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How Luke Fickell has embraced the importance of rivalries for the Badgers

The Badgers have their first rivalry of the year in Week 7 against Iowa.

The Wisconsin Badgers have a crucial matchup ahead of them in Week 7 against the Iowa Hawkeyes, with both teams vying for the top spot in the Big Ten West, which would provide a trip to the Big Ten Championship in December.

However, the division isn’t the only thing on the line; the Badgers and Hawkeyes are also fighting for the Heartland Trophy, with the battle being one of Wisconsin’s two protected rivalries under the new Big Ten format.

This season is a little different for the Badgers, as they welcomed in a completely new staff, with a majority of members coming from outside the Big Ten under new head coach Luke Fickell.

So, how are the Badgers addressing rivalry week?

Upon entering Madison, upholding the rivalries was a crucial element for Fickell, who, as a traditionalist, decided to spend time in the offseason to learn more about the rivalry and educate the team about its importance.

“Rivalries are really important to me and they always have been. Just the way I grew up, obviously in a Big Ten country, not that I’ve known a ton about obviously the rivalry,” Fickell said.

“That’s why I thought it was a big deal for us as a program and a staff to make sure that this summer and even in fall camp that we studied the rivalry and made sure we had nights about the rivalry, both this one and the Minnesota one as well. But it was really important because I truly believe, to respect the rival, you got to do a lot of work and you got to understand when you’re walking into something, the history behind it and the meaning behind it and what’s going to be a little bit different in those games. So I’m excited.”

However, Fickell isn't oblivious to Iowa and their approach, having coached in the Big Ten at Ohio State prior to his move to Cincinnati, and is excited to encounter his first true rivalry game in his Badgers career.

“Obviously, I’ve played Iowa a lot and coached against Iowa a lot and I think every single game that I’ve ever coached in, maybe one that I played in but ended up being a complete battle as well, has been just that kind of the history and the tradition of the type of ball they play and what it comes down to. So excited for that, excited for our guys, and obviously for our first real kind of rivalry game this year.“

Running back Braelon Allen revealed some of the steps that Fickell went through with the team, which involved bringing in past players to discuss their experiences with the rivalry.

“During fall camp, we had like rivalry night so the former players would come into the meeting and kind of talk about what the rivalry has meant to them,” Allen said. “Players spoke on it, everybody that’s played in the game kind of speaks on all the rivalries. So that was one thing Coach Fick made sure to, like you said, address when he first got here, understand the tradition of it and like I said, just having the respect for these rivalries.”

Allen shared that some of the former players who were involved in the process were Alec James, Chris Orr, and Bo Allen.

How does Fickell look at rivalries in general around college football?

“I do [think they're important]. Like I said, I’m a traditionalist,” Fickell said. “I think it’s great for college football. No matter what the situation, no matter what, our leagues continue to grow and change, our ability to still create great rivalries in college football, I think, is what makes us special.”

While Wisconsin didn't have much say in what rivalries would protected, Fickell was pleased that both of the Badgers’ primary ones were preserved, which he believes is good for all elements of college football.

“So some way, somehow, whether that’s calling protected rivalries or not, it’s just we’ve got to make sure we find ways to continue to keep, not just for the fans, but for the players and for the program, these things intact.”

The Badgers, who stand at 2-0 in conference play, face off against the Hawkeyes, standing at 2-1 against conference opponents, on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, with the Heartland Trophy on the line.