Hughes: Don’t hate on Bret for huge blowouts
I’ve been eating my words for the past three weeks now and my, my, my, I didn’t know they could be so delicious.The No. 6/7 Wisconsin football team is a bright and shiny 3-0. That’s “three-and-zero.” Three – for three blowout victories – and ‘O’, for oh-my-gosh-nobody’s-had-a-chance.I assumed there would be hiccups in quarterback Russell Wilson’s acclimation to the offense. I assumed Wisconsin would fall over itself and allow an inferior non-conference opponent to hang around and make the Badgers look bad even though they’d eventually win.Nope. Time to chow down.Instead the Badgers have released a Tyrannosaurus offense on its first three victims, while the defense has posted a shutout and has given up no more big plays than you could count on one hand.Yup, UW sure hasn’t played a top-shelf team yet, but that hasn’t stopped the Badgers from coming close to laying an egg against like-opponents in years past. Prior to all three games, it looked like a blowout on paper and the Badgers brought those prophecies to life.So with the South Dakota Coyotes of the Football Championship Subdivision visiting Madison this Saturday, I can’t picture anything other than a landslide the likes of which Austin Peay (70-3), Indiana (83-20) and Northwestern (70-23) experienced a year ago. Couldn’t you agree?And should the Badgers salsa dance around the Coyotes – I’m just going to say it now – there better not be any unsportsmanlike complaints hurled at head coach Bret Bielema.Nebraska comes to town in less than two weeks and Wisconsin’s starters have yet to play an entire game – let alone be pushed for four quarters. And after seeing how the conference performed this past week (Michigan State and Ohio State lost convincingly), Nebraska right now looks very much like Wisconsin’s toughest opponent on schedule.Bielema kept his starters in the game until about midway through the fourth quarter, despite the score reading 42-7 by the time of their curtain call. He also didn’t slow down the passing game much before the second team took the field.In the postgame press conference, it almost seemed like Bielema anticipated a little bit of heat. This is the first thing he said in his opening statement (which means he wasn’t even asked to explain):“I’m excited. I think one thing that I wanted to see today, we gotta play a four-quarter game,” Bielema said. “Just the way the couple games [have] been playing, we haven’t gotten four quarters of work. That’s why I kept those guys in there.”That’s all there was to it. Nobody else raised the (non) issue to Bielema in the press conference and, to my knowledge, it didn’t come up in any interviews with the players.But as the points piled up last year, Bielema increasingly received more and more harsh words from the ethicists of sports. It even landed him on Sports Illustrated’s top 40 “Unsportsmen of the Year” for 2010.But seriously, it’s about time we understand that some of the commandments of sports just aren’t true in all situations.Although Nebraska has won all three of its games by more than one score, it took late touchdowns by quarterback Taylor Martinez in two of those three games to cushion the lead before the final whistle.The Cornhuskers have been tested – they’ve felt a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter – and as a result may be better prepared for a dogfight than the Badgers at this point. With Nebraska visiting Madison in about a week and half, Bielema is going to have to find a way to test the physical and mental stamina of his starting 22 as much as possible.If a lit-up scoreboard is a corollary to that, so be it. It’s an extremely luxurious problem to have, but good teams can’t afford to rock themselves to sleep. They have to find a way to stay in competitive shape for the tougher competition.This is also a sport where just winning isn’t enough either. Teams are forced to court the loyalties of a complicated and nefarious rankings system manned by both humans and computers. You have to be impressive if you want some gaudy postseason hardware.Breaking news: Whether it’s too early to legitimize the chances or not, Wisconsin is, in fact, in a position to contend for a national title. Wisconsin’s inched forward about one spot a week in both polls and currently sit at No. 6 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 7 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.The polls render a constant competition between teams near the top. If a handful of other teams lose while the Badgers win – and win impressively when expected – well, you can fill in the blank.This is simply a sport where running up the score is not inherently a bad thing. Sometimes it’s necessary. Blame the system, not Bielema.Keeping the starters on field and throwing the ball may not be necessary in the latter parts of the season when games have already been won, but after three weeks of scant competition the Badgers need to feast all they can against the Coyotes to stay fresh for the Huskers.Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism. Would you be upset if you saw Russell Wilson throwing a pass in the fourth quarter, already up by 40+ points, against South Dakota? 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