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September 26, 2011MADISON - When Wisconsin was preparing for it's much publicized, highly anticipated showdown with then No. 1 ranked Ohio State a season ago, head coach Bret Bielema assigned true freshman Jeffrey Lewis the task of emulating Terrelle Pryor for the Badger scout team.
Lewis was, and continues to be, one of the fastest players on the roster so the designation made perfect sense.
Now, with UW's much anticipated and highly publicized tilt with Nebraska and its quarterback Taylor Martinez just days away, it seems as though Bielema is maneuvering in much the same fashion.
"If you actually lined up our entire football team," Bielema noted. "Lance Baretz might be the fastest guy on our football team. He's got extremely quick feet.
"He's been doing a nice job since preparing for Northern Illinois."
Baretz, a true freshman walk-on from Franklin (WI) high school stands an inch shy of six feet tall. He's not big by any means, but he's playing his part while trying to simulate the Big Ten's second leading rusher.
Should Wisconsin claim victory as it did a season ago against Ohio State, Baretz would deserve a decent amount of credit for his role preparing the squad.
"I'm not saying he's Taylor Martinez otherwise he might be playing," Bielema said. "But he's doing a really nice job of simulating him."
The last time the Badgers and Huskers squared off on the football field there wasn't one current player on the UW roster that was even alive. For that matter, no current player on the UW roster was even thought of.
Wisconsin and Nebraska have only ever played five times, with UW winning 21-20 the last time out in 1974. So, when UW and Nebraska take the field under the Camp Randall lights Saturday night, it will not only mark the first-ever Big Ten game for the Huskers, but it will also represent the first meeting between the schools in 37 years.
"I think it's part of our obligation as coaches," Bielema said. "The more you can educate kids on the history of the program and the history of college football is a great thing."
The circumstances of the game in 1974, a shocking upset for the Badgers, were totally different than they are today. UW was not anywhere close to being a top 10 program. The athletic department wasn't known as one of the more profitable departments in all of college sports.
Camp Randall Stadium didn't have any idea what jumping around meant and the Badgers, frankly, weren't that great of a program.
So when the two schools meet Saturday night, not only will it be the first Big Ten meeting for Nebraska, but it will also be the first game inside Camp Randall to feature two top-10 teams since 1962.
From the doldrums to the high life, things have changed in Madison.
"Kids today are different," Bielema said. "The kids that we're recruiting now have known Wisconsin to be good their entire lives. The guys on our team don't know Wisconsin as anything but being good.
"It's part of our obligation and something I think our kids like."
The biggest storyline to stem from UW and Nebraska's meeting, especially considering the ever-changing landscape of college football, is the first-ever Big Ten appearance for the Huskers. That's the king of the crop.
But there are plenty of other ones that merit some attention. Russell Wilson, UW's red hot quarterback, will make his first start in the Big Ten. The game will mark the second straight season ESPN's College Gameday crew will be in Madison. Approximately 20,000 Nebraska fans without tickets to the game are expected to arrive in Madison.
Most importantly, Barry Alvarez, UW's legendary head coach and current athletic director, played for the Cornhuskers. He'll be Wisconsin's honorary captain Saturday night.
"I get to hear stories," Bielema said. "I didn't know if he would want to be the guest captain. I kind of just said that the guy that would make the most sense would be coach Alvarez. When I approached him he was all over it.
"It should be fun to see."
The media circus:
During a normal day, Bielema, his coaching staff and his team have to deal with about 10-15 local reporters. Gamedays are a little different because more people come from neighboring cities that don't necessarily cover a team on a daily basis.
When a top-10 opponent comes to town, especially when UW is also in the top 10, and when all the storylines already mentioned are in play, there are plenty of media requests that stem away from the norm.
Sports Illustrated, for example, wanted to do a feature on UW's offensive line.
"They have an article that will come out this week on our offensive line play," Bielema said. "At first I wasn't going to do it, but then I kind of decided to let it happen. They did it last week so it wasn't a distraction to our preparation this week.
"How many times does Sports Illustrated ask to come in and do a story on offensive linemen. That's very rare."
Bielema, who has been more open with media opportunities this season, already allowed ESPN cameras inside access during fall camp. He understands that being a top notch program in college football means more national media types are going to want to get in on the action.
With a national broadcast upcoming, Bielema is not too concerned with his team's potential to become over excited. He doesn't seem to think the media requests will be too overwhelming.
"There's not going to be anything involved when we're at practice," Bielema said. "When we get into our workweek on Tuesday we'll be able to focus on what we need to do."
Bielema on being a top 10 team:
"We've worked very hard to get ourselves in the position we're in today. I saw that this is the first time since 1962 that two top-10 teams played here. We're here. We don't plan on leaving. So let's take advantage of some of the opportunities that are in front of us."