UW has the parts to produce wins
He was the only Big Ten head football coach who didn’t use his allotted 15-minute time slot—not by choice, but by the lack of interest his team had generated in coming off a 7-6 season.
Safe to say, things are much different this year.
Bielema was the first speaker to kick off the 39th Big Ten Football Media Days at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency here Monday, and he clearly had everyone’s attention—as does his experienced and talented 2010 team.
With 18 returning starters, including Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay and senior quarterback Scott Tolzien, from last season 10-3 team, the Badgers have been picked by the media to finish third in the conference and contend for the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State, last year’s Rose Bowl winner, is the preseason favorite, followed by Iowa as the choice for second. Michigan State’s Greg Jones and Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor have been selected the conference’s preseason Defensive and Offensive Players of the Year, respectively.
But while the attention turns in his team’s direction, Bielema is playing it cautiously—and optimistically.
“The only way to guarantee tomorrow’s success is by the work you put in today,” he said, “and I think our guys have really bought into that.”
Part of that forward movement has been initiated by the Badgers’ 13-member senior class—a group that saw that double-edged sword dealt with high expectations.
Wisconsin finished 12-1 in Bielema’s first season in 2006, using a team that had a small group of dedicated senior leaders like Joe Monty and Joe Stellmacher. The next season, with Wisconsin returning the majority of its starters, the Badgers opened at No. 7 in the polls and climbed as high as No. 5 on two occasions. But after a 5-0 start, a rash of injuries contributed to a 9-4 finish and a No. 24 final ranking.
The 2006 season mirrors 2009, and Bielema likes it that his players still remember that roller coaster.
“The majority of our players that are going to be significant players in this year’s senior class all went through the scars of that season themselves, in addition to myself and several of my coaching staff,” Bielema said. “We’ll make note of any mistakes that were made that year, but the 2010 season is based on the individuals that are in that room.”
Bielema was referring to the meeting room where he congregated his team after the bowl game (a rousing 17-14 victory over Miami)—a room that gave him his first enlightened moment.
In that first meeting in January, Bielema dismissed the rest of the team to speak to the 13 seniors. What he saw in the first two rows of the meeting hall was a group that involves all players having been starters.
“In my entire coaching career, that’s never happened,” Bielema said. “It’s very unusual having that many guys play a significant role already before their senior year.
“It’s exciting, because all those seniors are in that room because I offered them a scholarship or an opportunity to be there. That’s the first time I can say that … having a senior class come full circle.”
One of those seniors is Tolzien, who had spent three seasons as a reserve until winning the quarterback job in fall camp. He will enter the 2010 season as the unquestioned starting quarterback, having led the Big Ten in pass efficiency at 143.0, completing a school-record 211 passes and having his 2,705 passing yards be the second-most in school history.
“As a head coach, it’s an unbelievable feeling to know that answer’s already there, and to have that answer be Scott Tolzien,” Bielema said.
“He’s a perfectionist, and he’s a detail guy. I think, as a person, he’s really grown so much, even from a year ago to where we are today. He’s got unbelievable confidence.”
And, yes, Bielema and his Badgers have the Big Ten media’s attention—for far more than 15 minutes, they hope.