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October 23, 2010

Tom's Takes: The time is now for UW

When Wisconsin dominated Ohio State in 2009 in every statistical category that was important and still lost the game to the Buckeyes, head coach Bret Bielema had the following to say.

"I hate losing to these guys," Bielema said following a sobering 31-13 loss. "It's something I absolutely can't stand."

Fast forward just over 365 calendar days and the Badgers, more specifically Bielema, don't have to face those demons any more. They don't have to look back and say 'What if this or that would have happened.'

They have beaten Ohio State. They have gotten over that proverbial hump.

Now what?

Well, on the surface the Badgers play an Iowa team ranked No. 15 in the land. It's a game that pits two very similar teams that both want to win the game with the dream of ultimately dancing on a field full of roses come Jan. 1.

It also serves as one final hurrah in a rivalry that is bound to lose some momentum in the coming years like an Iowa corn stalk loses strength as it loses the warmth of summer.

What this game means in 2013 is neither here nor there and mostly conjecture at this point. But it's probably matter of fact to predict that it won't mean as much as today's game against the Hawkeyes does.

Because like a caterpillar that's on the verge of breaking out of its cocoon, this Badger team has an opportunity being served to them on a silver-laden plate situated right in front of them.

It's staring them in the eyes and begging them to breakthrough.

Having been more than a full decade since the Badgers have played in one of college football's most prized spectacles otherwise known as the BCS, there is no more room in the itinerary for trips to Orlando or Tampa come late December or early January.

The time is now for UW to get back to that pinnacle, that peak and that elite level. One that will elevate this program to a place that Bielema and his predecessor Barry Alvarez have worked so hard to reach over the course of the past 20 years in Madison.

"I think this is a great opportunity to kind of solidify Wisconsin as an elite program," UW freshman defensive tackle Jordan Kohout said. "And kind of show everyone that we can be in the Rose Bowl this year and that we can take steps toward a BCS bowl."

Bielema always preaches how it's not what happens over the course of a single play, season or event, but how you react to what happens that paves the way forward. Well, Wisconsin has one heck of a reactionary test in front of it after knocking off the nation's No. 1 team for the first time since Ronald Reagan was leading the free world.

Inside Kinnick Stadium later this afternoon, Bielema has the ultimate task at keeping the momentum stemming from his biggest win on his side by getting the most out of his players.

His players, have the ultimate task of listening to the coaching staff and executing what it's supposed to at a level higher than it did a week ago inside a raucous Camp Randall Stadium.

And it's all going to have to come together at one of the tougher places to win as a visiting squad in all the Big Ten.

"If we beat Ohio State and go to Iowa and get slammed it wouldn't be a great feeling at all," UW senior Jay Valai said. "Iowa is a personal game. People say our rival is Minnesota, but I think Iowa is the bigger rivalry to be honest with you. We have a lot of connections and a lot of us were recruited there.

"It's going to be a big game. This game (against Ohio State) was great this week, but we know the big game is next week now."

It's only big because it means everything for the 2010 season.

A win and the Badgers can enjoy a bye week while dreaming of a legitimate shot at the three lettered bowl games. A loss to the same team that has won two straight in the series would mean any shot at a BCS bowl is nothing more than a fantastical dream with slim chances of coming to fruition.

The time is now for this team to take the next step and make a name for itself. Getting over one hump in a single season is nice, but finding that resolve to turn it into a run towards the roses is exceptional.

And that is what's lining this silver-laden plate situated in front of the Badgers.

Tom Lea can be reached at thomasmlea@gmail.com. Feel free to email him with any thoughts or comments.



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