Notes: Feeling of Acceptance

With all the great leaders on Wisconsin's football team, it's no wonder senior quarterback Russell Wilson, on campus for a little over two months, felt such appreciation for being elected a team captain. Heading into Saturday's Senior Day against Penn State, Wilson will try to lead the Badgers to a spot in the Big Ten Championship game.

MADISON - He has the shortest UW tenure of any senior on the Wisconsin roster, but Russell Wilson felt as big of part of the senior class as any other member. That comes from the ice-bath initiation he received from his fellow teammate in fall camp and seeing 10 confident pairs of eyes looking back at him in the season's opening challenge.

"That (ice bath) was one," Wilson said. "The first game I knew all the guys trusted in me and that we were ready to go."

Over two months later, there is still a lot at stake for Wilson and Wisconsin in Saturday's 2:30 p.m. contest against Penn State. In addition to a trip to Indianapolis and competing for a second conference championship, Wisconsin's seniors have a chance to win 10 or more games in three straight seasons, becoming the first senior class to accomplish that feat. They also have a chance to tie the 2007 senior class for the most victories in a four-year span with 40.

"There are so many things these guys have accomplished and for the most part, handled their business the right way," Coach Bret Bielema said. "They've reprehensive the University of Wisconsin so well."

Bielema called his 21-member senior class a ‘Hodge-podge group,' a unit filled with scholarship players, walk-on players that have developed into captains and one-year transfers. Bielema calls it satisfying day for him to give his seniors the big stage.

It's one of the reasons Wilson came to Wisconsin for his senior year, and a reason he has embraced those challenges. In three night games this season against marquee opponents (Nebraska, at Michigan State, at Ohio State), Wilson averaged 260.3 yards of offense, scored eight touchdowns and twice led the Badgers back from 14-point fourth-quarter deficits.

Wilson said those who love the game of football always have something to play for, but still having a conference championship on the table is just icing on the cake.

"That's what I came here for, to play some of the best teams in the country," Wilson said, "and show what we have as a football team."

Bielema takes a lot of pride in seeing his seniors honored correctly , especially as he has grown as a coach and his entire roster is full of players he recruited, so much so that he considered following the lead of basketball coach Bo Ryan and honoring the seniors after the game.

Whatever he's done, it's worked with Wisconsin being 5-0 under Bielema on Senior Day.

"These kids, I've been in there homes, I've been through good and bad and it's a tough day," Bielema said. "It's a day you don't want to let go and hopefully we have a lot of good football left after it. You've been with those kids so much."

One of those kids is senior Aaron Henry, who is coming off one of his best games against Illinois. Bielema has taken glowingly and emotionally about Henry in the past, and that continued when asked if anybody has taken advantage of the opportunity of playing college football more than Henry.

"Aaron and I have had our disagreements but on the same account, there's not a kid in the program that means more to me than him," said Bielema, getting teary eyed. "He's special."

Bielema also announced that Nick Toon's dad and UW receiver Al Toon will be the honorary captain Saturday.

Wagner Grinds Through

Trotting back out of the locker room without any help was a welcome sign of relief for fans concerned about Ricky Wagner and the status of his left knee. As it turns out, it was a sign of toughness. Bielema revealed Monday that Wagner suffered a second degree MCL sprain.

"A lot of kids wouldn't even come out and play," Bielema said. "The doctors assured us structurally there wasn't anything wrong and he probably played as good of second half football as he's ever played. Just pure gut, will power, intensity and desire."

Bielema expects to sit him Tuesday and have him ready for Wednesday.

Now Through 14

While most fans look at the first game on the schedule when it's released, Bielema tends to look at the end. When the Big Ten released the new conference schedules through 2014, Bielema sees that Penn State is always at the end, an opponent that he hopes will become a traditional end-of-the-season rival between one of the other marquee programs in the conference.

With a record of 30-7 since the start of 2009 season, the best record in the Big Ten over that span and tied for the seventh-best record in the country, Bielema is hopeful that the match-up with the Nittany Lions can develop overtime into a hyped match-up like Michigan-Ohio State.

"I would like to have some entitlement to play in a game that means something in the end that you can kind of circle your calendar," Bielema said.

Bielema's hope to get that rivalry brewing is off to a good start, as the winner of the game will play Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis for a chance go to the Rose Bowl.

"We haven't played them in two years, so it's kind of uncharted waters right now," Bielema said. "I think anytime maybe your marquee teams in your league can have a little bit of a rivalry it's a good thing. I know going to Michigan State, everybody talked about that as a rivalry. I know going to Ohio State and the fan reaction when they were able to beat us showed us that we are a rivalry game. We got under their skin pretty good.

"I think this Penn State thing with just the tradition, we recruit against each other quite a bit and if it is at the end of the year, I think it's something that can be showcased and be very special."


Once again, the Big Ten recognized Montee Ball and Chris Borland in the same week as players of the week. Ball recorded a career high in rushes (38) and yards (224) in the victory over Illinois to claim his third weekly honor of the season. Wisconsin also recognized senior fullback Bradie Ewing as a co-MVP.

"Bradie might have played his best game here," Bielema said. "A lot of those great runs are lead at first at point of attack by Bradie. A lot of times, Bradie is throwing the key block that the running back reads off of."

Also earning his third Big Ten honor, Borland was the conference's MVP after recording a career-high 16 tackles, adding 1.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in the victory while the Badgers' defensive MVP was Antonio Fenelus for limiting Illinois' standout wide receiver A.J. Jenkins to just one catch when he was matched up against him.

Wisconsin gave its special teams MVP honors to both senior kickers – Brad Nortman and Philip Welch – for their work with a challenging wind while Wisconsin's offensive scout MVP was A.J. Jordan and its defensive scout MVP was Michael Caputo, a pair of true freshmen.

Extra Points: Bielema said he's unclear if his team is going to participate in some pregame handshake or prayer with Penn State after the Nittany Lions have done something similar the last two weekends. Bielema said the administration will make that decision after starting to address the issue this week … Wisconsin list Brendan Kelly and Pat Muldoon as co-starters at defensive end, Travis Frederick at No.1 center and Ryan Groy at No.1 left guard … Wisconsin is 18-2 in regular season games played after Nov.1 under Bielema.

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