When Wisconsin travels to Minnesota for its first road game of the 2009 season, it will signify the 119th meeting between the two teams, plenty of familiar faces in old places and bitter moments from past match-ups.
The Gophers coaching staff has three assistants - co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ronnie Lee and offensive line coach Tim Davis - that spent a combined 23 seasons working with former head coach Barry Alvarez, including 14 seasons and three Rose Bowls victories for Cosgrove. Wisconsin's Kerry Cooks spent only one season in Minnesota in 2005 before moving on to a better job with the Badgers.
The Wisconsin squad has eight Minnesota natives on its team, including wide receivers Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath and linebacker Blake Sorensen, while the Gophers have eight Wisconsin natives on their roster.
There have been low blows – like Minnesota Eric Decker punching Jack Ikegwuonu in the growing – and post-game jawing – like Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster's son telling then kicker Taylor Mehlhaff that, ‘You guys suck. You're a terrible team. We're 1-10 and we should have beat you.'
The two teams have countless recruits that the two schools have fought over, including Wisconsin's Gilreath and Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, and the coveted Paul Bunyan's Axe, which has rested comfortably on Wisconsin's sideline for the past five seasons and 12 of the last 14 contests.
But one player that will be closely monitored by both sides is junior safety Kim Royston, a transfer from Wisconsin that was none-to-pleased when he left for Minneapolis two years ago.
After playing mostly on special teams and as an extra defensive back, Royston, who made a total of 22 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception during his 25-game UW career, was not happy when he felt he wasn't given a fair shot at starting at strong safety, especially since Royston felt he had done everything he was asked to do by the coaching staff.
The position was instead given to redshirt freshman Jay Valai, a good friend of Royston's that had performed well in the Outback Bowl.
Informing Bielema that he was thinking about transferring to a different school, Bielema was quite candid about the situation involving Royston, a Minneapolis native that was rated as one of the top 45 players in the Midwest in the 2007 recruiting class from Cretin-Derham Hall High School, even going so far as to saying he wasn't going to force Royston to stay should that be what he decided to do.
"He's had some trouble since he's been here," Bielema said at the time. "He wants to be a [starter], and he's not in that position at this point …It comes to a point that if you don't want to be here, then we don't want you in the program …Any time a kid has left our program and transferred to another school, it has never been anything they thought it was going to be. They always end up, whether it's a year later or five years later, coming back and saying, ‘I wish I would've stayed where I was at.'"
With the way Royston's been motivated since he left Madison, that doesn't appear to be the case in this scenario.
Royston was granted his release to a handful of programs, including Boston College, Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington, but not Minnesota. The NCAA rules prevented him from having contact with the Gophers until he had applied and been accepted as a regular student at Minnesota, which is exactly what Royston did, enrolling at Minnesota last fall.
The only caveat was Royston would not be allowed to receive a scholarship, according to Big Ten transfer rules, and would have to sit out a season, according to NCAA rules, which he did in preparation for his final two seasons.
"It was a big issue a long time ago," Bielema said Monday. "I'm happy for Kim. Bottom line is that we thought the world of Kim and that's why we offered him and that's why he was here."
"When he was here, I would have done anything for him. And to this day, other than the game against us, I would root for Kim because he has all the right intentions."
Since coming to Wisconsin, Bielema has discouraged other players wanting to transfer from transferring into another Big Ten program, thus having them compete against Wisconsin, by attempting to block their release.
After four starts at safety in Minnesota's backfield, Royston has shown he can be a playmaker, as he is fifth on the team with 17 tackles (11 solo), a pass breakup and an interception.
"Kim is a motivated young man," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said at media day. "He wanted to come here and work hard and that's just what he did in the offseason. He practiced hard, he worked hard in the weight room and he wants to contribute for every game."
Despite that and all the other storylines, Bielema tried to make it clear that he didn't want the Royston issue or any other story, like his icy relationship with Brewster or the first Big Ten game at TCF Bank Stadium, to cloud the two good football teams playing on Saturday.
"To me, the story needs to be about Wisconsin and Minnesota playing each other," Bielema said. "To me, it's always about the teams. It's about a 4-0 football team who is going on the road for the first time with a very good 3-1 football team.
"I think anything that's a story outside of that, just doesn't do us what we want in college football."