No Time for Fun and Games

Spending a week in Los Angeles and on the outskirts of Hollywood, Wisconsin football embraced its new atmosphere a little too much. After upperclassmen said the Badgers became distracted at points last year, those same players are making sure this trip to Los Angeles is all about business.

MADISON - Whenever he wants to get the pulse of his team, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema understandably liked to approach the veterans on his team, seniors or underclassmen.

One of his favorite pulse grabbers is sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, an in-state walk-on who not only is one of No.9 Wisconsin's most potent offensive weapons, but one of its more passionate players because of what the program means to him.

In their casual conversation, Bielema wanted to find out how the team is approaching another Rose Bowl and another opportunity to play on a grand stage against a great team. The answer he got was exactly what he had hoped for.

"Abby said the team knows what it has to do to win while last year the team was just excited to be there," Bielema said. "To get that close to playing on a big stage and coming up just that little bit short really left a tough feeling."

It made it even harder for some returning players when, in hindsight, they recognized that the whole atmosphere proved to be too big of a distraction. Although Wisconsin was led by a small but powerful senior contingent (Scott Tolzien, Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Lance Kendricks on offense and Jay Valai on defense to name a few), the Badgers hadn't been on the BCS stage in 11 years.

There was Disneyland, Hollywood, Los Angeles, glitz, glamour and the grandest stage in all of college football … and it was too much for a young team to handle.

"We were too distracted," said junior running back Montee Ball. "We weren't mature enough last year. We were too focused on LA life. Not partying and stuff like that, but we just weren't able to block out the distractions."

The results were obvious. Entering the game leading the nation in fewest penalties per game (2.92), Wisconsin finished with a season high in penalties (six) and penalty yards (41).

Wisconsin reached TCU's territory on five of its first six possessions, but only managed 13 points. The Badgers gained 55 yards in 13 plays on their opening drive, but saw kicker Phillip Welch, who had been 5-for-5 on field goal attempts between 30-39 yards this season, push a 39-yard kick wide left.

All of it resulted in a season low in points, not playing Wisconsin football and falling two points short in a 21-19 loss to No.3 Texas Christian.

"We had a business approach to it last year, but we didn't know what to expect," said senior wide receiver Nick Toon. "For the second year in a row, at least the guys that were here, have a pretty good understanding of what it's like, what it takes for us to go out there and have success. It won't be new."

That's the reason why when Wisconsin (11-2) boarded the buses today to head back to Pasadena and get a walkthrough at the Rose Bowl, this time to start final preparations for No.6 Oregon and the 98th Rose Bowl on January 2, nothing will be a surprise to them.

The same could be said for the Ducks, who will be making their third straight BCS bowl appearance, but searching for their first win after losing the 2009 Rose Bowl to Ohio State and last year's national championship game to Auburn.

"We've motivated a lot," said Ball. "It's a business trip for us. We're not going to have the big eyes and we're going to focus on the reason why we are in LA."

Make no mistake though; Bielema will make sure there will be time for some fun. Wisconsin's itinerary involves its five captains accompanying the head coach to Disneyland, a return trip to Lawry's Beef Bowl and Bielema taking some of his players to a Los Angeles Lakers-New York Knicks game at the Staples Center.

But at every event, expect one upperclassman to remind those around them that while last year's trip was a celebration of the season, this year's trip is a chance to finish the season right.

"The part that I've enjoyed as a head coach is my kids are pretty mature," Bielema said. "They handle everything for what it is. I just kind of explain to them we're going to do some things out there that are meant to be rewards for you but when it comes time to work, I need you to work."

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