So much for a cupcake schedule. So much for losing at Michigan and not playing Ohio State.
The Wisconsin Badgers are making travel plans for the Rose Bowl.
The 13th-ranked Badgers rode remarkable special teams play and a stout defense to a 24-3 victory over No. 16 Penn State on Saturday, hours after No. 7 Ohio State beat No. 11 Michigan 31-16.
That left the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Badgers all at 7-1 in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin (10-1) won the tiebreaker, all but guaranteeing the Badgers another trip to Pasadena, where they beat UCLA in the 1994 Rose Bowl.
The only snag could be if the Buckeyes miraculously climb back into one of the top two spots in the Bowl Championship Series ratings and get a shot at the national title.
In that case, the Rose Bowl would not be contractually bound to take Wisconsin as co-champion and could select an at-large team. But the prevailing sentiment from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is the bowl committee would take the Badgers even under those circumstances.
Coach Barry Alvarez didn't need an invitation to begin his party.
"I don't need anything official," he said. "A win is good enough for me. I've coached in national championship games, played in them and coached in every other bowl game. There's nothing like taking the field at the Rose Bowl."
As the crowd of 78,964 celebrated from the stands -- avoiding a repeat of the crush that injured scores of people in 1993, the last time the Badgers won a share of the league crown -- fireworks filled the skies over Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers gathered in celebration at midfield.
Then, they filed through the tunnel, red roses clenched in their teeth, as the UW band began its traditional Fifth Quarter performance that had the stadium rocking and roling.
"I couldn't wait to smell those roses," said defensive end Tom Burke, whose four sacks increased his national lead to 21, a Big Ten record. "I grew up on a farm, so I know what hay smells like."
Ron Dayne, who strained a chest muscle early in the game, carried 23 times for 95 yards, and quarterback Mike Samuel added 89 yards on 18 carries.
| Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne breaks away from Penn State's James Boyd (6) and Brandon Short (43) during the second quarter. (AP) |
The Badgers, tops in the nation in turnover margin, turned two takeaways into 10 points on their way to a 17-0 halftime lead.
Nick Davis' 82-yard punt return for a touchdown broke a scoreless tie and moved him past Thad McFadden as the school's leader in career punt return yards. Donte King took out punter Pat Pidgeon at the Nittany Lions 40.
King wasn't done. He hammered punt returner Bruce Branch and recovered a fumble at the Penn State 37 early in the second quarter. Five plays later, Samuel hit Chris Chambers with a 26-yard fade pass for a 14-0 lead.
Matt Davenport's 38-yarder made it 17-0 after Badgers defensive end John Favret recovered Eric McCoo's fumble at the Wisconsin 40 late in the half.
It initially looked like the badgers, whose perfect season was ended by Michigan 27-10 a week earlier, would be in for another long day -- and an Alamo Bowl berth, at that. They went three-and-out their first series and Branch returned the punt 30 yards to the Wisconsin 48.
From there, quarterback Kevin Thompson methodically moved the Nittany Lions to the Badgers 4, where freshman linebacker Dan Lisowski dumped McCoo for a 3-yard loss on first down.
It was the beginning of the end for the Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-3), who were flagged for a personal foul on the next play, moving them back to the 29. Two plays later, Travis Forney was wide right on a 42-yard field goal attempt.
After Forney's 34-yarder in the third period made it 17-3, Samuel's 1-yard keeper capped a 76-yard drive and the scoring.
The Badgers set a school record for regular-season victories and Big Ten wins and produced their best home record (6-0) since 1962.
"This is one of the greatest moments that ever happened to me. I was dreaming about this since I was a little kid watching football," Favret said.
The Nittany Lions lost to all three teams that tied for the league title. So, who better to say if the Big Ten is sending its best team to Pasadena?
"We played three fine football teams," coach Joe Paterno said. "I'm not going to say who's the best of the three."
Anyhow, it doesn't matter who's better, only who's going.
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