Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 11/12/11
By Tyler Mason FOXSportsWisconsin.com MINNEAPOLIS Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said he didn't know before kickoff. For most of the Badgers players, the realization didn't sink in until their game against Minnesota was already underway.But before the Wisconsin took the field at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, it had already won. Losses by Penn State and Ohio State earlier in the day meant the Badgers could controltheir own destiny in the Big Ten Leaders division with a win over the Gophers.Wisconsin's42-13 victory over rival Minnesota meansit's right back in the driver's seat."I realize in the world of college football, things happened today that really helped our situation," Bielema said after the win. "But the reason we're in the situation we're at is because we take it day by day."After back-to-back road lossesat Michigan State and Ohio State, a trip back to the Rose Bowl looked to be a long shot for Wisconsin. The Badgers' two losses both came ondesperation Hail Mary passes devastatingsetbacks for a team that had national championship aspirations.The loss to the Buckeyes dropped the Badgers to 2-2 in the Big Ten. To have a crack another conference title, Wisconsin was going to need some help."We had two weeks back to back that were about as gut-wrenching as anybody could expect or imagine," Bielema said. "I'm under the philosophy of whatever happens, you have to embrace it and it has to make you stronger. I know we're a stronger team today than we were four weeks ago, five weeks ago, and last week."Entering Saturday, the Badgers were looking up at Penn State andOhio Statein the division standings. But the Nittany Lions fell, 17-14, at home to Nebraska on Saturday to drop to 5-1 in conference play, and the Buckeyes were beat on the road in overtime by Purdue. They're now 3-3 in the Big Ten.If the Badgers (4-2) win out including against Penn State in the last week of the season they'll win the division and earn a chance to play in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.Given where the Badgers were two weeks ago, it's a pretty big turnaround for Wisconsin. But the playersaren't surprised."It's pretty nice, I'm not going to lie," said Badgers right guard Kevin Zeitler. "Not necessarily surprised. Anything can happen in the Big Ten. It's one of those leagues where a good team can lose or be surprised. It happens.""Things are kind of falling into place right now," said wide receiver Nick Toon. "Obviously, the last couple weeks were tough. We can't look back. We've got to learn from the past and move forward, and that's what we've done."Some players, like Toon and defensive lineman Patrick Butrym, said they knew before kickoff that they were in great position. Zeitler said he didn't but saw other Big Ten scores on the TCF Bank Stadium signs near halftime of Wisconsin's game."I was like, Oh, cool.' I didn't really pay attention," Zeitler said. "We had to take care of business here."The Badgers did just that. Behind a near-perfect game from quarterback Russell Wilson and a record-setting day by running back Montee Ball, the Badgers keptPaul Bunyan's Axe for the eighth consecutive year. Wilson threw for four touchdowns, giving him 25 on the season a new Wisconsin record. He was 16 for 17 for 178 yards, with his only incompletion coming on a dropped pass from Toon."Russell may be perfect, but I'm not perfect," Toon said after the game.Ball, meanwhile, set the Big Ten single-season touchdown record.He rushed for 166 yards and two scores and was on the receiving end of a Wilson touchdown pass. Ball now has 27 total touchdowns on the season, and his 23 rushing touchdowns are also a school record."It's definitely an emotional time for him, pretty exciting," Wilson said of Ball. "He's a great running back, does a lot of great things. He deserves it."But even as individual milestones were set and other Big Ten schools helped Wisconsin's cause, the Badgers remain focused on one thing: next Saturday's game at Illinois. Wisconsin finishes out the season at home against Penn State in a game that could decide the winner of the Leaders Division, but the Badgers will have to get past the 6-3 Fighting Illini for that to happen."We don't need to worry about anything in the future because this could easily get away from us," Butrym said. "It's all about Illinois right now.""If you know me, I never doubt," Wilson said. "I always believe that something big will happen."On Saturday, something big did indeed happen for Wilson and the Badgers.
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