After trying to build up interest in recent years in the spring game, University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema seems resigned to the fact it's a battle he can't win.
Last year, Bielema decided to pit the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense — a departure from the way things had always been done — in an effort to build more excitement.
Instead, an estimated crowd of 10,000 showed up and watched a listless performance by the offense, which managed to only generate a field goal.
Ohio State, coming off a 6-7 season, drew a crowd of 81,112 on Saturday to see the team under new coach Urban Meyer.
The Badgers, coming off back-to-back Big Ten Conference titles, would probably be thrilled with a crowd one-fourth of that size for their spring game on Saturday, which starts at 4 p.m.
"It is what it is," Bielema said during a Monday news conference. "What I want to do is create as great an environment as I can that's similar to what Camp Randall will be like in the fall — which I know it'll never get to that point."
The later start is due to the Crazylegs Classic, which starts at 10 a.m. on the Capitol Square. The two events used to be held on the same day before going their separate ways. The last time they were held on the same day was 2000.
"The last couple years, we talked about joining dates with the Crazylegs. This year's schedule, it worked out," Bielema said of the later spring game, which is pushed back a week from last year.
Many of the runners will probably be long gone by the time the game starts, so it remains to be seen if that helps attendance. This is the second year UW will charge for the game: the cost is $5 and proceeds will benefit the UW Center for Nonprofits.
Bielema will go back to the traditional game format, in which the starters and key reserves will face everybody else.
"I really want the continuity of the ones working together on both sides of the ball," he said. "I think that's a very important thing for us to move forward."
Starting tailback Montee Ball will be held out as a precaution, but Bielema's said that's the only healthy scratch for now.
"When you see him run in practice, you'll know why he doesn't need the practice of getting hit," Bielema said. "He'll take some shots in the fall."
The Badgers have an open quarterback battle, which would normally be the talk of the spring game. But Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien, the leading candidate to start, won't be on campus until June.
Redshirt freshman walk-on Joel Stave and sophomore Joey Brennan will get all of the snaps, which they have done for most of the spring.
Stave worked with the first offense in a scrimmage on Saturday after pulling ahead of Brennan. Bielema said Stave has "gotten better every day," while Brennan has problems if his first read is not open.
"The one thing I'm convinced Joey can do, he can throw the ball when he knows where it's going and the timing of it is right," Bielema said.
Bielema said both quarterbacks adapted well to the offense of new coordinator Matt Canada, "But I do want to see them play 'big' in front of a crowd."
As for the size of that crowd, Bielema didn't offer an estimate. The Badgers are doing things to build interest among students, who can join the team for a dinner at the UW Field House on Thursday. Tickets are $7 and include a burrito buffet and admission to the spring game. One student will be picked as a finalist to win a Chevrolet Sonic at the spring game.
The kids fair also returns and will be held before the game (2-4 p.m.) in the McClain Center.
"We're going to do some things interactive with the fans that are hopefully going to create a little momentum," Bielema said. "I think the biggest driving factor really is the weather."
Lewallen in the mix
Bielema said he expects injured sophomore Dallas Lewallen to fight for the starting right guard spot in the fall.
Lewallen, 6-foot-6, 307 pounds, from Berlin, has been out since suffering a dislocated kneecap in the spring game last year. He tried to come back last fall and dislocated it again.
"Dallas looks as good as any one of our guys," Bielema said of the player's physical appearance.
"He's very close to being ready. We hope for him on June 4, when all of our guys report (for summer workouts), that he'll be full swing."
The Badgers are slowly rebuilding some depth in the line. Junior Casey Dehn, who quit the team last season before returning for winter workouts, continues to work as the No. 1 right tackle, while sophomore Rob Havenstein works his way back from shoulder surgery.
Junior guard Zac Matthias, who had back surgery and wasn't cleared until after spring break, also is practicing again. Like Matthias, Lewallen has a lot of missed time to make up.
"He's just got to play the game," Bielema said. "There's nobody that's logged more rehab and training room time than him. Every time I go through that place, Dallas is in there. It seems like he has his own room down there."