badger student tickets sold out in eight minutes.
“We get to play in a pro stadium so that’s always awesome and being indoors,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be pretty loud in there and that’s the fun part.”
Wilson has uplifted his teammates and the success of the season has made him an icon not just for college students but also children. Yes, Wilson is playing for his school and his teammates but knows the impact he makes off the field is just as important.
“I realize how blessed I am every day just to be able to walk, just to be able to throw the football, to be able to do different things,” Wilson said. “There are a lot who look up to me and a lot of kids who want to wear 16 jerseys and play on the football field, and I want them to know im thinking about them and praying for them. It’s better than playing the games. It’s something special.”
Ball, Wilson among 17 UW players named All-Big Ten
Wisconsin football’s dynamic offsensive duo of junior running back Montee Ball and senior quarterback Russell Wilson were honored by the Big Ten as the best at their positions and were among 17 Badgers named All-Big Ten, when the conference announced its postseason awards Monday.
Ball scored a Big Ten record 34 touchdowns this season and earned the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year Award. Ball was also a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten first-team by both the coaches and the media.
Wilson—who is on pace to shatter the NCAA pass efficiency record— won the Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year Award and was also a first-team All-Big Ten selection.
Senior offensive linemen Josh Oglesby and Kevin Zeitler were consensus picks to the first-team, while junior Peter Konz was named first-team by the media.
On defense, sophomore linebacker Chris Borland was a consensus first-team selection, while junior Mike Taylor was a first-team media selection.
—By Ryan Evans/The Daily Cardinal