One wait is over. Now comes 26 more days of anticipation.
Despite winning a share of its first Big Ten title since 1999 last Saturday, the Wisconsin football team had to wait for the unveiling of the final BCS standings to make its appearance in the Rose Bowl official. UW will take on No. 3 TCU.
The trip was never really in doubt after the win over Northwestern, which made it an awkward week as everyone waited for the official announcement last night.
Or almost everyone, as it is.
“I just told people we were going anyways,” senior left guard John Moffitt said.
Head coach Bret Bielema wasn’t quite as forward about the wait.
“Obviously very excited. Been anticipating this announcement, obviously because of where we stood and nothing really changed in front of us, so [it’s] a tremendous opportunity,” he said.
This marks the Badgers’ first trip to Pasadena since winning the 2000 Rose Bowl, 17-9 over Stanford.
The intrigue in this matchup with Texas Christian is a non-automatic qualifying team. Boise State’s loss to Nevada two weeks ago essentially sealed TCU’s berth in the game, as the Rose Bowl is required once every four-year cycle to take the highest-ranked non-AQ team available.
TCU is no stranger to the BCS, losing narrowly to Boise State in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl – a game referred to by some as the “Separate but Equal Bowl” or the “Quarantine Bowl,” as it pitted two non-AQ teams against each other, rather than letting them take on a school from a BCS conference.
And although there might be a David vs. Goliath take on this game, the BCS standings say UW is the underdog, as the Badgers are fifth in the BCS while TCU is third. At 12-0, the Horned Frogs are also the only undefeated team in the nation, other than Oregon and Auburn, which will face off in the national title game.
“In anything you do, you want to compete against the best, whether it’s your older brother in the driveway or your rival in high school – you want to play the best,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge, but when you look back on things, you say, ‘Well, we did it against the best,’ and that’s saying something.”
The appearance in the game though, is not enough. As UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said at the team’s award show Friday night, there’s a difference between playing in the game and winning it. That distinction isn’t lost on Tolzien.
“You want to be remembered for winning a Rose Bowl. You’re not going there to play a game, you’re going there to win a game,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s all about competing and respecting the game. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you want to beat them just as bad as anyone else.”
As certain as the berth looked over the past few weeks, it’s worth it to note the season looked over as soon as Big Ten play began. UW looked listless in its conference opener in East Lansing, a 34-24 loss.
But at season’s end, Wisconsin finished tied atop the Big Ten standings with Michigan State and Ohio State, with all three teams boasting 11-1 overall records and 7-1 marks in conference play. MSU and OSU didn’t play each other, so the tiebreaker used to determine the Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl was BCS rankings. UW finished No. 5, while OSU was No. 6 and MSU No. 9.
Ohio State earned an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, and since there is a rule that only two teams from a given conference can earn bids to BCS bowls, Michigan State was the odd team out. The Spartans will play defending national champion Alabama.
The old tiebreaker used in the case of co-champions eliminated the team or teams that had most recently been to Pasadena. Under the old rules, Michigan State would have earned the bid. Fittingly enough, when the Big Ten’s coaches voted on BCS tiebreaker in 2009, the lone vote against was MSU’s Mark Dantonio.
And though there’s a long layoff between games, Bielema isn’t worried about his team losing sight of the goal.
“I don’t really worry about this team being focused,” he said. “One thing that this group is, is they take every day for what it is, they know nothing is more important than today and work themselves through it.”
Bielema also mentioned the work of his senior captains in getting the team to this point, while also praising last year’s seniors for laying a foundation for this season. He told that group he would buy a ring for each of them the first season UW won a championship under his watch, but won’t be allowed due to NCAA rules.
So he’ll compromise.
“I’ll send them a picture of a ring,” Bielema joked.
For this year’s seniors – a group that experienced the 7-6 collapse of the 2008 – a trip to the Rose Bowl is even more special because it’s their last year.
“It’s a picture-perfect ending, you could say,” tight end Lance Kendricks said. “I’m glad it got to go out this way.”