In the shadow of the Big Ten's latest round of expansion, Bielema and the Badgers prepare for their regular-season finale.
Bret Bielema's weekly Monday press conference could've been fairly normal, one that addressed some lingering issues from Saturday's loss to Ohio State and previewed the regular-season finale at Penn State this weekend.
But with this weekend's speculation of Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten becoming official on Monday morning, Bielema had a few more questions to face. Wisconsin's head coach said he had not heard many of the details of the expansion, which will reportedly force border rival Illinois over to the Legends Division.
Maryland prez tells regents MD, RU in Leaders Division w/OSU, PSU, Wisconsin, Purdue & Indiana. Illinois moves to Legends— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) November 19, 2012
"You know what, I play the schedule they put in front of us," Bielema said. "I do understand, I think there's a tremendous value in the East Coast markets. I understand television and all of that stuff. It's way beyond what I think coaches think about."
Nevertheless, Bielema went on to say he's in favor of the aforementioned alignment. That echoed his statements after the conference's addition of Nebraska created the Legends and Leaders Division, locking Wisconsin into yearly games with Illinois, Indiana and Purdue, as well as the typically more daunting challenges of Ohio State and Penn State. Now, Illinois leaves the Leaders Division and Wisconsin gets to face Maryland and Rutgers. The Terrapins, amidst a ridiculous rash of injuries, are 4-7 (2-5 ACC). The Scarlet Knights, however, sit atop the Big East with a 9-1 overall record and 5-0 conference mark.
Wisconsin also already scheduled a home-and-home with Maryland for 2020 and 2021 back in October, further lightening the impact of Monday's news.
"The reason we pursued a game at Maryland is because it was an attractive offer for us in recruiting, to be quite honest, to allow kids to go back home and play," Bielema said."Right now, our only true East Coast game is Penn State, and obviously this'll give us two more opportunities to sell to them.
"I'm excited, every time the commissioner and athletic directors have come up a plan it's been very, very positive, so I'm assuming this will be as well."
Other non-realignment tidbits from Bielema's presser:
- An MRI confirmed that right tackle Rob Havenstein has a mild MCL sprain. Bielema hopes Havenstein can return around the middle of this week. Linebacker Chris Borland, who did not play vs. Ohio State due to a hamstring injury, is feeling "very, very well" and is hoping to practice on Tuesday.
- Even with a Big Ten Championship Game berth secured, the Badgers don't plan to rest any players vs. Penn State. "If a guy's healthy coming into this game, obviously depending on how the ebb and flow of the game goes, we don't plan on holding anybody back."
- Bielema on the Badgers' third-down defensive package with six guys in a two-point stance, which has fared pretty well lately and forced Ohio State to burn two timeouts on third downs: "There's an element to it when those guys are in that position, they could be rushing or dropping. They're very athletic. I think [defensive coordinator Chris Ash and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge are] taking advantage of our skill sets there. We probably have a little bit more of those in-between guys that aren't real big up front, but we have a lot of guys that can run it and create some plays with their feet, as well as rushing the passer."
- Bielema on Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin: "He really, I think, understands the role that he has as the quarterback in that system. He makes a lot of decisions at the line of scrimmage. I think he's even made some false keys and reads to kind of mess with some [defensive backs] during the course of it. He's obviously a very intelligent, very competitive kid. You saw him react the way he did at the end of that Nebraska game. He's a guy that wants to win every game, every snap. You could see why the kids play hard around him."
- Bielema thought Saturday's loss was the best game Wisconsin's played this season: "It doesn't sound right to say after a loss, but we took a team that is undefeated and ranked in the top-five in the AP Poll and played them at their full strength; we were down seven players and we took them to an overtime game. I thought we probably played our best game and didn't get the win. But you can't just let that kind of be lost in the shuffle."
- Penn State linebacker and Butkus Award semifinalist Michael Mauti will not play on Saturday after suffering a knee injury in the Nittany Lions' 45-22 win over Indiana. Bielema agreed Wisconsin and Penn State have the two best linebacking groups in the Big Ten: "I'll say that this week because I can't make anybody else mad. ... I appreciate linebacker play, I've coached them my whole life. It's pretty hard to take these six linebackers when Mauti's healthy, those are pretty intense players."
- Bielema also took that opportunity to praise linebacker Ethan Armstrong, who played MLB with Borland out despite a limited number of practice reps at that spot: "One of the things that was lost in the game was how well Ethan Armstrong played at the 'Mike' linebacker position for repping that five days is pretty insane."