Fast enough

There is a popular belief that the SEC is a faster, more athletic league than the Big Ten, but the Big Ten is stronger and more physical.

Case in point: Florida against Ohio State last year for the national championship. The Gators ran the Buckeyes off the field.

But if the SEC is so much faster and athletic, why did Penn State beat Tennessee in last year's Outback Bowl? Why did Iowa beat LSU a few years ago in the Florida Citrus Bowl? Why did Wisconsin beat Arkansas and Auburn in the Badgers' last two bowl games against SEC teams?

Wisconsin's second-year coach Bert Bielema doesn't buy into the SEC speed vs. Big Ten power argument.

``I don't think you can group people by category,'' Bielema said. ``That (SEC vs. Big Ten theory) was probably moreso true 10-15 years ago, but I do believe we have some guys that can run.''

His case in point: The Capital One Bowl last year when the Badgers played Arkansas. Razorback speedster Darren McSpadden broke free and was headed for a long touchdown run in the first quarter when he was caught from behind by Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu at the 6-yard line. Arkansas had to settle for a field-goal attempt, and missed.

Bielema said it was a key play in the game.

``We made a big deal of it on our sideline and made it carry forth for the rest of the game,'' Bielema said.

``I know this, probably of the 85 roster spots, if you had to race one through 85 against most SEC teams, they might win more than we would. But it gets down to the 11 guys on the field out there at one given time.

``Our guys like to run, but they also like to hit and my guess is, Tennessee has some of those guys. as well.''

Bielema said the key to Wisconsin beating Arkansas and Auburn in recent bowl games has been fourth-quarter play.

``We've been able to persevere and do some different things during the course of the game and take advantage of some opportunities,'' Bielema said.

Two years ago, Auburn had critical early turnovers. Last year, Arkansas missed a chip-shot field goal and Wisconsin hit a 51-yarder in a 3-point victory and a school-record 12th win in a season.

As for the SEC vs. the Big Ten, Bielema doesn't see it as bragging rights for one conference over another.

``All we're doing is playing Tennessee,'' Bielema said. ``We don't have to play Georgia or LSU or anybody else. We're just playing the team that lines up against us.''

The Wisconsin team that lines up against Tennessee welcomes back star running back P.J. Hill, who played five snaps in the last three games of the season but still rushed for 1,080 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. He will play, but not start, Bielema said.

Freshman Zack Brown, who had 250 yards against Minnesota and over 100 against Michigan, will likely start.

Wisconsin's defense has lost two starting cornerbacks. Allen Langford was lost to an injury Nov. 3 and his replacement, Aaron Henry, suffered a torn ACL during a recent bowl practice.

The Badgers also lost a starting defensive tackle earlier this season.

``On defense, we're kind of a no-name committee,'' Bielema said. ``We have a bunch of guys who do a good job. We had some struggles early on, but we've grown as the season has come along. We've battled through some significant injuries … but this group has persevered.''

Wisconsin's top offensive weapon is All-American tight end Travis Beckum, who caught 73 passes after being coverted from linebacker earlier in his career. The Badgers like to move him around as an H-back and split him wide.

``We realize Travis (at 6-4, 225) is a matchup issue when he's got a safety or linebacker on him,'' Bielema said. ``He's one of those guys that strives in the big games. He loves the competition, the big-game environment.''

While Wisconsin lost an All-American left tackle, freshman Gabe Carimi filled in admirably and was named the team's rookie of the year on offense.

Bielema said quarterback Tyler Donovan is a ``true competitor'' who ``outperforms his level'' each week and ``puts our team in position to have success.''

Donovan is mobile. He rushed for 476 yards but lost 217 for a net of 259. The Badgers surrendered 28 sacks, compared to four by Tennessee.

Bielema said Tennessee is a well-coached team that played its way into a Jan. 1 bowl game.

``I'm sure they were told they weren't going to be able to amount to much at some point in the season,'' Bielema said, ``but they've responded very, very positively.''

Bielema is proud of the fact that Wisconsin is one of only three teams – USC and West Virginia are the others – to be playing in a fourth consecutive January bowl game.

``We also know these bowl games (culminate) the season and they basically are the last memory of what this season is,'' Bielema said. ``Some coaches try to use it as motivation to kick off the next year.

``I don't really see it that way. I see it as the culmination of this team, this group of coaches and players and what they've been able to accomplish.''

What Wisconsin's seniors have been able to accomplish is a school-record 40 wins in a four-year period.

Bielema would like nothing better than to make it 41.


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