MADISON, Wis. — As rivalry hardware goes, the Heartland Trophy hardly holds up with the most significant in college football. There is no wartime implication or even a history of its existence before 2004.
And during an era in which Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten championships and appeared in three Rose Bowls, the question is: Does a trophy game against an Iowa team that hasn’t played Wisconsin since 2010 still matter?
Well, yes, apparently.
“I grew up right in the heart of Big Ten country,” said Badgers linebacker Ethan Armstrong, who was offered a preferred walk-on spot out of high school to Iowa. “I watched the trophy games growing up. The biggest thing about a trophy is it symbolizes a win. The rivalries, the tradition, the stuff that goes with it, we want to honor that and keep that going. It is important to us.”
No. 22 Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) travels to face Iowa (5-3, 2-2) at 11 a.m. CT Saturday, and the rights to a 30-inch-tall bronzed bull will be on the line for the first time in three years. Wisconsin has maintained control of the traveling trophy since a 31-20 victory on Oct. 23, 2010.
“I think it means a lot,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said Monday during his weekly news conference. “And you sit there and you look at that trophy, it’s either a trophy case with a trophy in it or a trophy case that’s empty. And you either hope to hold onto it or hoping to get it back.
“So it does matter to kids and it’s something these kids talked about it all last week, and they understand it and it does give a little bit extra edge. And I think it’s important for the fans. It’s college football. That’s why college football is so special because it has the extra added rivalries and the team that doesn’t play so well gets into some of these games at some point and plays very well because maybe they have a little extra edge because they’re fighting for something different.”
There are nearly 70 different trophy games in Division I college football, and Iowa is part of four of them. In addition to Iowa-Wisconsin, there is Iowa-Iowa State (Cy-Hawk Trophy), Iowa-Nebraska (Heroes Trophy) and Iowa-Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale Trophy).
Wisconsin’s rivalry against Minnesota for Paul Bunyan’s Axe was introduced in 1948 and holds far greater significance to Badgers fans. But with Wisconsin and Iowa both moving to the Big Ten’s newly formed West Division in 2014, the Heartland Trophy could pick up steam.
The game represents Andersen’s first foray into a trophy game as Wisconsin’s coach, but he has experience in similar games as a head coach at Utah State and assistant at Utah.
Utah, Utah State and BYU battle annually for the Beehive Boot, which goes to the team that finishes with the best record against its in-state foes.
Utah State and BYY meet annually for the Old Wagon Wheel, which dates back to 1922. With Andersen at the helm, Utah State beat BYU 31-16 in 2010 to reclaim the trophy for the first time since 1993.
“It’s a big old wagon wheel,” Andersen said. “I don’t know all the ins and outs of it. It’s big and heavy. Roll it in and out of the stadium when you bring it in there. And it was for the BYU-Utah State game, exclusively. And I don’t know if it’s true but our equipment guy, after we beat BYU a few years ago, fortunate enough to get that done, we had to go down and get it. It had been a long time. I don’t know if BYU, I don’t know if you can find the AD but they found it in the back room and we gladly transported it back to Logan with a lot of pride.”
Borland update: Andersen said he expected linebacker Chris Borland to be fully cleared to play against Iowa. Borland strained his right hamstring on punt coverage during the first quarter against Northwestern on Oct. 19.
“We’ll continually watch him and monitor him as it goes,” Andersen said. “Trainers have done a great job as far as getting to this point Chris has done a great job. Obviously it’s not an injury that’s foreign to him. He’s been through this before. A couple of times with where he sits and I think he’ll get back as soon as he can, but I’m very optimistic that he’ll play in the game.”
Borland leads the team with 57 tackles. Michael Caputo is second with 34 tackles.
Because of Borland’s hamstring injury, he will be kept out of the mix for long-range field goals against Iowa — a task he was given before the Northwestern game.
Borland, who made 7 of 8 field goal attempts in practice two weeks ago, said he was disappointed he wouldn’t have the opportunity in the near future.
“Yeah, it would have been a fun thing to do,” Borland said. “I hadn’t kicked in a long time. I was kicking well. I felt like I was improving too. It would have been nice to continue on that arc and help the team if I could. We’ve got guys that can get it done I think. They work hard at it. I’ll probably be off this week at least. Hopefully if called into duty I can get it done.”
This, that: Borland showed his humorous side during his session with the media on Monday. When asked about what he had heard from past Badgers players about playing at Iowa, he quipped, “I’ve heard the pink locker room is overrated. I’m excited to see that. I heard it’s more of a mauve. I thought it would be hot pink. I’m kind of disappointed.”
Borland also discussed the topic of Halloween, noting nose guard Beau Allen wanted to dress up as controversial pop star Miley Cyrus.
“He’ll have to take care of that,” Borland said, “and I’ll pass out the candy at the house.”
Punt return talk: Iowa’s Kevonte Martin-Manley leads the country in punt return average (24.2 yards) by more than four yards. Martin-Manley, a 6-foot, 205-pound junior, has returned two kicks for touchdowns.
The Badgers have negated previous opponents this season by using a rugby-style punt from Drew Meyer that doesn’t allow as much hang time. That trend could continue to prevent Martin-Manley from breaking off a big run.
“It is a good weapon,” Andersen said. “They’ve been very good in their punt return game. Obviously the numbers speak for that and I know coach said a few weeks ago they were going to go safe mode. I hope they continue to do that down the road but they’ve got some gifted kids back there.”