Preparing for the Future

Although Tuesday's Outback Bowl will be the end of the 2007 season, UW coach Bret Bielema is treating it as the start of the 2008 campaign.

TAMPA, Fla. - The Outback Bowl is the ending to Wisconsin's 2007 season, but UW football coach Bret Bielema is also looking at it as the start of the 2008 season.

"I'm excited for this game and how we finish, but more excited for spring football as well," Bielema said.

With a full month of preparation for the bowl game, the UW coaches have had the opportunity to see their younger reserve players in more extended roles in practices, so looking toward next season already is hard to avoid.

And Bielema's not even trying to deny it.

"Over the last month, the part that we have really enjoyed as coaches is working with our development guys, the guys that aren't going to play a lot in the game," Bielema said.

Luckily for Bielema, he won't be losing too many seniors who started this season — only Nick Hayden on defense and Tyler Donovan, Marcus Coleman, Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan on offense.

As a result, Bielema's already looking at plugging in the holes. He said he's liked the progress offensive lineman Josh Oglesby and linebackers Blake Sorensen and Kevin Rouse have made over the past month.

However, one of Wisconsin's younger reserves may make an impact in the bowl game itself. Sophomore defensive end O'Brien Schofield — a converted linebacker who has contributed on special teams this season — might be playing a number of downs against Tennessee.

"Just (the way) this game looks, with what Tennessee does, this could be a game he fits into very, very well," Bielema said. "He has been practicing probably at as good a rate as I've seen out of him over the last month."

Tennessee asks for Mayo on the side

Due to suspensions, Tennessee head coach Philip Fulmer will be shaking up his starting linebackers for the Outback Bowl, and he wants his most experienced group out there.

That means junior Jerod Mayo, Ellix Wilson and Ryan Karl will be the starters in the absence of regular starter Rico McCoy, who is academically ineligible. Furthermore, it means Mayo—the Volunteers' leading tackler this season—will move from the middle to the outside.

"Those guys give us our best chance to be in good position and are good players," Fulmer said.

Fulmer doesn't think moving Mayo to the outside will affect his productivity at all—just as long as he's somewhere on the field, Fulmer believes Mayo will make an impact with his speed.

"He gives us a chance off the edge to have another guy with quickness and speed as a pass rusher or pursuit guy," Fulmer said. "After you adjust those linebackers around to different personnel they end up in a lot of places anyway with different formations.

No Strings Attached

While the Outback Bowl may not have the same prestige as the Capital One Bowl, both coaches believe it is one of the best around.

"The bowl is very organized and has been a great host," Fulmer said.

Both coaches appreciate all the festivities the bowl has offered, such as a trip to a Tampa Bay Lightning game and the Clearwater Beach. But more than anything else, they appreciate the fact that many of the festivities aren't mandatory—leaving more time for practices and rest.

"Of all the bowls I've been associated with, I think they really are conservative of the players' time and the coaches' times," Bielema said.

Strong NFL Prospect

With NFL Scouts crawling around the Wisconsin Badgers practice at Jefferson High School, nobody has garnered more attention than kicker Taylor Mehlhaff.

Currently second on the school's career scoring list and third in career field goals, Mehlhaff has already been invited to the NFL combine and will participate in the East/West All-Star game.

"He's been incredible," Bielema said. "Sometimes I sit with NFL Scouts and he's the guy that I spend the most time talking about. He really will have a lot of success in the NFL because of his mind. He's got as strong a leg as any."

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