The University of Wisconsin football team is playing for at least a share of the Big Ten Conference title on Saturday against Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium and the game is not yet a sellout.
Big Ten football titles don't come around these parts too often. The Badgers are attempting to secure their 12th in school history.
About 1,000 tickets remained as of late Monday afternoon, despite aggressive marketing tactics, including a deal in which football tickets were packaged with tickets to the UW men's hockey game against Michigan State that night.
In addition, no one knows for sure how many students will show up, given it's a popular week for many to go home.
It makes for a unique situation, what UW coach Bret Bielema termed "uncharted waters," during his weekly news conference Tuesday.
Big Ten officials made the decision to extend the conference season to after Thanksgiving to increase exposure over the final two weeks of the regular season, when the league used to go in hiding. It remains to be seen if fans will embrace the change.
"You can't deny the fact it's Thanksgiving weekend," said Justin Doherty, the UW assistant athletic director for external relations. "The fans in our conference aren't accustomed to coming to games over (that) holiday weekend. Yet, in the case this year, you have what's potentially a special opportunity, to see a team win a conference championship."
UW's only player who has played a college game during this week is junior defensive end J.J. Watt. He started out as a tight end at Central Michigan and played on Thanksgiving Day as a freshman before transferring.
"An interesting dynamic ... to play after Thanksgiving," Bielema said.
Bielema is hopeful the 2:30 p.m. kickoff will make it more appealing.
"There's going to be a number of students that probably don't go home," Bielema said. "Those that do might find their way back, especially with a 2:30 kickoff. I thought that was a blessing in disguise."
On top of the title chase, the Badgers will bid farewell to 14 seniors and one former player, defensive end Kirk DeCremer from Verona, whose career was cut short by a back injury.
"It's a day no one can prepare for," Bielema said. "I always say (to players), 'I try to prepare you for everything I can.' But you can't prepare for Senior Day. You only live it once."
The late start means the Badgers will know where they stand in the conference race at kickoff. Michigan State and Ohio State, which are tied with UW for first place, both have 11 a.m. kickoffs. The Spartans are at Penn State and the Buckeyes are home against Michigan.
Bielema is making no attempt to conceal the outcome of those games from his players. The focus this week is on controlling what the Badgers can control, which is winning and getting no worse than a share of the title.
"You can't ignore something that's out there in today's technology, today's world," Bielema said. "We're not going to ask the scoreboard people to keep it off the board.
"We're already in a situation where if we just handle our business, take care of what we're supposed to, whatever happens on Saturday outside of Camp Randall is in other people's hands. We'll just handle our own (business)."
Bielema was on the opposing sideline the last time the Badgers won a conference football title. He was coaching linebackers at Iowa in 1999, when UW destroyed the Hawkeyes 41-3. Tailback Ron Dayne also broke the NCAA Division I-A rushing record in what is considered to be one of the best atmospheres ever for a UW home game.
"I remember the way Wisconsin played, basically imposing their will on us," Bielema said. "I was a defensive coach and that's exactly what happened."
It's similar to what Bielema witnessed the Badgers doing to opponents the last two games, when they rushed for a combined 696 yards in wins over Indiana and Michigan. It will likely be more of the same against Northwestern, which allowed Illinois' Mikel Leshoure to run for 330 yards in the last game.
The one thing Bielema didn't want to address was the prospect of UW's first title in 11 years.
"I'd probably rather talk about it after the game," he said. "It's great to be in this position. We've worked very hard to get to where we are. None of that really matters until we get through Saturday."