December 12, 2010

UW reveling in spotlight

MADISON - With a number of players up for various national awards, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has racked up some frequent flyer miles over the past couple of weeks.

Whether the fifth-year head coach was traveling to ESPN headquarters to promote his program or enjoying an evening inside Disney's Wide World of Sports while his starting left tackle became the second player under Bielema's watch to win the Outland Trophy, Bielema has been fairly visible.

"At one point we had five guys up for positional awards," Bielema told a small gathering of reporters inside Hilldale's Great Dane restaurant Sunday evening. "Out of 22 starters, that's a pretty impressive thing. That's why I went to ESPN for a day and bottom line, from my standpoint, it's all about exposure for recruiting. But also bottom line, the fans love it as well."

In addition to Carimi's distinction, both senior Lance Kendricks and junior John Clay were up for top honors at their respective positions. Scott Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas award as the nation's premier senior quarterback and junior J.J. Watt learns his fate in regards to the Lott Impact Player Award later this evening.

All the exposure the university is receiving, in addition to the fact that the Badgers are prepping for a trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, is something fueling a large contingent of excited fans.

"We've really tried to stress to our kids that they're playing in a bowl game that should they win, they'll be the highest ranked team in Badger history," Bielema said. "They could be up to the two spot. And I know I've read it in their comments and it's something I've mentioned to the players, if you win the game and something happens in the other game, you could possibly be an AP national champion.

"There's a lot of things out there. The part that we stress more than anything is that there is nothing more important than today."

Since hearing that UW will officially be playing in the Rose Bowl, the Badgers have undergone a handful of practices, some developmental and some good on good. Considering the game will be played on a Saturday, Bielema is treating the preparation schedule much like he would normally.

"It's huge," Bielema said. "When we're going through bowl prep and it's not on a Saturday I always say I know it's Tuesday, but it's like a Wednesday. So we don't have to go through that whole speech. I think our guys will lock in. Tomorrow is Tuesday and Wednesday practice. Thursday will be a little lighter day and then we'll give them two days off like they would for the game."

Testing their mettle:

Bowl prep is always an interesting time within the UW football program because it presents a challenge that isn't something the team really has to deal with during the regular season. Sure the players need to study and prepare for a mid term exam or project throughout the semester, but there really isn't anything as intense as finals week.

Well, before the team heads to California, they will need to get through another round of final exams. Bielema believes this stretch of practice and preparation is one of the more difficult ones to handle within the course of a season.

"We've already mapped it out," Bielema said. "We're going to practice three times, four times with the developmental practice during that seven day window. We'll make all our kids fill out a form so that we can try to take the least interference as possible."

This is also the time of the semester that any issues within the classroom tend to come to light. With a number of players setting an example, Bielema isn't too worried about the prospect of losing any players because of slumping academics.

"They're able to snap into that mode," Bielema said. "We definitely encourage and remind them of some things, but I think that's where our senior leadership is really going to come through."

How suite it is:

Every time a team qualifies for a bowl game, be it the Champs Sports Bowl or the Rose Bowl, there are a number of gifts given to the players. As participants in the Rose Bowl, UW players had the luxury of participating in a gift suite shopping spree.

Instead of spending a specific amount of money at Best Buy, the Badgers had a chance to enter a room full of different goodies earlier Sunday afternoon. They could grab what they wanted, as long as the price didn't amount to more than 500 dollars.

"We actually gave them a little bit of a tip off the day before," Bielema said. "We sent them an email and showed them what was available. I got a kick out of it. We let our seniors start at 10:30 and there were a couple of them already walking in there at 10:15."

Though the gift suite is meant to reward players for their individual effort both on and off the field as well as team success throughout the regular season, several UW players proved to be rather selfless.

"Right away when a couple of guys were talking about things there was a big reclining chair," Bielema said. "I heard two or three kids say, 'Oh, I'm going to get that for my dad.' It just gave me another example of how our kids think.

"Here they have the ability to get something for themselves and the kids were going to get something for their dad. I think that's pretty neat."

Odds and ends:

-Barring any injury during bowl prep, the team should enter the Rose Bowl game very healthy. Lance Kendricks returned to practice Sunday after leaving the Northwestern game late in the first half. Bielema expects everyone that hasn't undergone any sort of surgery, including John Clay, to be healthy for the game against TCU.

-Manasseh Garner has moved back to wide receiver and it seems as though Bielema is hoping to keep him on the offensive side of the ball permanently.

"We actually kept him there," Bielema said. "He helped us a little bit on defense and I think really got to understand how hard he had to prepare and move forward.

"The only thing that could be down the road for him is how his body grows and reacts. He could possibly be an 'H' guy eventually."

Quotable:

Bielema on his Outland experience with Carimi:

"I was giving Gabe a hard time because I said the last guy who came out here (Joe Thomas) proposed to his girlfriend on the boardwalk. (Gabe) didn't bring his girlfriend on the trip, I don't think."

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