You know, it's easy to understand why the Badgers aren't getting more love in the BCS talk. No. 9 is a pretty lofty ranking, and people are proud of that; but nobody outside of Madison seems to object to that pesky little rule that stipulates a third-place team in any conference, regardless of record, ranking or stature, shall be relegated to the top non-BCS bowls.
Do the Badgers deserve a shot at a Rose Bowl trip, or at least some national discussion on the topic? Well, yeah, maybe. It's a bitter pill to swallow that Wisconsin hasn't beaten an unranked team in 2006 — that joke of a non-conference schedule scares voters away — and they didn't exactly look pretty while mowing down each Big Ten opponent along the way.
And what really hurt was the lack of preseason accolades. Nobody, not even die-hard Badger fans, could have predicted a season like this. At times, I wasn't saying "when we go to the bowl game," I would say "if we go to the bowl game." Pessimistic, I know, but that offense looked really questionable in spring ball.
Besides, how was a first-year head coach supposed to win this many games? All the great coaching mentors in the world can't substitute for personal head coaching experience, which leads to ugly rookie seasons for young coaches.
Somebody, however, forgot to send that memo Bret Bielema's way. Bielema stayed humble throughout the entire season, but still spoke and behaved like a seasoned vet. He stayed true to his goals, which all translate back to that 1-0 mentality — by the way, Wisconsin needs to patent that whole idea. Keep it away from the bulletin boards in Columbus and Ann Arbor, and the Badgers are set for a long time to come.
Covering Bielema in his first year made it extra-special in covering Wisconsin this season. You couldn't help but respect the man for staying strong in his values, like when he adamantly defended his go-for-the-jugular methods. Some questioned Bielema for passing late in the rout against Indiana, and there was a small uproar over his kickoff tactics late in the first half against Penn State, when Bielema's intentional offsides episodes infuriated Joe Paterno and even drove the legendary Nittany Lion coach to yell at ESPN cameras as he headed to the locker room.
And each time, Bielema simply brushed off all criticism. It was a learning experience in that environment, but to say his confidence grew with each week would be slightly inaccurate. The confidence seemed to just be there from the start.
Even through the more obvious mistakes, Bielema thrived. It's been his style to say his player needs to take "______ pills," whether it's catching pills for a receiver or tackling pills for his defense. And when Bielema suggested his injured running back, P.J. Hill, needed to take some "toughen-up pills" — probably taken out of context by the media, but it was easy to misinterpret the intent — Bielema avoided any further fallout from that statement like a pro.
All of this contributes to what makes Bielema a pretty damn good coach. That, and he's been able to get his players to buy in to that 1-0 line of thinking. Bielema's a proverbial player's coach, and by maintaining the Badgers' focus week in and week out, Bielema was able to become the first Big Ten coach to win 10 games in his first year at the helm.
What's more, Bielema did it in fine fashion, going on the road and beating the Iowa program he was so attached to (and still is, a bit, with that Hawkeye tattoo on his leg). After the game, his players gave Bielema the game ball for his accomplishment. Bielema then headed to the media room to speak with the press, and in one of the more moving interviews of the year — save for Joe Thomas' first interview after Luke Homan's death following the Northwestern win — Bielema fought back tears for a full 15 minutes.
But the magic isn't over yet. The Badgers should get their 11th win this weekend over Buffalo, and will get a shot at a 12-1 record — absolutely unthinkable four months ago — should they earn a victory over their SEC opponent in the Capital One Bowl.
Ah, the Capital One Bowl. It's been argued the Badgers deserve better, and maybe they do.
But trust me… if Bielema can continue to grow as a head coach, get his new staff ready for the upcoming recruiting seasons and keep that 1-0 mentality well intact, Wisconsin will have plenty more opportunities to take their shot at Pasadena.
But knowing Bielema, he's not thinking that far ahead. He's not even thinking about the Capital One Bowl, despite the fact the Badgers are all but set to return to Orlando barring a freak change in the polls or Capital One Bowl officials' minds.
Bielema's thinking about Buffalo. It's the next game, which makes it the most important game.
And that is what makes him succeed.
Aaron is thoroughly upset that he won't get to watch the Broncos-Chiefs on Thanksgiving Day because, hey, no one wants to pay up for NFL Network. Send your thoughts on Bret Bielema to [email protected]