The only thing the University of Wisconsin has focused on during the 2010 season was one game, one week and one practice at a time. So when members of the Badgers got the chance to hold the school's first conference championship trophy in 11 years in the comforts of their locker room, the realization that nothing beats good ‘ol blue collar football.
"It was Wisconsin playing Wisconsin football," junior defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We didn't do anything fancy or out of the ordinary. We played our style of football, we won the football game the way we do it and now we're heading to Pasadena because of it."
No.5 Wisconsin left no doubt on whom the best team in the Big Ten was, let alone who the best one-loss team in the country is, as the Badgers steamrolled injury-plagued Northwestern, 70-23, to clinch a share of the school's 12th Big Ten Championship and first since 1999.
While an official invite will have to wait a week, Wisconsin (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) has enough of a lead in the BCS over Ohio State that Rose Bowl officials slightly tipped its hand when addressing the team in the locker room.
"Yeah, I think we got invited in the locker room," senior John Moffitt said. "I don't know if I'm spoiling the surprise or whatever, but you didn't hear it from me."
On its annual Senior Day, it seemed like all 12 of Wisconsin's seniors made its imprint on the Badgers' championship season … and they did it all in the first 30 minutes.
- Senior quarterback Scott Tolzien, who improved to 21-4 as a starter, was dynamic as usual, completing 14 of 18 passes for 190 yards and tied a career high with four touchdown passes. Rightfully so, he left to a standing ovation from the students early in the fourth quarter with a 47-point lead, finishing with a pass efficiency rating of 250.1 – the fifth-best mark in school history.
"He takes advantage of every rep, every play," UW Coach Bret Bielema said. "He's so clean with the football … He's going to get an NFL opportunity, no doubt about it."
- Senior tight end Lance Kendricks, who was named a finalist for the Mackey Award on Monday, caught four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown while senior wide receiver David Gilreath caught his first touchdown catch of the season, as Wisconsin put up 331 total yards and 49 points, the second time this season the offense had scored seven touchdowns in the opening half.
"The passing game kind of goes unnoticed, but Scotty had a near perfect game out there today," Gilreath said. "When we are running the ball this well, I don't think it makes a difference."
- Senior safety Jay Valai registered his second career interception in the opening quarter, one of seven Northwestern turnovers that turned into 28 Wisconsin points.
"(Wisconsin was) active up the field," Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Two of the turnovers looked like they were off of sacks, pressuring the quarterback and obviously … They played well, we didn't."
As the results indicated, this run for the roses was met with few thorny patches along the way.
A week after Illinois gashed Northwestern for 519 rushing yards, sophomore Montee Ball scored four touchdowns for the second-straight game, joining Ron Dayne as the only Badgers running back to accomplish that feat, as 329 of UW's 559 total yards came on the ground.
Like Dayne, Ball, at times, made it look effortless. He bullied his way in twice from two yards or less, broke the ankles of safety Brian Peters on a 32-yard run that got UW on the board in the first and broke four tackles on a 44-yard run in the third that made it 56-17.
"We know what we are capable of doing," said Ball. "The offensive line, what they are doing up front, is unbelievable. Being able to carry the load is great feeling. It's a great thing that we are all coming together as a team.
Wisconsin is making headlines with its offense - earning victories of 20 points or m ore in four straight games - and has scored 70 points or more three times after failing to reach that mark since 1915. The defense showed Saturday why they need to be concerned an elite group, as well.
Wisconsin held Northwestern (7-5, 3-5) to 284 total yards and of the five forced turnovers in the first half, saw its offense turn three of them into 21 points with scoring drives of 37 seconds, 1:36 and 1:35. It was the ultimate payback against a Wildcats team that dealt the Badgers a bitter 33-31 defeat in the regular season finale last season.
"Payback is always a driving force," said Valai. "If somebody punches you in the face like they did a year ago, coming back and trying to get redemption is something we focus on."
The Badgers won't officially know their opponent until the final BCS polls are released Dec. 5, but the message is clear from the players wearing the Big Ten championship shirts and hats: they can play with anybody in the country.
"I did tell the guys in the locker room that we don't need to wait 10 years to repeat this day again," Bielema said. "I think we've got some good youth in the program and I am excited about the future of Wisconsin football.
"As a football coach, I can sit back and say we can play with anybody."