Needing to Finish

After losing three games by a combined nine points, seeing second-half leads slip away in two of them, a well-rested Wisconsin isn't hyping its title game opportunity against Indiana Saturday as much as it's stressing the importance of finding some more November success.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Wisconsin junior linebacker Chris Borland has watched and played in plenty of football games to know what's at stake, whether it's said verbally or not.

Borland has played for and won high school state championships, Big Ten championships and played for Rose Bowl, and not once did he alter his play based on how big the trophy being presented at the game was.

"I think we're mature enough to realize what is a big game and not change our preparation," said Borland. "Guys have been around long enough to know that every game means something, especially at this time of year."

The time of year Borland was referring to is the month of November; a month Wisconsin has performed exceptionally in since UW coach Bret Bielema arrived in 2006.

Under Bielema, Wisconsin is 22-6 in games played after Nov. 1, including a 19-2 mark in regular-season games and a 17-2 record in Big Ten games. Over the last two seasons (seasons that provided Bielema's first two conference championships), Wisconsin went 8-0 in November.

It's a perfect message for a head coach who preaches: ‘It's not how you start, it's how you finish.'

"We talk about finishing things," said Bielema. "Not just finishing games, but finishing seasons. The month of November is when you win championships … You have to close out your season to be able to get to where you want to be, and that's a huge emphasis with our guys.

"The teams that traditionally have been in the hunt have been really strong in November, and fortunately we've been one of those teams."

Wisconsin will need those good fortunes Saturday morning when it plays for a berth in the Big Ten championship game against Indiana, a program not expected to be anywhere close to contending for a Rose Bowl.

Like last year, finishing has been what has kept Wisconsin's program from taking the next step. The Badgers three losses have each come by three points, the latter two in Big Ten play when Wisconsin held the lead in the second half.

But while Wisconsin lost its two regular season games in back-to-back October weeks, allowing Wisconsin to ride a wave of momentum back to Pasadena, the Badgers have suffered losses in weeks two, five and nine.

On its longest winning streak of the season, Wisconsin beat three teams who at the time had yet to win a conference game.

"We've been through a lot, with a lot of guys starting at quarterback and the offensive line coach coming and going," said Borland, referring to Curt Phillips being the third different starter under center for UW this season and the firing of first year coach Mike Markuson in week two.

"We've stuck together. We still have a chance to fulfill all of our goals this year. We have a lot of work to do, but I don't think anyone has changed their mindset."

With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, Wisconsin was viewed as the heavy favorite to win the Leaders Division at the onset of the season, especially considering the Badgers were returning a Heisman finalist at tailback and depth at every position on defense.

The pundits labeled Purdue as a dark horse in the league after winning three of its last four games to end 2011, including a bowl game, and were hosting the Badgers at home. Even Illinois under first year coach Tim Beckman was thought to be a team that could make some noise.

Nobody gave the Hoosiers a second glance. Why would they, especially considering the Hoosiers were 3-29 in Big Ten play the previous four seasons?

But after back-to-back conference wins for the first time since 2007 and a stumble by Wisconsin at home against Michigan State, the Badgers won't be the team with the most momentum.

"Just emotionally, you can see how well they're playing," said Bielema of Indiana. "They're playing at an extreme high. They're a 4-5 football team that has a chance to win a championship, talking Rose Bowl and all that jazz. And they're playing with great confidence."

If the recruiting pans out, Indiana will be sticking around for awhile. began tracking classes in 2002 and until Wilson arrived, IU signed a single four-star player. This year, it has verbal commitments from two four-star players and is in on a few more. It could yield guys who were once committed to Clemson, Iowa Ole Miss and Wisconsin.

"They've got good players," said cornerback Devin Smith. "All players in the Big Ten are good."

That's why in the eyes of junior captain Borland, Wisconsin's intensity and preparedness this week mirrors that of the Badgers week four preparation for UTEP or their week seven prep for Purdue.

"We had a very intense practice Wednesday," said Borland. "Guys have been up watching film all week, staying consistent with those things. There will be no lull in preparations or deviations on preparation based on who we are playing."

Borland said the bye week was good and needed for Wisconsin heading into its crucial three week finish. The week off got senior left tackle Ricky Wagner fully recovered from his right knee injury back into the lineup, as well as juniors Tyler Dippel, Jeff Duckworth and Chase Hammond.

"We had a lot of people banged up, but I think we're a team that absolutely has the mindset to work hard during the bye week," said Borland. "We don't know how we'll play until we perform, but all the signs are good. Guys have a good attitude and our upbeat to try and win a championship."

So how does Wisconsin guard against the obvious; the obvious meaning knowing what the Badgers are playing for and what lies ahead of them with a victory?

"You can only guard against it by using your technique and be consistent on every play," said Smith. "That's the main thing. We're excited to get back out there and have another opportunity to go play."

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