No. 6 Wisconsin focused on winning Big Ten title
Wisconsin is closing in on a special season, needing two wins to claim at least a share of the Big Ten title and perhaps its first BCS bowl bid.
The sixth-ranked Badgers are trying to block out the hype.
''Yeah, it's tough to constantly have to tune that out,'' Wisconsin guard John Moffitt said. ''I think you have to be gracious with it. It's been a really good season so far, but we still have two more still to play. That's what's important, this one especially.''
The Badgers (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) are favored to beat Michigan (7-3, 3-3) by almost a touchdown Saturday at the Big House and will be expected to defeat Northwestern next week at home.
If they avoid an upset, at least a piece of the Big Ten title will be theirs for the first time since 1999 when they went on to play in the Rose Bowl.
Wisconsin will probably get back to Pasadena, Calif., with an 11-1 mark even if Ohio State and Michigan State both have the same records because BCS standings are the three-way tiebreaker and the Badgers are No. 7 in those - two spots ahead of the Buckeyes and five in front of the Spartans.
The Badgers, though, haven't won in Ann Arbor since 1994.
''You have to embrace the negatives and the positives experiences that you have and grow forward,'' coach Bret Bielema said. ''I don't think we'll use it much during the course of the week except for another great example of how hard it is to win in the Big Ten on the road.''
Two years ago, coach Rich Rodriguez earned his first win against a ranked team with the Wolverines by helping them rally from a 19-point deficit against Wisconsin. Rodriguez has had a difficult time winning anywhere in the Big Ten, losing 16 of 22 games in nearly three seasons.
But the Wolverines have their first conference winning streak under Rodriguez - beating Illinois 67-65 in triple overtime and Purdue 27-16 - to give them some much-needed confidence headed into their home finale.
''We don't have a big, big senior class, but the guys that we have been through a lot,'' Rodriguez said.
The 13 fourth-year seniors - mostly nondescript players from Lloyd Carr's last full recruiting class - and eight fifth-year seniors came to Michigan expecting to enjoy success with college football's winningest program. They beat Tim Tebow-led Florida in Carr's finale at the 2008 Capital One Bowl, the school's 33rd straight postseason appearance.
Rodriguez came to town, shook up the Wolverines with his intensity and spread offense, then lost a school-record nine games in his debut season and floundered to a 5-7 finish last year.
''It's been an interesting experience, not one I expected when I came here,'' fifth-year senior Stephen Schilling said. ''Hopefully, this is the year that Michigan gets back on a bowl streak.''
The Wolverines will need a lot to go their way.
Wisconsin's offensive line has combined to start 125 games, is huge - 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds on average - and makes big holes for running backs Montee Ball and James White.
Reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay will be in uniform, but Bielema said he will play on his sore right knee only in an emergency. The Badgers didn't need Clay to score 83 points last week against Indiana because Ball ran for 167 yards and three TDs in his first career start and freshman James White ran for 144 yards and two scores.
Michigan's defense, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten, is expected to get a boost with the return of nose tackle Mike Martin (ankles) and Jonas Mouton (chest) after both missed the last game with injuries.
Wisconsin's J.J. Watt-led defense has forced seven turnovers the past two games and its going up against banged-up Denard Robinson, who has thrown two interceptions in each of the past two games and also fumbled twice last week.
Robinson is 78 yards away from surpassing the record for yards rushing by a quarterback. He has been knocked out of games with concussion-like symptoms, a sore right shoulder and bruised left knee and yet the Badgers aren't spending too much time preparing to play backup Tate Forcier.
''He's caused defenses all kinds of problems,'' safety Aaron Henry said of Robinson. ''Schematically, we're going to do some pretty good things against him, but their offense is ran around that guy. Watching him on film, he's the real deal.''