Big Ten championship leaning in Wisconsin’s favor
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com November 30, 2012 10:10PM
Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips has performed better than his 1-2 record would indicate since taking over the starting job. | AP
Updated: January 2, 2013 6:12AM
Officially, Nebraska’s colors are scarlet and cream, and Wisconsin’s are cardinal and white.
But no matter which shade of red, fans weren’t snapping up tickets for the second Big Ten championship game Saturday in Indianapolis. With fans apparently eying bowl trips, both schools failed to sell out their allotments by wide margins. Tickets were going for $19 on StubHub, prompting expectations that 67,604-seat Lucas Oil Stadium will be far from filled.
Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten), which played in the Rose Bowl in 1941 and 2002, is favored to make its third appearance. The Cornhuskers are playing in their third conference championship game. They lost the Big 12 title game to Texas in 2009 and Oklahoma in 2010.
While the Cornhuskers have been finding ways to win, Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4) has not been as fortunate. Its first two losses were by three points apiece; its last three all came in overtime.
But there are reasons to believe the Badgers can turn back Nebraska and make their third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.
For one, they led 20-3 in Lincoln on Sept. 29 before losing 30-27 after a second-half meltdown.
For another, these teams are very different this time around, and a lot of the factors seem to favor the Badgers.
Montee Ball, who ran for 93 yards at Nebraska, has been held under 100 yards once since that game. That’s evidence of the improvement in Wisconsin’s offensive line since coach Bret Bielema changed O-line coaches in September.
It appears that Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead (sore knee), who played last Saturday at Iowa for the first time in five games, is ready to go. But the Cornhuskers will be without two seasonlong senior starters, defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler (knee) and center Justin Jackson (ankle), who were injured at Iowa.
In addition, Badgers quarterback Curt Phillips, a third-string after-thought in September, has played better than his 1-2 record would indicate. Stepping in after Joel Stave’s season-ending injury, the fifth-year senior guided a rout at Indiana and overtime losses against Ohio State and Penn State.
‘‘I like to consider myself a dual threat,’’ said Phillips, who lost the 2010 and 2011 seasons to three knee surgeries. ‘‘That may have been diminished with all the knee surgeries. At same time, I like to think I can extend the play a bit.’’
Phillips also is intent on helping the Badgers extend their Rose Bowl streak.
‘‘It’s an awesome opportunity,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘At the beginning of the season, we set a goal of going back to Indianapolis and going to the Rose Bowl. Some of the games haven’t gone exactly how we wanted, but those goals are still within our reach.’’