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Alvarez to coach Wisconsin at Rose Bowl

This news story was published on December 6, 2012.
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By Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

MADISON, Wis. — The news that Bret Bielema was stepping down as head coach at Wisconsin and leaving to take over the Arkansas program, left the UW players reeling.

With less than a month to prepare to face No. 8 Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl, the departure of Bielema was the latest hit for a Wisconsin team that lost three games in overtime and five overall by a combined 19 points during a tumultuous regular season.

According to a source close to the program, the team’s six captains were determined to respond forcefully and quickly.

Those captains — tailback Montee Ball, center Travis Frederick, linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, safety Shelton Johnson and left tackle Ricky Wagner — asked athletic director Barry Alvarez if he would coach the team in the Rose Bowl.

Alvarez, who retired after the 2006 Capital One Bowl, was moved by the gesture and agreed to lead the team one more time.

Alvarez is scheduled to appear at a news conference at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Kohl Center media room to discuss his plans.

“We’re still a very focused team right now,” Ball said Tuesday night after emerging from their final meeting with Bielema. “We’ve still got a game to win. As a leader I’m going to make sure we all stay focused and go out to Pasadena and win.”

That focus is what helped carry UW to a stunning 70-31 victory over Nebraska last week in the Big Ten title game.

UW entered the game with a 7-5 record, the No. 3 team in the Leaders Division with a 4-4 mark, and in the game only because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play.

By whipping then-No. 14 Nebraska, the Badgers proved they were better than their record indicated.

“We’ve been through a lot this year,” said Borland, who had a game-high 13 tackles in the victory. “Had five really tough losses we felt we could have won.

“This kind of validated everything we went through this season. . . . To come out on top in the end means a lot to us.”

Tailback James White, who rushed for four touchdowns and passed for another, echoed Borland’s comments.

“With all the adversity we faced this season,” White said, “it’s a culmination of what we’ve been through. It’s great to win the Big Ten and get another shot at the Rose Bowl.”

According to Ball, Bielema told the players he was leaving for Arkansas in part to win a championship.

Bielema reiterated that goal — to win both a Southeastern Conference and a national championship — Wednesday during his introductory news conference in Fayetteville, Ark.

A source close to the UW program found it curious Bielema would tell his players he was leaving for a better shot at a title. The implication, of course, is that he couldn’t accomplish that feat at UW.

“You’ve already won three,” the source said, referring to the three consecutive Big Ten Conference titles UW won under Bielema. “The likelihood of getting through the SEC championship to the national title game is probably more remote than Wisconsin getting back to the Rose Bowl.

“That is a different cat to deal with down there.”

Alvarez went 3-0 in the Rose Bowl as UW’s head coach.

The Badgers defeated UCLA, 21-16, in the 1994 Rose Bowl. They upset No. 6 UCLA, 38-31, in the ‘99 Rose Bowl and followed that with a 17-9 victory over Stanford the next season.

Bielema, 0-2 in the Rose Bowl as UW’s coach, confirmed to Arkansas reporters he would not be coaching UW against Stanford.

He said he would love to see Alvarez coach in the game and joked about the disparity in their records in the game.

“I just heard that before I came here, which would be awesome,” he said of the news Alvarez would coach UW. “They might finally win one. Everyone tells me he won three and I lost two.”

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