UW football: Poised for a grand finale in Pasadena

2010-11-29T10:13:00Z 2010-12-17T14:28:14Z UW football: Poised for a grand finale in PasadenaTom Mulhern | 608-252-6169 | tmulhern@madison.com madison.com

The only thing wrong with this season for University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema is it won't last long enough.

"I would love to play another two, three, four games with this crew, just because they love playing football," Bielema said on Saturday night after his team earned a share of the Big Ten Conference title with a 70-23 victory over Northwestern. "They are very good at it and they enjoy it."

There has been much to enjoy. But Bielema will have to settle for one final big stage for his team and a group of fifth-year seniors that mean so much to him.

At least it's going to end in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1, with UW's seventh trip to the Rose Bowl.

The Badgers held on to their lead on Sunday in the Bowl Championship Series standings over Ohio State and Michigan State, the three teams that finished tied for first in the Big Ten.

Since all three teams have completed the regular season, there is virtually no chance of any change in their order in the final BCS standings next Sunday, which will be used to break the first three-team tie in the Big Ten since 2000.

That means the UW players were right in confidently carrying roses around on the field and in the postgame interview room after defeating the Wildcats.

"It means everything," senior left guard John Moffitt said after the game of going to the Rose Bowl. "When you set out, that was the goal. Winning a Big Ten championship is everything we worked for, so to see that all come together is really special.

"It's still sinking in. I think when I sit back (Saturday night) and have a few juice boxes, I'll really let it sink in and really understand."

With top-five BCS teams Boise State and LSU losing, the Badgers jumped up two spots to fifth with an average of .8185. Ohio State is sixth at .7632 and Michigan State is eighth at .6980.

UW's lead of .0553 over the Buckeyes is slightly larger than the .054 margin of the previous week.

Ohio State is expected to get an at-large BCS berth, probably in the Sugar Bowl. Since there is a limit of two BCS teams per conference — a rule that kept the Badgers out despite an 11-1 regular season in 2006 — the Spartans will probably drop to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., despite beating UW 34-24.

"We're one of the top eight, nine teams in the nation," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said after beating Penn State. "I know only two can come from the Big Ten Conference, but you certainly have to throw our hat into that ring, being Big Ten champions. We're the only football team that's beaten Wisconsin. And I might add, did it convincingly.

"I'll say it twice: we did it convincingly. And if they're up there at No. 6 or 7, we should be right there with them."

The Badgers' likely opponent is TCU (12-0), which is third in the BCS. The Horned Frogs capped off a second straight undefeated regular season with a 66-17 victory over New Mexico. Quarterback Andy Dalton left the game after being hit on the funny bone and losing feeling in his throwing arm. The injury is not considered to be serious.

The only way TCU won't play in the Rose Bowl is if one of the top two teams loses its final game.

Auburn jumped Oregon into the top spot in the BCS, while the Ducks fell to second. Oregon closes out at Oregon State and Auburn faces South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference title game.

If either Oregon or Auburn loses, it could open a spot for TCU in the title game, although that is not a lock. In that scenario, there would also be discussion about one-loss teams such as Stanford or UW jumping ahead of the Horned Frogs.

If TCU goes to the title game, the Rose Bowl would scoop up Stanford, which lost to the Badgers 17-9 in the 2000 Rose Bowl.

The Cardinal are ranked fourth in the BCS and closed their regular season with a 38-0 rout of Oregon State.

Either way, it would mark the highest-ranked opponent for UW in a bowl game since the second-ranked Badgers faced top-ranked Southern California in the 1963 Rose Bowl. TCU is third in this week's Associated Press poll, while UW is fourth and Stanford is fifth.

A matchup with TCU would be intriguing because it leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing 11.4 points per game. UW is tied for fourth in scoring offense — with the Horned Frogs — averaging 43.3 points per game. That average is second-best in the modern era of the Big Ten, trailing only Penn State's 47-point average in 1994.

"It's going to be hard to beat this offense," Bielema said.

The Badgers' confidence is sky high, having won seven straight and beaten their last four opponents by an average of 37.8 points.

"We showed we can compete against anybody in college football if we go out and execute the way we do," freshman tailback James White said. "We know there are going to be good teams we're going to be playing against. We've just got to play tough football."

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