MADISON - Opening the season on a Thursday night means the Wisconsin football team's typical game week routine is two days ahead of schedule. As a result, head coach Bret Bielema gave a rare Saturday press conference previewing the Badgers' upcoming game against UNLV.
To Bielema, the opportunity to begin the college football season in primetime is worth adjusting the schedule.
"ESPN contacted us, they asked if we'd have an interest," Bielema said. "I think the ability to say that we're going to kick off the college football season is a big, big deal. They could have reached out to 120 other teams.
Bielema did not sound surprised that ESPN would choose to showcase Wisconsin in front of a national audience.
"I think there's a national draw to this because it's good," Bielema said. "We've got kids that have done well in the classroom. There isn't a scandal, there isn't a player under investigation."
The Badgers enter the season relatively healthy. Bielema said free safety Aaron Henry is ready to play and that backup running back Jeff Lewis practiced last night. Tight end Sherard Cadogan is expected back any day now and there is even an outside chance wide receiver Manasseh Garner will play in Thursday night's opener. If not, Bielema said, Garner will certainly return for the following week's game against Oregon State.
One area of concern is the depth at quarterback.
Bielema said sophomore Jon Budmayr, who was expected to be Russell Wilson's backup, will not be available Thursday and could face a prolonged absence. Surgery may be necessary to solve Budmayr's elbow problems.
That leaves redshirt freshman Joe Brennan, who looked shaky in the spring game, as the team's second quarterback. But Bielema said Brennan has made good progress throughout camp.
"He's just kind of carrying himself a little bit better," Bielema said. "He made a comment to me last night, 'Coach, I'm ready to be the number two quarterback.' Most kids can't fake that type of confidence."
Still, it is critical that Wilson remain healthy, and the team's potential if he does is limitless.
"His football IQ is really exceptional," Bielema said of Wilson. "The maturity that that young man has and the way he can process everything going on around him, he's got a pretty good handle on everything. He has been a professional athlete. He knows the pro side of sports. That, I think, has helped him with his transition here."
Lastly, Bielema said senior kicker Philip Welch will practice kicking today but that redshirt freshman Kyle French is not a bad option if Welch is not fully healthy. Regardless, sophomore Alec Lerner will handle kickoffs against UNLV.
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