Wisconsin and Nebraska meeting again for right to play in Rose Bowl
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org November 29, 2012 8:36PM
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, left, and Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini chat before an NCAA college football game between Nebraska and Wisconsin, in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. Nebraska ran four straight scoring drives against a tiring Wisconsin defense in the second half to lead No. 22 Nebraska's comeback from a 17-point deficit to defeat the Badgers 30-27. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Updated: January 1, 2013 6:39AM
As they shook hands after Nebraska rallied to beat Wisconsin 30-27 in Lincoln on Sept. 29, Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini told his old friend, Badger coach Bret Bielema, he’d see him at the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
Pelini didn’t need to consult an Ak-Sar-Ben handicapping wizard to figure Wisconsin would be in Indy on Saturday.
With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, all the Badgers had to do was beat Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. And that’s about all they did.
Their only other Big Ten victory came against Minnesota, meaning Wisconsin’s league wins came against four schools who had exactly two league wins when they weren’t playing each other.
And yet here the Badgers are, just 60 minutes away from their third straight Rose Bowl appearance. The only other coaches who have done that were named Bo and Woody. That would put Bielema in pretty good company.
‘‘There’s 10 teams in the Big Ten that would love to be in the position Wisconsin and Nebraska are in now,’’ Bielema said, calling the Badgers ‘‘a team that’s gone through some struggles, but a team that shows up every week. It doesn’t matter what the situation, how we got here. It’s one game for us to take a chance at history.’’
The Badgers already have a bit of history on their side. They won the inaugural Big Ten title game last year in a rematch with Michigan State, which had beaten Wisconsin during the season.
The No. 14 Cornhuskers come into this game riding a five-game winning streak, while Wisconsin has lost its last two, in overtime to Ohio State and Penn State.
And yet, there are reasons to think Wisconsin can become the first Big Ten team to go to the Rose Bowl with more than three losses.
For one, they led 20-3 in the second quarter at Nebraska before folding. For another, the Badgers not only have righted their running games. They seem to have found a quarterback in Curt Phillips, a mobile fifth-year senior who resurfaced after basically missing two seasons with major knee problems.
Phillips has made three starts since stepping in for the injured Joel Stave, guiding Wisconsin to a rout of Indiana and taking it to extra time vs. Ohio State and Penn State.
Another question is how Nebraska will react to the loss of a pair of senior linemen, defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler (knee) and center Justin Jackson (ankle), in its grinding 13-7 win at Iowa.
On the positive side, the Cornhuskers welcomed back star runner Rex Burkhead, who played for the first time since Oct. 20 on the sore left knee that has limited him all year long.
‘‘I’m feeling great — no soreness or swelling,’’ said Burkhead, who had 69 yards on 16 carries, including the Huskers’ lone touchdown. ‘‘Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’m ready for. Whether that’s 30, 20, 10 carries, whatever it is, I’m up for it.’’
Nebraska, which is in its second Big Ten season, will be making its third conference championship game appearance in four years. It lost to Texas 13-12 in the 2009 Big 12 title game and lost to Oklahoma 30-23 in 2010 in its Big 12 farewell.
‘‘We had a couple of tough losses,’’ Pelini said. ‘‘We fell short against two really good teams in two really good games. We’re trying to knock the door down.’’
And this time around, the Huskers are the team from the heavyweight division.