Bielema: UW can play with anybody
“I’m not afraid to get in front of a mic,” he said.
Bielema is staying behind in Madison this week while his assistants go on the recruiting trail. He wants to be available to anyone who might want to discuss the Badgers (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) and had another important appointment to keep Tuesday, meeting with a designer to create a conference championship ring.
“It’s kind of a neat thing,” the fifth-year coach said. “My first year I wore that 12-1 ring, because I thought it was a special year, but it wasn’t a championship year and I told our guys two years ago in fall camp, I’m never going to wear a ring until it’s one of our championship rings.”
He’ll get that chance now.
With the Badgers ranked fifth in the BCS standings, they appear destined for the Rose Bowl. A national title shot seems unlikely with undefeated Oregon, Auburn, TCU and a one-loss Stanford ahead of them.
“It would take obviously a change in vote because TCU doesn’t play anymore and other things to happen to the teams in front of them,” Bielema said. “But the world of college football has been crazy ever since I’ve been involved.”
Ohio State is ranked sixth, one spot behind Wisconsin and the Spartans, who beat Wisconsin on Oct. 2, are eighth with the conference tiebreaker for the Rose Bowl being the final BCS standings released this Sunday.
Bielema, who supports a playoff system for the top four teams, said he’s confident his team will land in a BCS bowl game after clinching a share of the Big Ten title in Saturday’s blowout win over Northwestern.
“I believe this team can play with anybody in the country,” he said.
Bielema said he’s most proud of having the fewest penalties (35) in major college football and tied for the fewest turnovers (nine) with Iowa.
“We’re not beating ourselves. We led the Big Ten in turnover margin but also led the country in fewest giveaways, which means you’re not killing yourself,” the coach said. “Montee Ball started off as our third-string running back and won games for us. That’s the stuff that gives me the indication that we could have success against a lot of people.”
Ball, John Clay and freshman James White combined to run for 2,829 yards and 44 touchdowns and Wisconsin is on a seven-game winning streak, outscoring opponents by an average of 26.1 points per game in the span.
The Badgers, meanwhile, have avoided playing the “what if” game after the 10-point loss to Michigan State, lineman John Moffitt said.
“People say to me now, ‘Oh, John, if you played them now, you guys would beat them.’ But that’s just not how football works. And maybe if we played Ohio State now, we wouldn’t win. I don’t know,” Moffitt said. “You’ve got to win when you play them, but I think we’ve made vast improvements since Michigan State and it was a great wake-up call.”
The Badgers made it count, winning over then-No. 1 Ohio State, at Iowa and putting up gaudy numbers on the scoreboard in an 83-20 win over Indiana and a 70-23 victory against Northwestern.
Bielema said he understands the predicament of Mark Dantonio’s Spartans.
Wisconsin was ranked sixth in the AP poll after the regular season in 2006, but failed to reach a BCS game because Ohio State and Michigan received the maximum of two BCS bids from the conference instead.
“I do appreciate exactly where Michigan State is,” Bielema said. “It’s frustrating. You’re an 11-1 football team and you’re on the outside looking in on the BCS, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Dantonio. They beat us. I understand exactly where they’re coming from.
“The one thing I didn’t do, I didn’t go public about it. I stayed pretty quiet about it (until) I made a little jab in the spring. It’s frustrating for you because you work so hard, and to be denied because of that rule is unfortunate.”
That will largely change next year, when the Big Ten holds a conference title game after the addition of Nebraska gives the conference 12 teams.
“If it panned out kind of like where it is now, we’d be playing Michigan State in the championship game,” Bielema said. “That would be a lot of fun.”