Bret Bielema can’t help but wonder how his Wisconsin football team would do against the likes of Alabama and LSU. The Badgers are conceivably two Hail Marys away from having that opportunity, having lost on the final play of the game at Michigan State and in the final minute at Ohio State one week later. That hasn’t, however, led Bielema to advocate for a playoff, though he prefers the plus-one model.
First things first, though. The Badgers get an opportunity to exact some revenge against Michigan State on Saturday as the two tangle on Saturday in the first ever Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Bret Bielema joined 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis with Dan Dakich to Wisconsin’s win over Penn State that advanced the Badgers to the conference championship game this coming weekend, how his defense has turned things around since the two losses in the middle stages of the season, the excitement surrounding the first ever Big 10 Championship Game, getting a shot at redemption against Michigan State in the title game, Montee Ball’s emergence in the Heisman race and why he’s not an advocate of a full-blown playoff system in college football.
On beating Penn State to get to the Big Ten title game:
“Our guys really, after the two back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, our guys have played pretty well. I’ll take our team against any team in the country. We’ve just played well on offense; defense has done a nice job. I think we’re the only team in the country that’s in the top five of scoring offense and scoring defense.”
What happened to turn your defense around since those two losses?:
“I think our kids, probably a little more on defense than any other phase of the team, realized that every play matters. Both of those games they played pretty well except for maybe four or five plays and those four or five plays cost us big. … And we’ve also had some injuries. This has probably been the most injury-prone year I’ve had as a head coach. We lost our starting corner, our best defensive end, and those things take their toll.”
As a guy who played in the Big Ten and is now coaching there, how exciting is this game?:
“I’d be pulling your leg if I didn’t tell you that this is something I’ve had earmarked since the concept of getting a 12th team in the league. … It’s a very competitive league. People want to beat us up here and there, but it’s a league that you’ve got to show up ready to play every weekend. To get to the championship game, to have a rematch against Michigan State, to play in Indianapolis I think is going to be a great environment.”
Could it have played out any better to be back and have a shot against Michigan State, given how that game ended on the final play?:
“A lot of people are drawn to that. I think our kids are excited about the opportunity and to have Michigan State there, who I really do feel the two best teams in our league are represented in the championship game. … The winner of the game gets to go to the Rose Ball. That’s what’s at stake.”
On Montee Ball now being in the talk of the Heisman Trophy race:
“Montee has done a tremendous job. He’s got 34 touchdowns and over 1,600 yards rushing against some really good defenses in our league. To do it quietly, like he has, is just exceptional. … He’s five touchdowns away from breaking the all-time NCAA record set by Barry Sanders. He already has the Wisconsin record, already has the Big Ten record. … He’s only played in basically two fourth quarters.”
Do you wish there was a playoff in college football?:
“I think the world of college football maybe deserves a plus-one. I’ve always said that I really like the idea of 1 playing 4 and 2 playing 3 and the winner plays in a game. I know this, we’re playing our 13th game in 14 weeks. We’re not a professional football team. Our kids have class, they have academics. … If we put another four- or five-game schedule on our kids’ docket, it’s just unfair to them.”