As the 70 members of his traveling roster exited the Spartan Stadium visiting locker room after a 34-24 defeat on Oct. 2, 2010, and tossed their luggage into the trailer, the coach knew he had a championship team by the way his players carried themselves. He was right, as Wisconsin won its last nine games to gain a share of its first Big Ten title since 1999.
Those 75 feet haven't changed in the last 55 weeks, and neither has Bielema's message.
"We've been down this road," said Bielema Saturday night after his team, undefeated and ranked sixth in the BCS standings, lost 37-31 when Michigan State's Hail Mary pass was stopped at the 1 and made a touchdown by an instant replay with time expired. "It's nothing I wanted to be down. … It doesn't make sense right now what they just went through, what they just experienced, but it will over the course of time."
It's hard to fathom the roller coaster of emotion the Badgers (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) experienced Saturday -- up 14, down 14, then tied and seemingly headed to overtime before Michigan State's Fail Mary turned successful -- but the end result was the same for Wisconsin as it was a year ago in East Lansing.
The list of out-of-character offenses the Badgers committed in last season's loss was long and, according to safety Aaron Henry, was a key means of motivation heading into this game. Instead of paying back the Spartans, Wisconsin wanted to prove to itself that it could play a clean game in a stadium it hadn't won in since 2002. When the replay video was finished rolling, however, it was hard to argue that the Badgers made up for last year's transgressions.
2010: Wisconsin leaked like a sieve on third-down conversions, allowing Michigan State to complete nine of 18 passes, including three of four in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 10 of 12 passes after second down and helped the Spartans rack up 168 of their 444 total yards on third down alone.
2011: Wisconsin came up with back-to-back third-down stops in the fourth quarter to allow its offense to tie the game, but the Badgers ended up allowing the Spartans to convert nine of 17 third- and fourth-down plays, including allowing a 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and-2, a 15-yard touchdown on third-and-11 and an 11-yard shuffle pass on third-and-8 that set up the winning heave, which came on another third down.
"They got a lot of third downs by a yard or so," Bielema said. "It seemed like they were barely getting enough every time. We got to play tighter coverage, we got to come up and tackle quicker."
2010: Wisconsin scored points on only four of its 12 drives, seven of which never got into Spartans territory, and turned three turnovers into only 10 points.
2011: The Badgers turned their only turnover into seven points to take a 14-0 but had one drive inside the 20 result in a blocked field and had Russell Wilson, who looked far from Heisman-worthy (14 of 21, 223 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) miss wide-open tight end Jacob Pedersen twice on throws that would have gone for touchdowns.
"You can't some mistakes on the road in the Big Ten," Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said. "It's going to catch up with you."
2010: Stalled drives forced punter Brad Nortman to punt six times on a windy day, causing one of his punts to go 46 yards with very little hang time. The result was Michigan State's Keshawn Martin speeding through Wisconsin's coverage for a 74-yard touchdown. That turned a 10-6 Badgers lead into a 13-10 disadvantage, and Wisconsin never led again
2011: Martin, who entered the game fourth in the Big Ten averaging 7.8 yards per return, didn't field a punt, but Michigan State still won out in the punting game – this time when a critical blocked punt turned into a Bennie Fowler touchdown with 37 seconds left in the first half.
"I know I caught it and tried to get it off as fast as I could," said Nortman, who also had trouble with a wobbly snap that resulted in a blocked field goal in the second quarter. "I didn't even have time to mold it. I just kind of got rid of it and there was a guy in my face before I knew it."
Three costly areas in 2010, three doubly costly areas in 2011. As veteran players trickled toward the trailer Saturday night, the comments were unanimous: This loss hurt worse. Despite fighting back from 14 points down on the road in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin has lost its undefeated season and its national championship dreams are practically gone. Now, like last season, the Badgers must pick up and play for a Big Ten title -- starting next Saturday at Ohio State.
With Michigan State and Wisconsin in different divisions, the loss doesn't hurt the Badgers in the race for the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis and another chance to play in the Rose Bowl.
Should Wisconsin get to that level, the Badgers want another crack at the Spartans.
"Of course," said running back Montee Ball. "Hopefully we do."
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Badger sports news, notes and discussion, especially on game day, follow Badger Nation on Twitter @TheBadgerNation
For more on Wisconsin, go to FoxSportsWisconsin.com