It's official: Badgers are Rose Bowl-bound
Now the fourth-ranked Badgers get to play in the Big Ten’s marquee game against undefeated No. 3 Texas Christian (12-0) in the Rose Bowl.
Wisconsin (11-1) will face the only perfect team that isn’t in the BCS title game and will play on New Year’s Day for the ninth time in 10 years.
“That’s so special. There’s not many teams that can say that,” UW quarterback Scott Tolzien said Sunday night. “You’re always greedy, in that regard.
“You don’t just want to go to a bowl game. You want to go to a better bowl game. It’s been a nice gradual progression, and hopefully it’s the start of something big for this program.”
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said the three losses last season helped propel the Badgers through a loss at Michigan State in the opening game of Big Ten play this season. Since then, the Badgers have won seven straight to make their seventh Rose Bowl appearance in school history and fourth since 1993.
“I’ve said it a couple times, and I’m not joking, we don’t have to wait 10 years to get back to where we are,” Bielema said.
It actually will be 11 years since Wisconsin made consecutive Rose Bowl appearances in 1999 and 2000, winning two of its three Rose Bowl titles under Barry Alvarez. Alvarez handpicked Bielema as his successor five years ago.
The teams come into this both averaged 43.3 points this season, while TCU’s defense is tops in the nation, holding opponents to 11.4 points and 215 yards a game.
Wisconsin’s offensive line is regarded as one of the nation’s best, and the school is the only one in the country that features three running backs with at least 850 yards rushing.
John Clay, freshman James White and Montee Ball have combined for 44 rushing touchdowns along the way behind the offensive line from left to right of Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler and Ricky Wagner.
The group averages 320 pounds and 138 starts combined, while two more linemen—Bill Nagy and injured Josh Oglesby—have 26 more starts to their credit.
The only common opponent for the Rose Bowl teams was UNLV, and both traveled to Las Vegas this season. The Badgers beat the Rebels, 41-21, in their season opener on Sept. 4, while TCU won 48-6 on Oct. 30.
The Badgers are the first team in the conference since the 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes to lose their opening Big Ten game and go on to win at least a share of the conference championship.
Wisconsin handed out its play of the year and other team awards on Friday night as selected by fans. In Bielema’s opinion, none of the nominees was as important as the touchdown-saving tackle by Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward in Wisconsin’s third game of the season against Arizona State.
The two special teams players tripped up and tackled returner Kyle Middlebrooks just short of the end zone as time expired in the first half, and the Badgers also needed Jay Valai’s extra-point block in the fourth quarter to escape with a 20-19 win.
Even though it was a nonconference game, Wisconsin would have lost the tiebreakers in the Big Ten title chase had it been defeated by the Sun Devils.
“It’s huge right now,” he said. “That’s my favorite, but it’s probably not a sexy play out there.”
Wisconsin lost 34-24 at Michigan State two weeks later to open conference play, but rebounded with the winning streak that put the team in position to go to the Rose Bowl with key drives late against then-No. 1 Ohio State and a fourth-down fake punt at Iowa.
“To win the back-to-back games, I knew we had something special,” Bielema said of the 31-18 victory over the Buckeyes and 31-30 triumph Iowa.
The victories ignited the Badgers in November to a string of scoreboard-scorching blowouts: 83-20 against Indiana, 48-28 at Michigan and 70-23 over Northwestern to seal the season with a trip to the Rose Bowl, where Bielema once played with Iowa.
“It’s just breathtaking how beautiful it is,” the coach said.