MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Another week, another jaw-dropping blowout for No. 5 Wisconsin.
This one earned the Badgers a share of the Big Ten title.
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And with the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative still to be determined, it remains to be seen if their recent run of scoreboard-scorching victories will be sufficient.
Wisconsin routed Northwestern 70-23 at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, and will split the conference championship three ways after Ohio State and Michigan State won earlier in the day.
“From Day 1 since I got here, that’s all anybody’s been talking about, the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl,” said Badgers safety Aaron Henry, twirling a rose in his hand. “And you have to be a Big Ten champion in order to get that spot in the Rose Bowl, and we definitely took care of that tonight.”
The Badgers (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) appear to have the inside track on the Rose Bowl, which will be determined by the Bowl Championship Series standings. Fans chanted “Rose Bowl” in the final seconds of the game, then rushed the field as fireworks exploded over the stadium.
No. 8 Ohio State beat Michigan on Saturday, and No. 11 Michigan State won at Penn State. Wisconsin came into this week leading both teams in the BCS rankings.
Wisconsin certainly is doing its best to impress voters in recent weeks.
Its victory Saturday made it four straight by 20 points or more — and it wasn’t even the most lopsided game in that stretch, because Wisconsin beat Indiana 83-20 on Nov. 13. And it was the third time this season the Badgers scored 70 points or more.
Nationally, Bielema has earned some criticism for running up the score during the Badgers’ recent run — but given the chance to score one last touchdown on Saturday, Wisconsin instead ran out the clock inside the Northwestern 10-yard line in the final two minutes of the game.
Bielema was confident his team is Rose Bowl-bound.
“I really believe that right now, the way we’re playing,” Bielema said. “We’re playing as well as anybody in the country.”
Montee Ball rushed for 178 yards and four touchdowns for the Badgers. Scott Tolzien was 15 of 19 for 230 yards and four touchdowns, including a pair to wide receiver Nick Toon.
It was also a dominant game by standout defensive end J.J. Watt, who forced two fumbles and made a big hit that caused an interception. Watt even blocked a Northwestern extra point try in the third quarter, leaving the crowd chanting his name.
“We needed to bring a title back to Wisconsin, and that’s exactly what we did,” Watt said. “And we couldn’t be happier. … Enjoy it tonight, because I know I’m going to.”
Wisconsin’s only scare came when tight end Lance Kendricks landed awkwardly on the ball after catching a 29-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter. After lying on the turf for several minutes surrounded by the team’s medical staff, Kendricks was able to get up and walk to the locker room with assistance.
Venric Mark returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown for Northwestern (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten), returning nine kickoffs a total of 273 yards.
“When I took it back to the house, I thought they weren’t going to kick it to me (again),” Mark said. “Then they kept kicking it to me and I found that highly disrespectful.”
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Saturday’s loss wasn’t a step backward for the program.
“No, we lost a football game today,” Fitzgerald said. “We have two freshmen quarterbacks playing their second game. We turned the ball over on the road against a team that won the Big Ten championship. That’s not a step backwards, it’s a loss.”
Already without quarterback Dan Persa because of an Achilles’ tendon injury, Northwestern also was missing top running back Mike Trumpy because of a wrist injury.
The Wildcats split time at quarterback between Evan Watkins and Kain Colter.
Stopping Wisconsin clearly was going to be a challenge for Northwestern’s defense, which gave up 519 yards rushing in a loss to Illinois at Wrigley Field last week.
Fitzgerald said his team would have had a tough time beating anybody with four interceptions and three lost fumbles, let alone a conference champion.
“I’m very disappointed in our effort at taking care of the football,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the No. 1 objective of the game and we didn’t do that. You give a good football team a short field, you give a good football team momentum at home, and you pretty much beat yourself.”