Notes: Pay Before Play

No.5 Wisconsin has a chance to win a share of its first conference championship in seven years, a chance UW fumbled with back-to-back conference blowout losses. With the Badgers looking for their first conference title since 1999, Head Coach Bret Bielema knows nothing is guaranteed until the clock says zero.

MADISON - What the topic was breached about the significance of winning a share of a Big Ten championship, Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema quickly deflected the question, choosing to talk about that at a later time than the present.

Bielema did it for good reason. He knows what can happen in the final week of the conference season.

In 2004, Bielema's first as a defensive coordinator, Wisconsin won its first nine games and rose to fourth in the polls. The Badgers needed to win one of their final two games to earn at least a share of the conference championship. After a crushing defeat in East Lansing, the Badgers needed to hope Ohio State would beat Michigan at 11 a.m. and then they beat Iowa at 3:30 p.m.

The Buckeyes did their part, beating No.7 Michigan 37-21, but the Badgers were crushed at 17th-ranked Iowa, losing 30-7 and costing UW its third Big Ten title under head coach Barry Alvarez.

"They were conversations I had never really been in before because of where I had come from (and) that opportunity hadn't presented itself," Bielema said. "I know how deflated we were after the Michigan State loss."

When No.5 Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) host Northwestern (7-4, 3-4) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., the Badgers will know not only if they are competing for the outright title, but if a win (coupled with a Michigan State loss at Penn State) would guarantee the Badgers a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

"You can't ignore something that's out there in today's technology, today's world. We're not going to ask the scoreboard people to keep it off the boards, so it just kind of comes as it is. The thing that's nice for us going into this week is we're already in a situation where if we handle our business and take care of what we're supposed to, whatever happens outside Camp Randall is in other people's hands."

Bielema also recalls the last time Wisconsin won a Big Ten championship, but his vantage point was much different. Finishing his fourth year as linebackers coach with Iowa, the 1999 season was one to forget for the Hawkeyes (finishing 1-10), but that game stuck into Bielema's mind because of what Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said in the following day's staff meeting.

"Kirk basically (said) if we can get to that level of what we saw at Wisconsin, basically good thing are going to happen," Bielema said. "I remember that vividly. I remember the way Wisconsin played, basically imposing their will on us. I think the last two weeks, I've been able to see that on the field.

"It's a very satisfying experience."

The focus on championships and Rose Bowls has never been a week-to-week talking point, especially with Bielema dividing the season into three four-game segments (non-conference slate, four games before the bye week and four games after to close out the season). It's a simple mentality, but one that would allow Bielema to experience his second conference championship at Camp Randall, albeit with a much different feeling.

"I really believe in what we've done now is about just maintaining each weeks focus," Bielema said. "There's never been talk of a jump to the championship."

Kendricks a finalist

One of the 14 players that will be honored Saturday for Senior Day, tight end Lance Kendricks has already started the festivities, being named one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end, which the Nassau County Sports Commission announced on Monday.

Kendricks leads Wisconsin with 35 receptions, 547 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns, all of which are career highs.

"He just works, grinds and does all things he does on a daily basis to get him where he is at," Bielema said. "He is probably the definition of a Wisconsin (player). Go to work, go to work, go to work, don't sat anything, just reap the rewards for what you do."

Earlier this season, Kendricks became the first Badger since Travis Beckum in 2007 to record back-to-back 100-yard receiving games when he tallied 103 receiving yards and one TD on six catches vs. Austin Peay one week after a career-high seven receptions for 131 yards and one score in win over Arizona State. Kendricks won consecutive John Mackey Tight End of the Week honors for those two games.

Among the finalists, Michael Egnew of Missouri and D.J. Williams of Arkansas, Kendricks leads with 15.6 yards per catch and is tied with Egnew and Williams with his four touchdown receptions.

With 74 receiving yards at Michigan, Kendricks became the 23rd player in school history to go over 1,000 career receiving yards. He currently sits 21st with 1,044 yards. No Badger has won the Mackey Award, though Beckum was a semifinalist in 2006 and a finalist in 2007.

Wisconsin hasn't won a major college award since Joe Thomas won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman. Bielema helped carry the banner that year for Thomas, getting the phone number of the voting list and taking the time to call each voter and plead his case.

"I was in my car driving around recruiting and I called probably 25 people," Bielema recalled. "They were all taken back that I would call and lobby for my guy. I'm like, ‘Well, he did everything for me this year. I'm going to do everything for him.' Lance Kendricks, all the stuff he's done on the football field (is) second to none. He wanted to be on all four special teams units. I let him be on two … so that kind of speaks what he's about.

"I can guarantee you this, J.J. Watt is up for awards, Lance Kendricks is up for awards, Scott Tolzien is up for awards. Those kids, if they win those awards, there will never be a day of embarrassment for that trophy, because they represent some pretty good qualities in people."

The three finalists were determined by confidential balloting of the John Mackey Selection Committee. The 2010 recipient of "The Mackey" will be presented live at the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Red Carpet Show Dec. 9, 2010, at 5 p.m. (CT) on ESPNU.

An unusual week

With the Badgers playing a rare conference game the week of Thanksgiving and with class at the campus running through Wednesday, Wisconsin will go through its normal routine Monday through Wednesday, practice earlier Thursday and have a little dinner planned for the players.

"We're actually going to take them to Samba's on Thursday," Bielema said. "It's an all you can eat place that they'll all love. Basically I said if a place is an hour or hour and a half away, feel free to go home and enjoy some time, but we've got a big game on Saturday.

"So we'll bring them back in, normal Friday schedule then we'll lock them up in the hotel Friday night. We'll have to talk to them and make sure they won't eat too much … but I think these guys going into week 12 probably know and understand what's expected to win on Saturday than ever before."

Players of the week

After rushing for 357 yards as a team in the 48-28 victory over Michigan, Wisconsin wasn't shy about naming all five offensive linemen, tight ends Jake Byrne and Lance Kendricks and fullback Bradie Ewing as its offensive players of the week.

"Those guys really enabled us to do what we did in the second half," said Bielema, referring to the 29 straight runs to clinch the game.

Wisconsin also named junior defensive end J.J. Watt defensive player of the week for his six tackles, one interception and one pass breakup, Jacob Pedersen as special teams player of the week for three tackles and recovering an onside kick, Brookfield (Wis.) running back Jeff Lewis as the offensive scout team player of the week for his job imitating Denard Robinson and Muskego (Wis.) lineman Kyle Costigan defensive scout team player of the week.

For the fourth time and second straight week, James White was named the conference's freshman of the week after rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns over the Wolverines, possessing a 7.9 yards per carry average.

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