Notes: Recruiting Ohio Still Vital

Instead of viewing it as a yearly challenge, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema views his team's yearly matchup against Ohio State - who the Badgers will host this weekend on Senior Day - as an opportunity when it comes to winning championships and battling for Ohio recruits.

MADISON - When the Big Ten conference announced the new divisional format that was moderate the conference championship race, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema couldn't have been happier to see a guaranteed matchup with Ohio State on his schedule each season.

In his eyes, the chance at a conference championship occurs when the Badgers can beat Ohio State. Wisconsin proved that thought process factual when Wisconsin beat No.1 Ohio State, 31-18, in 2010. It's the only win Bielema has had over Ohio State in his seven years and five meetings a head coach.

"Football each year is a different year, and this year they've obviously done a very, very nice job to get to where they are today, and you would expect more of the same," said Bielema. "They're a great team that's in our division. It's something that we definitely want to keep going in the right direction."

Winning Saturday in the regular season home finale against No.6 Ohio State won't determine the final destination for either team. Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) has already clinched its spot in Indianapolis due to the Buckeyes and Penn State being ineligible. The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) are only playing for an undefeated season, a division championship and pride.

Ohio State has already clinched a share of the conference championship and can win it outright with a win in Camp Randall – where its 4-2-1 since 1993. UW needs to win its next two games and the Buckeyes lose at home to Michigan in the season finale to earn a division title.

More importantly, it's a big game for Wisconsin on the recruiting front. Next to its own state, the Badgers recruit Ohio the hardest and have enjoyed the benefits of the state's rich high school programs. Wisconsin currently has 12 Ohio natives (11 scholarship, 1 walk-on) on its roster, all of which were in part recruited by former assistant coach Joe Rudolph.

Spending the past four seasons at his Alma mater Wisconsin as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, Rudolph was partly responsible for bringing in players like Chris Borland (Kettering), Jeff Duckworth, Darius Hillary and Jesse Hayes (Cincinnati) and four-star receiver A.J. Jordan (Dayton), using his connections from his three-year stint at Ohio State as a graduate assistant.

Although tight end coach Eddie Faulkner, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni has picked up torch. Having coached at Bowling Green State and recruited the state in previous stops, Azzanni has helped the Badgers reel in four-star wide receiver Rob Wheelwright in the Class of 2013 and laid a good foundation for the 2014 class.

"Zach is a tireless recruiter," said Bielema. "I'm always getting things in my box about write this guy, call this guy, special note here, write this kid's uncle, write this kid's dad, write this kid's aunt. It's very easy to see good recruiters once you've been around them for a very short time just because of the details that they have. It was very important for me to hire someone in that area, and Zach had kind of been one of those guys."

Bielema first ran into Azzanni on the recruiting trail in Fort Lauderdale. A young recruiter at the time, Azzanni approached Bielema for some help in the state and Bielema assisted by allowed Azzanni to copy some of his area maps.

"That started our relationship," said Azzanni. "I gave him maps and made copies at Kinkos and gave them back to me. Some guys don't give them back. That's when I knew I had a good guy. Just grew out of that, and he's going to be very, very good. Zach Azzanni is going to be a great football coach, not just because of recruiting but as a coach as well."

While Wisconsin has done well in the state, it's still had trouble out recruiting the Buckeyes. That point was driven home last February when one-time Wisconsin offensive line commit Kyle Dodson (Cleveland Heights) switched his verbal commitment to Ohio State at a school ceremony.

Bielema's comments at his signing day press conference later that day suggested that first-year coach Urban Meyer used ‘illegal' recruiting tactics, but didn't specify what the issues were. When asked about the coaching matchup between him and Meyer, Bielema downplayed its significance, saying it's about the 11 guys on the field.

"I think the part that's grown out of this is we do a lot of recruiting in Ohio, so the kids know each other," said Bielema. "That builds up a little bit of animosity and some feelings out there more than anything. I've learned early on in my coaching career you lose more friends in recruiting in the coaching world than you do on game days.

"I think Saturdays, you just kind of play, shake hands afterwards, and move on. Recruiting, you wear that on your sleeve. That's something that's the life line of your program, and a lot of times that's where feelings get very emotional."

MVPs

Wisconsin gave offensive MVP honors to linemen Ryan Groy and Travis Frederick, running backs James White and Montee Ball and quarterback Curt Phillips.

Although Phillips threw only seven pass attempts and was put in only 11 throwing calls, Bielema pointed out that Phillips scrambled for a first down on a naked bootleg throw on third-and-eight, got rid of the ball instead of taking a sack on some pressures and made a tough touchdown throw on third-and-two between two defenders.

"(People) don't understand he really played a pretty good game running and throwing," Bielema said of Phillips. "My guess is Saturday is going to be even better."

Defensively, Wisconsin recognized defensive tackle Beau Allen, linebacker Ethan Armstrong and cornerback Devin Smith. UW's special teams honors went to Kyle French and Kenzel Doe, Alex Walker was the offensive scout MVP and Jake Rademacher was the defensive scout MVP.

Quotable

On resting players now that the division has been clinched

"This game, no. We're in a race that we're trying to win the Leaders Division crown. Ohio State is at the top of the list … I watched Moneyball and made references during the course of the year. Some guys put some things in my box. I thought it was interesting the only time they were ever in first place was the last game of the year and made that comment to our guys several times during the course of the season. We're in a race to finish at the top of our division, and this opportunity this week is a chance to play the team that's at that number one spot.

"I think I might have a mutiny on my hands if I tried to pull anybody out of this game this Saturday."

Extra Point: The Big Ten announced Wisconsin's regular-season finale at Penn State will be at 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff, televised on ABC (ESPN or ESPN2 in outer markets).

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