Weekly Big Ten notebook.
Before a down was played, no team in the Big Ten had as much respect as Wisconsin. The Badgers were picked to win the conference. They started the season No. 7 in the writers’ and coaches’ polls, which made them the highest rated team in the conference.
Instead of getting more respect, Wisconsin seems to be losing it each week. Off to one of the best coaching starts in Big Ten history, Bret Bielema’s team has won all four games. But the Badgers, apparently, lacked style points.
A close win at UNLV dropped Wisconsin from a season-high No. 5 to No. 7. Then it fell two more spots with a 45-31 win against The Citadel. Bielema has watched his team stay ninth since beating Iowa, 17-13, last week.
“We understand we’ve got the nation’s longest winning streak, and we’ve done a lot of good things here,” Bielema said. “Certain people don’t see us win how they want to. This world is very set and determined that you need to be perfect on everything, and if not, you’re not having success. Whereas coaches, we just want to win football games.”
The jumping up and down, and ultimately being passed over by Ohio State in the Top 25, hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I can see why people -- we’ve been favored in every ballgame we’ve been in,” Bielema said. “I’m not a guy who runs up the score. In the fourth quarter, if you’re up three scores, I believe in getting younger players in there.
“We struggled with a UNLV team. We took it down to the wire against a good team. They shut out Utah and the previous week Utah beat UCLA. What does all that mean? If it doesn’t fit their (media) story, they’re not going to use it.”
There is no denying the Badgers are one of the country’s hottest team; winning close or winning big is still winning. Wisconsin takes the nation’s longest winning streak, 13 games, into Saturday’s home game against unbeaten Michigan State.
In addition to 35 games since 2004, the most in the Big Ten, Wisconsin has been impressive and powerful of late.
Bielema’s 16-1 record is one of the best coaching starts in Big Ten history. Only three others won at least 16 of their first 17 games (Fielding Yost, Michigan, 55-0-1 from 1901-05; John B. Eckstrom, Ohio State, 16-0-1 from 1899-1900 and (Carroll C. Widdoes, Ohio State, 16-1 from 1944-45).
Each of these three coaches lost their next game.
What’s the Secret?
Bielema said he’s only taken time once to look back at what he’s accomplished as a young head coach.
“You get wrapped up in a weekly routine and you don’t,” Bielema said. “Last year, at the end of the year ... I did.”
It comes down to relationships, from his players, to coaches the community, and even, yes, the media.
“All the coaches I was with as an assistant would get adversarial with the media,” Bielema said. “I would much rather enjoy a press conference than fight one.”
Saturday’s game against Michigan State (4-0, 1-0) at Camp Randall is the best matchup in the conference. The Spartans are determined to prove they’re for real.
“We want our players to expect to have opportunities like this, and to make a statement,” Michigan State first-year Head Coach Mark Dantonio said. “We talk about it, and it’s exciting for our program.”
Dantonio was a former assistant on Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel’s staff. He was the defensive coordinator of the Buckeyes’ 2002 national championship team, then took over the Cincinnati job.
“Mark has a strong belief ion his program, and the values he has for his young people,” Tressel said. “... Michigan State is a great place, and Mark has intimate knowledge because he spent six years there as an assistant. It wasn’t like he was going in and had to figure out what’s what. He went in very clearly and knew what the situation was there.”
The last time Tressel and Dantonio had time to spend together was in Chicago. It was before the season started at the Big Ten’s media day. They sat outside the hotel lobby, away from the bustling lobby, and talked for hours while puffing on cigars.
OSU Offense Power or Fake
Tressel doesn’t sound like he believes that his young offense is taking off. The Buckeyes are on pace to have one of the programs most prolific scoring seasons, averaging 37 points a game. That number got a boost when Ohio State hung 58 on outclassed Northwestern last weekend.
“When your defense scores a touchdown and your special teams blocks a punt and you get the ball on the 2, that certainly allows the score to creep up higher than what may be normal,” Tressel said.
Actually, the OSU offense, led by first-year starter Todd Boeckman, is getting great field position, often a short field. Half of the Buckeyes’ 24 scoring drives are of 60 yards or shorter.
Michigan running back Mike Hart gained 153 yards against Penn State and broke into the conference’s top 10 career rushing yards. His 4,334 yards passed Michigan State’s Tico Duckett. ... Ohio State has a school record 22 straight regular-season wins. ... Illinois did not have a Big Ten Player of the Week until this week when the Illini had and offensive and defensive player. RB Rashard Mendenhall had 214 rushing yards for the offensive player of the week. DE Will Davis shared the honor with Jamar Adams of Michigan.
Reach Canton Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.