UW's Bielema favors eight-game league slate
CHICAGO — Even while immersing himself in his own team and conference matters, Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema takes stock of the way teams in other conferences operate.
When it comes to the number of games a conference should play against league opponents every season, he believes the SEC model of eight games is the way to go.
"The SEC has the eight and they've won six (national championships) in a row," Bielema said. "I do enjoy playing nonconference opponents. I realize the fan base may want nine or 10 or play us all, but I also believe if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We've been able to have success going to back-to-back BCS games. I like that formula."
The topic of scheduling was among the many hot-button issues addressed on Thursday during Big Ten media days, particularly after talk surfaced earlier this offseason of a possible nine-game conference slate in the Big Ten.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 both play nine-game conference schedules, and the ACC is moving to a nine-game schedule when it expands to 14 teams.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald also expressed his desire to keep an eight-game Big Ten schedule, citing the practicality of it.
"To have the four on the road and four at home just seems to make more sense for us as coaches," Fitzgerald said. "I think it would really impact our nonconference scheduling also if we were to go to nine games moving forward."
Bielema said he liked the flexibility of having four nonconference games and was hoping to schedule tougher non-league contests as college football moves toward a four-team playoff in 2014.
Next year, Wisconsin will play Arizona State and BYU, although the Badgers also take on lower-tier foes Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech.
"For us to move forward, I've been trying to get a second BCS-caliber team on our roster," Bielema said. "Hopefully some even bigger and better things are coming down the line."
On the topic of nonconference games, Bielema added that it's especially difficult to schedule a home-and-home series because many teams aren't willing to play in Madison. According to Bielema, San Diego State backed out of an agreement to play Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium, prompting a scheduling switch to Tennessee Tech.
"That threw that whole thing into a tailspin," Bielema said. "It's so hard to make dates work."
Phillips in the mix: Hold your horses on the notion that Danny O'Brien is already Wisconsin's starting quarterback. According to Bielema, the battle is far from over.
And an interesting name has emerged as a quarterback candidate: Curt Phillips.
He's the guy who underwent three ACL surgeries on the same knee and last appeared in a game in 2009.
"The kid is just so mentally strong," Bielema said. "He's just so smart and gifted and talented as a human being. That's probably what's willed him back to where he is. I know the doctors feel very strong. He's been fully cleared 100 percent."
During spring practices, Phillips' movement was still limited by the knee problem, pushing Joel Stave to the top of the quarterback heap before O'Brien transferred. But Bielema said all the quarterbacks would have an opportunity to compete for the starting job once fall camp begins Aug. 6.
Phillips played in five games in 2009 and completed 7 of 13 passes for 65 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Filling in for Dehn: Redshirt junior Casey Dehn closed spring practice as Wisconsin's No. 1 right tackle, but he is no longer with the team.
Dehn played in five games last season but left the team then because of academic issues.
Bielema said 6-foot-4, 305-pounder Kyle Costigan impressed him during spring practice and could fill in for Dehn on the offensive line. Costigan played in three games last season as a defensive lineman before suffering a season-ending foot injury. He made the switch to the offensive line during the spring.
"He's probably pound-for-pound one of the strongest players on our team," Bielema said.