While most of the questions by the media in the midst in the excitement were directed as No.15 Wisconsin getting a chance to have a rematch with No.11 Michigan State, who beat the Badgers' 37-31 on a Hail Mary pass in East Lansing Oct.22, all of the players proudly showcased their championship hats and t-shirts and embraced the opportunity to play in the conference's first championship game.
"I think after they won the game on Saturday to know that they are going to play in the game, opportunity to earn another opportunity if they take care of business against Michigan State to be in position to hopefully go to Rose Bowl is something that is pretty unique," Coach Bret Bielema said Monday. "This senior class has accomplished a lot … and for them to win the Leaders Division and go to the championship is very special."
It's a reason that the revenge factor hasn't been by Bielema since Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) earned the right to play in the game. It's part due to the Badgers being a more confident defense that the one that left Michigan State (10-2, 7-1).
In consecutive weeks starting with the loss to the Spartans, the Badgers allowed over 350 yards of total offense and 14 fourth-quarter points. In the four games since their last lost, the defense hasn't allowed any opponent over 301 yards of offense or an offensive score in the second half.
Bielema said the team hasn't played a complete game yet and that better days are ahead, but senior quarterback Russell Wilson doesn't deny how the defense forcing turnovers to get the ball back has helped Wisconsin put up some gaudy offensive numbers.
"The defense has come up huge all year," Wilson said. "They have come up with some huge, huge turnovers in some big situations. That's the thing about them. They are never going to let up. We talk about that all the time and I tell those guys all the time on the sidelines (to) get us a couple turnovers if you can. Get us the ball one more time. That gets us good field position when they do that."
The excitement is certainly there from the fan perspective, as Wisconsin's student ticket allotment for the game sold out in eight minutes. With Michigan State qualifying for the game a week before Wisconsin, the UW staff is preparing for a large contingent of green and white fans, as well.
To prepare, Bielema said the team would practice in doors all week, pipe in crowd noise and reach out to some NFL players who have played in the stadium to get an idea of the acoustics. Having never played before in dome, Wilson mentioned he'd play anywhere, and part of the reason he came to Wisconsin was to compete for a conference championship and a chance for the Rose Bowl. Both of those opportunities are within his grasp.
"The reason why I came here was I wanted to be a part of something great and something special," said Wilson. "I knew if I came here, we'd have the opportunity to excel and possibly have an opportunity to play for the first ever Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl.
"We have a great team. I think we have guys that really push themselves to be the best and we'll have to show that this weekend."
From the Infirmary
Bielema said UW came out of the game relatively clean and that a lot of players got healthy from last week to this week, but the head coach said that Ethan Armstrong probably wouldn't play in the championship game after suffering a hip injury that required him to be taken immediately to the hospital by ambulance.
"He's had some hip issues really all year long," Bielema said. "He identified what those issues are and really aggravated them on that play. The good news is all the tests and all the things we've been able to do from a medical standpoint since that time have been negative. He's on crutches right now and we probably won't have him for the game, but would be involved in the bowl game."
Although he isn't listed on Wisconsin's depth chart, Bielema said there is a chance that center Peter Konz, out since suffering an ankle injury in the Minnesota, could play this week, but depends on how the week progresses.
No Longer Diplomatic
Bielema has always played Heisman questions involving Wilson and running back Montee Ball down the line, saying both players are really good players, have the numbers to back it up and that he couldn't endorse one candidate over the other.
But when the question was posed that the award would be flawed if neither player was invited to New York for the ceremony, Bielema didn't hesitate to agree.
"Nobody knew a lot about Russell before this year on the big stage and Montee the same boat," Bielema said. "It is what it is and I don't think either one of them get really wrapped up in it, but it truly would be a disservice to both of them if neither one of them got invited to one of the final seats."
For the fourth time this season and the second straight week, Ball was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week, which is tied for the second most in conference history. Ball rushed for four scores to bring his season total to a Big Ten record 34 touchdowns, just five scores shy of the FBS record of 39 set by Barry Sanders in 1988.
When Wisconsin awarded its offensive MVPs, the staff rewarded the seniors that blocked for him in right tackle Josh Oglesby, Zeitler and tight end Jake Byrne, who Bielema said probably played his best game as a Badger.
Bielema also mentioned that Wisconsin has had a lot of good linemen come through the program, but the way NFL scouts talk about Zeitler is very impressive.
"They really fell that Kevin is even more advanced (than previous guards) and ready to compete at the next level as good as anybody in the country," Bielema said.
Defensively, Wisconsin awarded safety Shelton Johnson, who intercepted a pass for the second straight week, and has been building his confidence since a miscommunication error cost the Badgers the final touchdown pass against Ohio State.
"It speaks volume for the kid that Shelton really didn't get frazzled by the moment and embraced the challenge he had in front of him," Bielema said. "Also his coaches instilled confidence in him, continue to teach him and move him in the right direction. He's really made, the last two weeks in particular, some incredible reads and reaction and just ability to make the play. The good news is he still an underclassmen."
Bielema also announced Derek Landisch as the special teams MVP and transfer tight end Brock DeCicco as the offensive scout MVP.
Extra Points: Wisconsin will be in Indianapolis by Friday morning for afternoon media requirements and then practice at Lucas Oil Field in the evening, different than the usual road preparation experience … Bielema commented that he really didn't know Urban Meyer other than a couple days he spent on campus preparing for a game telecast, but said you have to respect when he's done as a coach and that it would bring attention to the league.