Taking Plenty of Notes

With a long layoff between their Minnesota victory and kickoff of the Outback Bowl, the Badgers spend plenty of time in the film room and on the conditioning field, making sure there's no rust come January 1.

MADISON – Being one of 64 fortunate teams to have a post season bowl date, Wisconsin rings in another new year – its fourth to be exact - with another SEC foe.

With the Badgers becoming professionals at how to handle a January 1st bowl against the ‘bigger, stronger' Southeastern Conference, Wisconsin wasted no time getting back to work to shed those holiday pounds.

"As soon as we got back from Thanksgiving, we didn't waste anytime getting guys conditioned and watching film," junior fullback Chris Pressley said. "The work helped get the guys mentality right, because this is a big game and we aren't going down there for a week vacation."

Whether that hard work and extra film study the Badgers put in pays off will become clear when they take on SEC East Champion and 16th-ranked Tennessee in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

While the Volunteers were off battling Louisiana State for the right to be crowned SEC champions, Wisconsin had already completed its regular season with its fourth victory in five games, the last being a 41-34 victory in Minneapolis.

Knowing that Tennessee – along with Arkansas, Auburn and Florida – could be a potential adversary, many of the Badgers were thrilled to be watching games from the couch instead of being immersed in the chaos.

"It was good to sit back and watch the offenses," said junior Travis Beckum, who took the extra time to help recover from an elbow injury sustained against the Gophers. "With all the craziness in the world of college football this year, it was nice to be watching games instead of competing for a week.

"When I heard we were going to be playing Tennessee," Beckum added. "I was pleased because when you go to a bowl game, you want to play the best opponent and Tennessee is it."

Wisconsin's defense has hopefully taken pristine notes against a volatile Tennessee offense. Led by senior quarterback Erik Ainge and his 3,100+ passing yards, the Volunteers racked up over 33 points a game on their way to a nine win season, six of those wins coming in the rugged SEC East.

While Tennessee did the majority of its damage in the air, running back Arian Foster scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, racking up a career best 1,162 rushing yards.

With the challenge presented, many of the Badger veterans were ready to get back to work as soon as possible.

"You have got to get the work done," junior Jack Ikegwuonu said. "You really don't miss practice until you actually don't play and get back on the field and realize how much fun it is. Practicing knowing you're going to play a top team makes everything that much more exciting."

But coming off a four-month grind that requires complete dedication, the Big Ten conference is a unique animal that forces its 11 schools to go from the beginning of August until the middle of November with no breaks in between - although the conference will start to incorporate an off week starting in 2009.

While other BCS conferences like the ACC, Big 12 and SEC institute a league championship game, the Big Ten has traditionally taken Thanksgiving weekend off, giving players' time with their families.

The end result, however, is a long layoff between the end of the season and a bowl game, something that experts say is a huge disadvantage for the Big Ten and that the layoff was a huge factor in Ohio State getting destroyed against Florida in last season's BCS Championship game after being off for 50+ days.

"The layoff can either work for you or against you, depending on how you look at it and how you take it," Ikegwuonu said. "Some guys really take it and relax and move away from football a little bit or take it to better their body. It's all about the approach."

While the long layoff may trap a younger, inexperienced team, Wisconsin has dealt with layoffs of 40, 37 and 42 days between the end of the regular season and its January bowl game the last three years.

After losing to Georgia three years ago, ironically in the Outback Bowl, the Badgers have perfected their workout regiment into results on the field, winning the last two Capital One Bowls.

"It starts with the coaches, who keep our endurance up and set up a program that works," Beckum said. "Coach Bielema does a good job of practicing us the right amount and preps us for what the bowl game is going to bring."

Combining the use of agility and conditioning work to being bowl prep work, Wisconsin slowly eases into contact drills, stressing fundamentals and tackling, and works in a few intersquad scrimmages along the way.

Needless to say, the results speak for themselves.

"We've won some big games with a long layoff," defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz said. "It's a good formula where we work them hard enough, don't start too soon and emphasize fundamentals. We keep them wanting to practice and wanting to get better without overdoing it."

With a seemingly full-proof practice plan and plenty of time to prepare, Pressley, who wasn't able to play in Florida's sunny climate last season due to an injury, knows what is at stake if Wisconsin doesn't use this time to its advantage.

"We're going down there to represent the Big Ten and represent ourselves," Pressley said. "If we don't, we're going to look pretty foolish."

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