When Nebraska beat Wisconsin 30-27 on Sept. 29, NU coach Bo Pelini met UW coach Bret Bielema, shook his hand and said “Let’s meet again in Indy.”
“I thought they would be there,” Pelini said.
Well, consider it done. The two coaches talked Sunday about the Dec. 1 Big Ten Championship, where the 10-2 Huskers and 7-5 Badgers will battle for a Rose Bowl berth and a conference trophy. Here are the highlights of both press conferences:
>> Nebraska won’t have the services of Justin Jackson or Baker Steinkuhler this week — both were the anchors of their respective lines — and while Pelini is “sad” for the two players, it’ll give other players a chance to step up.
“You feel worse for the kids,” Pelini said. “Let’s face it: They play all year long and bust their butts.”
Pelini said his nephew, Mark Pelini, played well in Jackson’s absence. Bo Pelini would not commit to Mark Pelini or Cole Pensick starting Saturday.
>> Pelini said having running back Rex Burkhead for the game is a “big boost for our team.”
“Our whole team feeds off his energy,” Pelini said.
Pelini said Burkhead is “doing great” after the Iowa game and will be ready to play Saturday night.
>> Pelini was asked why NU’s able to win close game this year. He cited chemistry, luck, experience and the maturation of quarterback Taylor Martinez.
“I don’t know if there’s a magical thing by it,” Pelini said. “We’ve been fortunate.”
>> This is Nebraska’s third conference title game in four years. Pelini said two losses to Texas and Oklahoma have provided more motivation for NU to “knock the door down” in 2012.
>> Pelini puts little stock in the Huskers’ first win and doesn’t expect Wisconsin will, either. Further, he expect Wisconsin will not have an advantage because it won the Big Ten title last year. Finally, Pelini puts no stock in the Badgers not deserving to be in Indianapolis because it lost to Ohio State and Penn State in the last two weeks of the year. Pelini didn’t want to take anything away from undefeated OSU and its coach Urban Meyer, but “there’s a reason they’re not there.”
>> Pelini brushed off critical comments from Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert — who said NU quarterback Taylor Martinez was “skipping rocks” when he passed the ball.
>> Wisconsin is “physical and tough” and consistent, Pelini said. The Badgers don’t change much switching from quarterback Joel Stave to fifth-year senior Curt Phillips — Pelini called him “this other gentleman” — and will run much the same pro-style, power-run offense.
>> Expect linebacker Chris Borland — who missed the Penn State game -to return for Saturday’s game. Borland is a key piece of the Badgers’ defense and a leader.
>> Bielema said Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis felt good coming off the bus after the 24-21 loss to Penn State. Abbrederis left the game after a big hit. Bielema expects him back for Tuesday’s game.
>> The Badgers should be as healthy as they’ve been in weeks, Bielema said, and will have several players available that couldn’t practice and/or play against Nebraska in the first game.
>> Running back Montee Ball has been “frustrated” at times this year, but he still ran for more than 1,500 yards and has “gotten better every game” especially improving as a pass blocker.
>> Wisconsin won the Big Ten title last year, and Bielema said the event was full of “pageantry” and “unlike anything I’ve ever done.” The day of practice inside Lucas Oil Stadium and the media obligations on the Friday before give the event a “big-game feel” and the NFL setting convinced Bielema that the game should probably remain indoors and in Indianapolis.
>> Bielema doesn’t regret firing Wisconsin offensive line coach Mike Markuson after two games and promoting young Bart Miller to be Markuson’s in-season replacement.
“It was a decision I knew I had to do,” Bielema said. “It wasn’t an easy one. I just wanted to give every person in this football family a chance to win. I couldn’t be more pleased with the development we’ve made. Have we been perfect? No. But we’ve made strides. We’ve got our players playing better up front.”
>> What impresses Bielema most about Pelini?
“Offensively and defensively, they play with an edge,” Bielema said. “And you can see that through (Bo). I know you guys like to beat him up about his demeanor, but he’s the same guy every day, man. I’ve known Bo a long time…a guy that loves to compete.”
>> Bielema said Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst is one of his best friends.