No. 24 Badgers aim for a strong finish
The Badgers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) won four of their first five games by eight points or less and were the only FBS team to be undefeated and unranked a month ago.
Losses to Ohio State and Iowa followed and took the luster off the fast start, but Wisconsin routed Purdue, 37-0, on Saturday and now could be favored in every game it has left, even though three are on the road.
“I think a large reason that we moved up so quickly was because it was a 37-0 win,” coach Bret Bielema said Monday at his weekly news conference. “If it was still 37-24, I would think it was a pretty impressive win.”
All four of Wisconsin’s remaining opponents are hovering around .500 and have losing records in conference play.
The Badgers play at Indiana (4-5, 1-4) on Saturday, then return home to face Michigan (5-4, 1-4) on Nov. 14 before going to Northwestern (5-4, 2-3) on Nov. 21. Wisconsin finishes its season Dec. 5 at Hawaii (2-6) before a bowl game.
Bielema said the effort against the Boilermakers was the team’s best to date.
“I don’t have a crystal ball at home. I don’t have special powers to predict anything, but I knew what I saw and what I believed could happen,” Bielema said. “All I needed to do was have them go out and do that. Hopefully, that will continue forward.”
Bielema’s first team in 2006 set a school record with 12 victories. Those Badgers only lost once, but were shut out of the BCS bowl picture because Ohio State and Michigan only lost once combined.
The past two years, Wisconsin regressed with a 16-10 record.
But if the Badgers finish this season with a flourish—and 11 wins—it could propel them into next season when they’ll return every starter but tight end Garrett Graham on offense and seven more on defense.
“There’s a constant struggle between a number of us (in the Big Ten) to jockey for that team that ever so often can make a special run,” Bielema said.
While it seems like it’s Iowa’s turn this year, Bielema says they revolve on the same factors.
“If you stay healthy, you’ve got some great leadership, and you have a couple key difference makers on offense, defense; good things happen,” Bielema said. “You’ve got to have the ball bounce the right way.”
If it does for the Badgers for the rest of this season, Wisconsin will reach double-digits in wins for just the sixth time in program history.
“You believe a little bit in the theory of once they taste (success) a certain number of times, they want to keep going back for it,” Bielema said. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to do that.”