Badgers roll Huskers, win third straight crown

INDIANAPOLIS – Could this bizarre 2012 Big Ten season had ended any differently than this?

Of course not. Wisconsin’s 70-31 pummeling of Nebraska put a fitting punctuation mark on a season that didn’t go by script. In fact, it went way off script. The Big Ten’s best team—12-0 Ohio State—couldn’t play in the Big Ten title game or go to a bowl because of probation. But it was given a trophy for winning the Leaders Division.

Penn State overcame long odds playing with a depleted roster and battling through an 0-2 start to finish 8-4 and in second place in the Leaders Division. But, like Ohio State, probation ended the Nittany Lions year at the end of the regular season.

[AP: Ball helps Badgers rush past No. 14 Nebraska | AP: Ball sets NCAA record rushing TDs]

Michigan State was picked by some to win the Big Ten, but the Spartans went 6-6 to be arguably the league’s biggest disappointment after notching back-to-back 11-win seasons.

Michigan also was a trendy Big Ten pick and was the league’s highest ranked team in the preseason AP poll, but an inconsistent offense left the Wolverines short of expectations.

Add it up, and five Big Ten teams have better records than Wisconsin: 12-0, Ohio State, 8-4 Penn State, 8-4 Michigan, 9-3 Northwestern and 10-3 Nebraska.
But the last team standing is Wisconsin, which entered tonight’s game with a 7-5 overall record and 4-4 Big Ten mark—losers of two in a row and three of their last four games. Didn’t matter.

So, that means the third-best team in the Leaders Division—and sixth-best in the Big Ten–will go to the Rose Bowl, marking the first time a team ever has gone to the “Granddaddy Of Them All” with five losses.

[RELATED: Line up, naysayers: Badgers off to Rose Bowl]

“To have three Big Ten championships says it all,” said Badger coach Bret Bielema. “This one means a lot.”

The win earned Wisconsin its third Rose Bowl in a row. The last Big Ten team to do that was Michigan from 1976-78. The Badgers will face Stanford, as Bielema will look for his first Rose Bowl triumph after losing to TCU after the 2010 season and to Oregon after last year. In fact, a Rose Bowl triumph is about the only thing missing from Bielema’s sparkling resume. The last time the Badgers won the Rose Bowl was after the 1999 season against … Stanford.

The Badgers came out scoring, jumping to a 14-0 lead after a Melvin Gordon 56-yard run and “pick six” by Marcus Cromartie. For all intents and purposes, the game was over at halftime after Wisconsin had built a 42-10 lead with 391 yards (290 on the ground). The Badgers finished with 640 yards, as 539 came on the ground. Wisconsin averaged 10.8 yards per carry.

A big key entering the game was Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips. Could the fifth-year senior making just his fourth career start pass well enough to keep a Nebraska defense that surely would be stacked to stop the run honest? Turns out, Phillips would only need to throw eight passes, as Wisconsin’s rushing game was devastatingly effective.

[RELATED: View our 2012 Big Ten title game photo gallery]

Gordon, Montee Ball and James White ran wild all night. Ball finished with 216 yards; Gordon had 202; White had 109. It was the first time in school history that the Badgers produced two, 200-yard rushers. And Ball scored three touchdowns to push his NCAA career record to 82 with a game to go. It was a nice continuation of what is turning into a spectacular senior season for Ball, who eschewed a chance to turn pro to return to Wisconsin.

“It spoke volumes to those around him,” said Bielema. “They wanted to see Montee have success. We all know he’s a good player, but he’s also an incredible human being.”

This is a crushing loss for a Nebraska team that was looking for its first conference title since 1999. It also is Pelini’s third loss in a league title game, as he also dropped the Big 12 championship game twice.

Taylor Martinez struggled, hitting just 17-of-33 passes for 184 yards with two interceptions, a lost fumble and six sacks.

So, instead of going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1940 season, the Cornhuskers appear headed to the Capital One Bowl to maybe play Texas A&M.

“We failed,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “We failed to win a championship. We didn’t get it done. I apologize. At the end of the day, it falls on me. I’m the one responsible for it, and I didn’t get it done.”

Wisconsin did get it done. But it feels like it has more to do.

“We all have something to prove,” said Ball. “We have unfinished business.”

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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15 Comments

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sbuel2 on 12/2/2012 @ 7:26am EST Said:

Where was this Wisconsin team the last month of the season?They had something to prove and did, Maybe some year Nebraska can return the favor. Good Luck in the Rose Bowl.

Doug on 12/2/2012 @ 11:48am EST Said:

Wisconsin was a play away from beating NEB 3 times in 2 years, they own the Cornhuskers.

sbuel2 on 12/2/2012 @ 2:18pm EST Said:

Doug, but then Nebraska won that game and we got beat bad in the title game. Seems like Wisconsin did not like STate schools this year. Oregon State, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. Spent the time getting ready for the title game and the Rose Bowl. Good luck in the Rose Bowl against Stanford, a team more evenly talkented for the B1G instead of Oregon.

Doug on 12/2/2012 @ 2:38pm EST Said:

yep, I think W has an excellent chance to beat Stanford.

vince on 12/2/2012 @ 3:47pm EST Said:

I was at the game. Wisconsin plays and always has played dirty. Borland should have been ejected from the game and should not play in the rose bowl. Remember, Wisconsin said in September that they were coming “after” Martinez that’s where the suspension came from for that game. They went after him last night. I’m not making excuses, we needed to play better, but this is beyond winning the game. This is about protecting players from getting seriously injured or killed! Bielema coaches them to play this way! BTW they will get beat bad in Rose Bowl.

Doug on 12/2/2012 @ 6:28pm EST Said:

pelini is the dirtiest coach in football, nobody likes him but neb fans

sbuel2 on 12/2/2012 @ 7:31pm EST Said:

Perhaps relook at two plays in Nebraska and Ohio State both involved Shazier, #10, face mask on Kenny Bell in first quarter where he flipped him head over heels (similar to how my dad killed chickens when we were kids), luckily he didn’t break his neck, they were checking it. and after the second Burkhead long run, out of bounds, rolled him over and then twisted and twisted the bad knee with one hand on the foot and the other on his calf–Burkhead left the game in pain in the third quarter. This is the second injury to Burkhead, he tried to go in the Northwestern game and only played three plays. He was injured in the Ohio State game not Northwestern game. Talk about dirty players.

Georgia on 12/2/2012 @ 9:47pm EST Said:

NOBODY owns Nebr.!!!!!

chuck on 12/2/2012 @ 11:22pm EST Said:

yeah doug ok! whatever doug,WAS! but they didnt lol an wisconson dont own us how many titles does wis. have! wis. can keep winning big ten titles but can they win the big one lol

chuck on 12/2/2012 @ 11:27pm EST Said:

hey doug come talk 2 me when the state of wisconson only has wisconson football, an no pro sports then we can talk football Go big red!!

Buckeye Mike on 12/3/2012 @ 10:00am EST Said:

SBUEl2, Burkhead was injured in the first game of the year. Bell had ahold of Shazier’s face mask and should have been flagged also. Bo knows defense, what a joke!

Buckeye Mike on 12/3/2012 @ 10:53am EST Said:

Chuck, titles don’t mean anything when you are talking about head to head matchups.

Mo on 12/3/2012 @ 12:22pm EST Said:

Wisconsin doesn’t play dirty. I think Borland just wanted to make sure he tackled Martinez after the one play when he got away. Did you notice he went up to him and shook Martinez’s hand after, you don’t see that very often. I’m sure it was adrenaline that made it look worse. Wisconsin may have lost more games this year, but they haven’t gotten blown out in any of them. Everyone made a big deal about them losing to Oregon State, but they went on to be a BCS ranked team which made it seem not like such a shocking loss. They lost to 3 big teams in overtime, and Ohio St. barely beat Indiana!! I think the Rose Bowl will be a great game to watch. Two very similar style teams playing. Go Badgers!

Doug on 12/3/2012 @ 3:51pm EST Said:

keep living in the past chuck, geeez you sound like michigan fans now

bruce on 12/4/2012 @ 8:45am EST Said:

Can’t believe what happened to my Huskers. They definitely did not show up to play. They definitely need to get ready for Georgia.