On cusp of BCS eligibility, steady seniors help Andersen in first year at No. 14 Wisconsin

The game plan for No. 14 Wisconsin for Thanksgiving Day sounds simple: Practice early, then feed the Badgers.

"Eat lots, take care of their business" coach Gary Andersen joked Monday.

Then it's back to business on the practice field to get ready one for last game in 2013 at Camp Randall Stadium, the senior sendoff Saturday against Penn State.

The Badgers (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) are rolling with a six-game winning streak that has them one spot out of the Top 14 in the BCS standings and the plateau needed to qualify for an at-large berth in a premier postseason game.

As if this team needed any more motivation in the last game for Chris Borland, James White, Jared Abbrederis and 23 other members of a solid, dependable senior class that helped ease Andersen's transition in his first season as head Badger.

The running game remains as dependable as always. Going into the 12th game of the year, Wisconsin needs just 34 yards rushing to break the school record of 3,309 set last season in 14 games.

Andersen made the regime changeover from Bret Bielema as "smooth as possible," White said. "He's a guy that's a player's coach ... we couldn't ask for anything more."

The switch to the 3-4 defense hasn't been a problem, either. With Borland spearheading the charge, the Badgers have become stingier through the year. They're fifth in the FBS in scoring defense (13.4 points) and sixth in total defense (278.5 yards). Minnesota last week was the third straight Big Ten opponent to be held without an offensive touchdown.

Andersen said he'll be forever indebted to the seniors "for believing in us. I truly do not remember a young man rolling his eyes or saying what are we doing?"

Steady on and off the field. A head-down, blinders-on kind of focus through adversity — like the 32-30 loss in September to Arizona State tainted by an officiating error in the final seconds — and success.

But there's a sort of role reversal from last year heading into the finale. Last year, Wisconsin backed into the Big Ten championship game despite finishing third in the Leaders Division behind Ohio State and Penn State. Those schools were ineligible due to NCAA sanctions.

The Badgers ended up routing Nebraska in the conference championship game to win a third straight league title. The team finished 8-6 with a loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

This year, Wisconsin has a much better record, but can't win the Big Ten following the 31-24 loss to Ohio State on Sept. 28.

Still, BCS bowl hopes remain as long as they get into the Top 14. And if the unbeaten Buckeyes can vault into the title game, maybe Wisconsin makes it to yet another Rose Bowl as an at-large pick.

Quarterback Joel Stave said his brother has been keeping him updated on the postseason scenarios, though Stave himself isn't taking anything for granted.

"Most importantly, we need to win or we take ourselves right out of it," he said.

First though, there's the matter of that turkey dinner Thursday — or dinners for that matter. All players are invited to Andersen's house for Thanksgiving.

"So if they're smart, they'll probably try to come to my house about 1 o'clock and then push that other one off until a little bit later in the day and double dip," Andersen said. "That's what I would do if I was a young kid."

Note: Borland wasn't named a finalist for the Butkus Award given to the nation's top college linebacker. When informed Monday, Borland said it was "too bad," but that he understood since he missed one game, and most of a second, with a hamstring injury. Andersen said he was surprised. "I guess the best linebacker in the country is not going to be on that list," Andersen said. ... OL Ryan Groy, S Dezmen Southward and DLs Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer will play their 53rd career games Saturday to set a school record for most played.


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