MADISON, Wis. - This doesn't normally happen. For just the second time in Wisconsin Badgers history, the football team will go to back-to-back Rose Bowl games. But this time, the Badgers will go back to Pasadena, Calif., looking to bring home a win after losing 21-19 to TCU the last time around.
But in a way, last year's experience could help the Badgers stay more focused this time around. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday he had a conversation with sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who pointed out that last year, some of the Badgers got too caught up in the Rose Bowl experience.
"I always talk to my underclassmen who are leaders ... and [Abbrederis] was like ‘Coach, last year, everybody was kind of just excited to be out there in that great environment, this year we're going back for a return trip, and [we] know what we have to do to play good ball,'" Bielema said.
It's a sentiment that other Badgers echoed Wednesday, in their first session with the media since beating Michigan State 42-39 in the Big Ten championship game. Senior safety Aaron Henry started at strong safety in the last Rose Bowl game, and said he wouldn't let himself or his fellow players get caught up in the spectacle again.
"I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be shocked, just because I know what I'm getting myself into," Henry said. "It's kind of like getting your first car. You get your first car, and you're just in awe about it. You never really had something that's your own, and when you get your second car, you may be thrilled about it, but it's not going to be like the first one. It's always that first time that's truly special, just for the simple fact that you're never going to forget it, but I think now I kind of know what to expect. I know what to look forward to, and know I can truly have my guys honed in on what we're playing for."
So this year, it's all business for the Badgers. At least, that's what running back Montee Ball would have you believe.
"We're going to approach it more like a business trip, and make sure we go in with our minds set, and really go in remembering why we're in [Los Angeles]," Ball said. "We walked into LA with big eyes, most of us had never been there, so we were a little distracted."
"Last year ... we didn't do a good job of blocking out distractions, but this year we're going to make sure that we do that."
Ball in particular has said he used last year's bowl loss as motivation to improve his game. After falling just short of 1,000 yards on the season, Ball felt like he could've had a better game, if only he had been more explosive. A few pounds lighter and a few months later, Ball has had one of the best seasons ever for a Wisconsin running back, culminating in an invite to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
"Montee might be a small part of what this whole team felt," Bielema said. "A year ago, to be in that press conference after the game and [to] see the emotions ... [it] really left a tough feeling."
It's oddly fitting that a team that was given a rare second chance to win a Big Ten title has now earned an even rarer trip to a second consecutive Rose Bowl. Ever since losing to Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers have focused on making the most of their second chances; and come Jan. 2, the Badgers will have a chance to come all the way back and revel in a BCS game win that they so nearly had just one year ago.
"Going out there to the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row, and having a chance to cap this thing off right ... it's going to be special," Henry said. "We have an opportunity to go out there and do something that hasn't been done [at Wisconsin] in a while, and that's win a Rose Bowl ... and that's what we plan on doing."
-- Center Peter Konz should return to practice next week. The Badgers have held him out since the Big Ten Championship game as he recovers from a dislocated left ankle.
-- Wide receiver Nick Toon banged up his shoulder against Michigan State, but he's fine for bowl prep.
"I give credit to him," Bielema said. "I think he's really persevered through some things and battled ... I'd be very surprised if Nick doesn't play one of the best games of his career."
-- Quarterback Jon Budmayr suffered another setback as he tries to recover from a nerve injury in his throwing arm. The injury has held him out all season, and it still looks like a long way back for the sophomore.
Fellow quarterback Curt Phillips has made strides as he recovers from his last ACL injury, but it's still unclear when he would be ready for full practices. That might be the spring, it might be the fall, but it's easy to see why the Badgers would entertain the idea of another one-year transfer quarterback.
-- In an unrelated note, former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist is supposed to be in Madison at the end of this week. Nothing to see here though, folks. Keep calm and carry on.
News and Notes
-- Wilson, Toon, and right guard Kevin Zeitler have all been invited to the senior bowl, which bodes well for their chances to get an invite to the NFL combine, and subsequently getting taken in next year's NFL draft.
-- Only Ball and Konz are considering leaving school early for the NFL Draft, according to Bielema, and he won't have any hard feelings if either of them decides to take the professional plunge.
"If they're first-rounders, I'll be the first to pat them on the back and wish them ‘good luck,' because that's a dream come true," Bielema said.
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