After its 70-23 victory over Northwestern Saturday, clinching the school's first conference championship since 1999 and 12th overall, Wisconsin moved up two spots to No. 5 in the BCS standings released Sunday and, more important, widened its lead over Big Ten Conference rival Ohio State from to .0553 from .0540. Those numbers mean the Badgers are almost certainly guaranteed a place in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1.
Still, Wisconsin (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) has an outside shot of playing in the BCS Championship game, should Auburn lose to South Carolina in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Oregon lose at Oregon State and somehow jump TCU or Stanford in the rankings, despite both teams completing their regulars season. That's the main reason why Bielema stayed in Madison instead of on the road recruiting, going on every medium possible to tell the country how good this football team is.
"I believe this team can play with anybody in the country," Bielema said. "Really for me, there's three things. We lead the nation in fewest penalties. That means we aren't beating ourselves. We lead the Big Ten in turnover margin, but also led the country in fewest giveaways, which means we're not killing ourselves.
"The way we play four quarter games, close out games and the way our backups are playing. Everybody wants to write Bielema and Wisconsin (is) running up the score. Those our twos and threes that are going out there and playing very well … That's the stuff that gives me indication that we can have success against a lot of people.
UW is fourth in the nation in scoring offense and averaged 45.2 points per game in conference play, second-best in Big Ten history. UW also ranks 12th in the country in rushing offense.
"That's not just me filibustering and saying things that aren't reality," Bielema said. "It's reality they see in front of them ... and you can't deny what's real."
Bielema knows the feeling of a Rose Bowl experience, which he did in 1991 as a reserve defensive lineman at Iowa. If his team gets the opportunity to play in Pasadena in January, the experiences won't compare.
"To sit here as a head coach and win a championship, you feel pretty good," Bielema said. "To see this come full circle ... see some individual guys being recognized as the best in the country, it's very rewarding as a head coach."
It will also give Bielema the opportunity to wear some jewelry. Telling a story during last year's fall camp, Bielema said he was proud to wear a ring he received from UW's 12-1 season back in 2006. That changed when he mingled with Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and players from that era that proudly wore their Rose Bowl ring.
"I thought it was a special year, but it wasn't a championship year," Bielema said. "I told our guys that I will never wear a ring again until it's one of our championship rings. To sit down today with the ring guy and have an opportunity to design it and move forward is kind of a neat thing."
Wagner Continues to Strive
There was little concern in Bielema'e eyes when Ricky Wagner was inserted into the lineup to replace junior right tackle Josh Oglesby, who has seen his last two years riddled with knee injuries. There has been few headaches since for Wagner, who has been a quiet force on the right side of Wisconsin's offensive line since the former tight end walk-on starting filling in for the five-star tackle.
"There's not a kid in our program that has come as far as he has and is playing at the level he is," Bielema said. "It's unprecedented. He played one year of high school football, went through some trials and tribulations, came in here as a 230-pound tight end. He's basically put on 90 pounds and is playing as good as anybody on our line.
"He's as quiet as quiet gets. Of all the kids I brought in and told them they were getting a scholarship, the feeling that you got giving it to him was very special. He got very emotional, you can tell that it meant something to him and it carried a deeper meaning to him that goes beyond words. Ricky Wagner will be a three-year starter in this program and my guess is in two years, he'll be up for all the same type of recognition that Gabe (Carimi) is."
Wisconsin's players will not practice until Saturday (developmental work) and have a good vs. good practice on Sunday before the bowl announcements are made. Over the next two weeks, Bielema hopes to get a good idea of who can help the team contribute heading into spring football.
"Warren Herring has changed his body physically that, I think, he's really going to be able to help us next year. Dallas Lewallen has been a very impressive player in fall camp who I think will be able to come in and make an impact next year and play extremely well.
"Travis Frederick is playing a good of football as any of our interior linemen right now, and he's not even playing. He's really good. He's so strong and physical and a bit nasty himself. Joe Brennan has looked very good against our defensive throwing the ball around. Sherard Cadogan, who we almost played, is playing the tight end/fullback and I get very excited with what I am seeing from him.
"A couple linebackers have jumped out at you, Cody Byers and Josh Harrison, two kids from Ohio that are going to be some guys that will hop into the mix next year in a short amount of time. At wide receiver, we have a cast of characters. Marquis Mason from here in Madison has turned my head on several occasions. He's playing with a broken thumb, making grabs, he's big, athletic and physical. Isaiah Williams is probably the guy that is the most athletic out of the group and when he wants to play, he can really play."
Extra Points: Bielema said he will sit down with juniors John Clay, Nick Toon and J.J. Watt this week to discuss the NFL possibilities, especially with uncertainties surrounding the league's labor dispute … Bielema said his personal play of the year would be Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward making a touchdown-saving tackle on a kick return against Arizona State, a play that ended on the one-yard line and no time left on the clock in the first half … The only guy that Bielema expects to be limited this week is cornerback Antonio Fenelus (ankle).