MADISON, Wis. - Saturday was always going to be tough. Even if head coach Bret Bielema decided to honor his seniors after the game, like he was thinking about doing in his first year as a head coach, eventually he'd have to go through the same emotions that come with saying goodbye to a class of players.
Saturday's game against Penn State will be the final game at Camp Randall for 21 Wisconsin players, and it was clear in his weekly press conference that it will be an emotional day for Bielema as well.
"This is senior class is so unique," Bielema said. "I've got walk-ons that are captains, I've got transfers that have become critical components of us winning football games, I've got guys that have had glory coming in and after some trials and tribulation are playing good football now, so for me it's a very satisfying day to let our seniors have the big stage."
They probably couldn't have asked for a bigger stage for their final send-off at Camp Randall, where the winning team will advance to the first-ever Big Ten Championship game to play Michigan State.
This will be Bielema's second recruiting class that he's seen, and it was obvious how important this group of seniors has been to the head coach.
"These kids, I've been in their homes, I've been through good and bad, you know, so it's a tough day," Bielema said. "It's a day you don't want to let go, and we've got a lot of football after it hopefully. But you've been with those kids so much ... I just think it's a part of college football you've got to embrace."
In particular, Bielema became emotional when talking about Aaron Henry, one of four captains on the team and the undisputed emotional leader of the defense. According to Bielema, Henry recently gave a speech to scholarship donors, and it impressed a lot of people, but it was old news to the sixth-year head coach.
"Aaron gave a ten-minute speech, there wasn't one ‘um,' there wasn't one ‘uh,' and I think everybody walked out of there [was] like ‘wow.' They got to see it for ten minutes, I got to see it for five years," Bielema said, his voice breaking eventually. "And Aaron and I have had our disagreements ... on the same account, there is not a kid that means more to me in the program than him. So ... he's special."
This ‘special' group of seniors has a chance to tie the all-time Wisconsin record for wins, currently held by the 2007 class with 40. With three games potentially remaining, the Badgers have an opportunity to tie the record for the seniors, and to send off a special class, which as Bielema put it, deserves to be treated like champions.
-- The Badgers escaped a tough battle in Champaign relatively injury-free. Junior offensive tackle Ricky Wagner sprained his MCL during the game and will probably sit out Tuesday's practice, but Bielema expects him to practice after that.
News and Notes
-- Weekly MVPs: Montee Ball, who also won the Big Ten's co-offensive player award, shared the offensive award with Bradie Ewing. Antonio Fenelus represented the defense, who had an interception and held A.J. Jenkins to a season-low in yards, and Philip Welch and Brad Nortman split the special teams honors.
-- Bielema mentioned again his desire for the Badgers to play a season-ending rivalry game. Since the Badgers will play Penn State at the end of every season until 2014, I would say there's definitely a chance of that happening.
"We haven't played [Penn State] in two years so it's kind of uncharted water," Bielema said. "I think anytime your marquee teams in your league can have a little bit of a rivalry going it's a good thing."
-- If the Badgers win on Saturday, it would be the first time in program history with three consecutive double-digit win seasons.
-- Bielema mentioned that Al Toon will be the honorary captain on Saturday.
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