The University of Wisconsin learned first-hand last season a reality of college football:
The Badgers played in the Rose Bowl, after tying for first place with Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference, because of a higher spot in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, which was the tiebreaker used by the Big Ten since all three teams did not face each other.
"What I do know and understand in this profession is that the polls matter," UW coach Bret Bielema said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "I think that was probably brought to our attention last year more than ever."
With the Big Ten splitting into divisions this year, the BCS rankings won't carry quite as much weight in tiebreaking procedures. The winner of the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis on Dec. 3 will get the conference's automatic berth.
If there is a three-way tie for first within a division, BCS rankings are the fifth tie-breaker, after overall record and record within the division, among other things.
However, BCS rankings hold the key to the Badgers' chances of reaching the national championship game. While that's not a priority right now for UW (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten), which is ranked No. 4 by The Associated Press and No. 5 in the USA Today coaches' poll, it's a reality.
"I do think our kids, in the bigger picture — and we take one game at a time, that's our mentality — but they also understand ... at the end of the year, if you're sitting in a good spot, anything can happen," Bielema said.
That was Bielema coming close, but not quite saying, his players know what's at stake and how the process works.
In fact, Bielema's actions all season speak to that awareness. He has courted the national media like never before, even throwing open doors to position meetings for ESPN's "Depth Chart" television show. Watch a clip now.
He has done that, of course, to bolster recruiting, but also to help the team's national profile.
In the buildup to the Nebraska game last week, Bielema welcomed the national attention and viewed it as a weeklong showcase for the program. He kept telling the players to embrace the opportunity.
"We heard the word ‘opportunity' a lot (last) week and we didn't flinch, we weren't scared of anything," linebacker Chris Borland said. "The bigger the moment, the more guys want to go out there and perform well."
Bielema seems to sense that about this team, which is why he is not shying away from the national title talk.
Of course, Bielema's not going to do anything he thinks will distract from game preparation. But since his players seem so good at following instructions and worrying only about that day's workload, he's happy to let them have all the attention they can handle.
When ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" came calling and wanted to interview senior quarterback Russell Wilson on Tuesday in its "Five Good Minutes" segment, Bielema gave it the green light. Listen to the PTI audio clip here (interview at 9:43)
"If ever there's a time you can let some of this national exposure be a little bit more than (the) norm, it's on a bye week," Bielema said. "If there's a kid that can handle it, it's Russell Wilson. He's pretty composed in every venue we put him in."
Besides, as Bielema correctly pointed out, Wilson deserves it. And the last thing Bielema has to worry about is his quarterback saying the wrong thing.
"He's pretty composed," Bielema said. "He's a kid that really defers all (attention) on him to others."
Bielema's open-arms approach should benefit his team in a couple ways as the season progresses. The scrutiny is only going to increase as UW continues to win, so the players should not be fazed by what's to come. Bielema said they don't even see the cameras around them anymore.
Also, getting the word out about his team should help in the polls. UW moved up three spots in the Associated Press poll this week, after so many national writers attended the 48-17 win over Nebraska.
"We played very, very well," Bielema said. "We did some very good things the national audience got to see. Hopefully, we're in that position, to be considered for one of the top levels in college football."
From the infirmary
Strong safety Shelton Johnson (calf) and right guard Kevin Zeitler (ankle) will probably be held out of practices this week during the bye, but both are expected back next week against Indiana.