Wilson leads Badgers into Big Ten title game
And while the 15th-ranked Badgers threw away a potential shot at the national championship with back-to-back road losses in late October, Wilson still got his wish.
The Badgers will play No. 11 Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis on Saturday, with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. And if Wilson was disappointed after the Badgers fell out of the national title picture, he shook it off quickly.
“Every season you start off you want to end up No. 1, obviously,” Wilson said Monday. “It all starts with winning your conference, and we have an opportunity to do that this weekend. That’s the way we look at things right now. I love the game of football. Win, lose or draw at any point, I love the game, and that’s what I play for.”
The former North Carolina State quarterback left minor league baseball to return to college football this season, choosing Wisconsin over Auburn—in large part after meeting the XXL-size Badgers offensive linemen who would be protecting him every week. Wilson already had graduated from N.C. State, so he could play right away.
Wilson immediately filled the team’s only significant void. Through 12 games, he has completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 2,692 yards with 28 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Wilson has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 36 straight games, tying former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell’s NCAA record.
With Wilson and running back Montee Ball, who has 34 touchdowns this season, the Badgers’ offense has perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the nation. Asked who he’d vote for if he had a ballot for Big Ten offensive player of the year, offensive lineman Travis Frederick just threw up his hands.
“It’s not my job to pick that and I’m glad it’s not my job to pick that,” Frederick said. “I think there’s a couple guys on our team that have done a phenomenal job and a couple guys throughout the rest of the conference who have done a good job, so I’m happy it’s not my choice.”
And Wilson’s stock has gone up during his short time with the Badgers. Although he isn’t as tall as the prototypical NFL quarterback—he’s listed at 5-foot-11, and that might be a tick generous—Badgers coach Bret Bielema says pro scouts have spoken highly of his chances at the next level.
For now, though, Wilson just wants to get the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl.
“I knew that if I came here that we’d have an opportunity to excel, and possibly have an opportunity to play for the first-ever Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl,” Wilson said.
But that means getting past Michigan State, the team that derailed Wisconsin’s season on a shocking last-second pass for a 37-31 Spartans victory on Oct. 22.
The Spartans have beaten the Badgers two straight years, and three times in the past four seasons.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Wilson said. “I think that’s usually the case pretty much every season.”
Wilson took a safety in that game, and still wonders if he could have done something different on that play.
“We got caught there in a funny situation on the two-yard line, I come out, play-action fake, the guy’s blocked initially and all of a sudden, he comes out of nowhere,” Wilson said. “And I have to think about, ‘OK, what can I do in that situation?’ The only thing I could have possibly done is maybe before the play, possibly think about, ‘What’s my escape plan? How am I going to do this?’ That’s growing as a quarterback.”
Having an escape plan usually isn’t a problem for Wilson. His mobility is one of his strongest assets, and he was able to break several tackles for big gains in Saturday’s victory over Penn State to demoralize the Nittany Lions’ defense.
“I believe that I go through my progressions first, and if something’s not there, now it’s time to improvise,” Wilson said. “A couple of times against Penn State, I knew it was third down, we had to come up with a huge first down. Things weren’t there, and I had to make sure we got the first down to keep the drive moving.”
With the Badgers preparing to play in the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, Wilson says it will be “awesome” to play in an NFL venue. He noted it’s the first time he’s played a game indoors.
“We obviously practice indoors sometimes here, so I’m sure we’ll do that quite often this week,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”