Wis coach likes Big Ten title game despite risk

By Cliff Brunt

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 4 2011 3:13 p.m. MDT

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema likes the idea of divisional play and a Big Ten championship game, even though they could cost his team a shot at a national title.

Wisconsin is coming off a 48-17 win over Nebraska, but the No. 4 Badgers could face the Huskers again in December depending on how the rest of the Big Ten schedule plays out.

Wisconsin is in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten and Nebraska is in the Legends Division, and if both win their divisions, they would play in the first Big Ten championship game Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Bielema said the boost in national profile from a conference title game is worth the risk.

"Really, the BCS is such an elite level, I think the more you can defend your right to be there, the better off everybody is," he said. "I think our championship game is going to be, whoever's lucky enough to get to that event, a national showcase, and hopefully the winner of that game hopefully will be a match in the national championship game."

Bielema knows that teams in other conferences have blown chances at national titles by stubbing their toes in conference title games. He figures if his team takes care of the daily grind, the rest will fall into place.

"I think our kids, in the bigger picture, we take one game at a time," he said. "That's our mentality. But they also understand that at the end of the season, if you put yourself in a good spot, anything can happen."

The Badgers are off this week, but they left an impression by dismantling the Cornhuskers. Montee Ball ran for 151 yards and four touchdowns and quarterback Russell Wilson made a case to be near the top of Heisman Trophy watch lists.

Illinois is unbeaten and ranked No. 19, but coach Ron Zook said fellow Leaders Division opponent Wisconsin is the class of the conference.

"I think there's no question that that right now is the football team that we're all chasing," Zook said. "Very, very well-coached, athletic team. Right now, they're the football team to beat."

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was impressed with the Badgers, but he wouldn't say they were as good as the top three teams: No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma.

"They're a good football team," Pelini said. "How they compare? Who knows? There's a lot of football to be played. I think they've earned the ranking they're in right now."

Penn State coach Joe Paterno heaped praise upon Wisconsin, though the 84-year-old coach didn't last long enough to watch the end of the late game on Saturday.

"I didn't watch every play in the Wisconsin-Nebraska game," he said. "It's tough for me to stay awake that late on a Saturday night."

If Nebraska is better than it looked in Madison, the chance to prove it might come in December. Pelini said he's too worried about playing Ohio State this Saturday to think about a rematch with Wisconsin.

"We're motivated because the next opponent who's coming in is a good football team," he said. "We're focused on getting better each day, and if you take care of your business, who knows what's going to happen down the line. You can't look ahead."

For some of the teams looking to have a chance to play in the title game in Indianapolis, the pressure already is on. Nebraska, Ohio State and Northwestern are highly regarded teams off to 0-1 starts in league play.

Northwestern plays Michigan in a Legends Division matchup Saturday night that carries added importance.

"Going into divisional play, if you want to play in the championship game, you've got to win your division, and that's one of everyone's goals," coacch Pat Fitzgerald said. "Here going into Week 2, everybody's still in the hunt. I think every game is a one-game season, every game's for the championship. I think that's the way you've got to approach it."

Illinois plays Indiana in a Leaders Division game. The Illini need a win to keep pace with Wisconsin.

"You've got to win your divisional games to have a chance, and it does take it up," he said. "I think right now, our guys, they know it's a must game, and we've got to play the way that we're capable of playing."

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap

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