Big Ten championship game winner gets more than a trophy

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 2, 2012 - 12:20 AM

INDIANAPOLIS - Having to win the Big Ten championship game in order to reach the Rose Bowl adds an extra hurdle in an already challenging conference, one that most of the conference's coaches opposed a few years ago.

But that hurdle also brings extra attention and unforeseen benefits to the winner, according to Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, the only coach to have won the title game.

"Being in the first one was awesome," said Bielema, who led the Badgers to a 42-39 victory over Michigan State in the inaugural championship game before repeating this year with Saturday night's 70-31 rout of Nebraska. "The exposure our team has gotten [is tremendous]. I mean, the year before, we were in the Rose Bowl, but the game a year ago set our program apart in recruiting, in national perception, in everything, and in a way that I had never experienced so quickly."

Bielema and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini have each coached in Big 12 championship games, so they understand, Bielema said, the excitement that title games can add to a season.

"We beat Oklahoma, who was No. 1, when I was at Kansas State," said Bielema, a former Wildcats assistant. "So it was the best thing that ever happened in my coaching career at the time."

Pelini's memories of the Big 12 title game were less of a thrill. The Cornhuskers lost the 2009 and '10 title games in their former conference, each in painful ways. The Huskers appeared to win the 2009 game when Texas' Colt McCoy threw a pass out of bounds as time expired, but officials put 1 second back on the clock, and the undefeated Longhorns kicked a 46-yard field goal for a 13-12 victory.

Against Oklahoma in 2010, the Huskers blew a 17-0 lead and got shut out in the second half of a 23-20 loss.

Making room for more

Big Ten divisions are only two seasons old, but they are going to be adjusted after next season to incorporate Maryland, Rutgers and any other schools that join the Big Ten by then.

The current divisions don't reflect a strictly geographical setup, but one based upon trying to make them competitively balanced. That might change once the conference expands, though the league says it hasn't begun studying how realignment will be accomplished.

Would Nebraska support an alignment that put this year's championship-game participants in the same division, so they play each other every year?

Not exactly, no. "That's not my decision. But I kind of like them over on the other side," Pelini said. "It's already a war week to week."

Etc.

• The announced attendance was 41,260, nearly 23,000 off last year's total of 64,152. Still, it was more than the 31,622 at Friday's Pac-12 title game between Stanford and UCLA, which was played at Stanford.

• Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland's second-quarter hit on Taylor Martinez caused the Nebraska quarterback to fumble, the 13th time Borland has forced a fumble in his career. That ties the junior with Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan for the Big Ten career record.

• Martinez scored two touchdowns, including one on a 76-yard scramble in which he was nearly sacked three times. That gives him 31 TDs on the season, tying him with Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch for the school single-season record.

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