UW Health Sports Medicine 

The Voice: Options change, but goal does not

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIt is fairly well documented that November has been a very good month for Bret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers. In the last two years, the Badgers are 8-0. Overall under Bielema, Wisconsin is 17-3.

I would guess many things go into the team's success this month. The head coach has talked about the work done by the strength and conditioning staff, led by Ben Herbert.

It seems logical to suggest good fortune with a team's health comes into play. Can your best players stay on the field? If not, can the "next man in" deliver?

Maybe there is a very simple explanation why November has been good for the Badgers. Maybe the answer is the Badgers simply have been pretty good. Good to great players playing their best football late in the season -- a goal for every team at every level.

That is the challenge for this year's group. The 2012 Badgers are a good team, but as yet, not a great team. Injuries have been a factor. The expected return of Rick Wagner at left tackle should boost the offensive line. The bye week should have bought some time for several other players dealing with various bumps and bruises.

Of course, there is the quarterback question. With Joel Stave out for the remainder of the regular season, both Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips have competed to step in.

At his weekly news conference, Bielema chose not to publicly reveal who will be the starter. Either way, it has the makings of a good story.

O'Brien, the transfer from Maryland who many thought would have the job for the next two seasons, has at times struggled. In fairness to O'Brien, he has been in some difficult spots. He faced an Oregon State defense that is better than many expected. He came in late in the Nebraska game, trying to lead the Badgers on a long drive. Then, in Wisconsin's last game, O'Brien came off the bench in the second half against an excellent Michigan State defense.

The sample size for Phillips is smaller. Against Illinois, he appeared for one series. He entered late in the Minnesota game, and with the outcome decided, the Badgers kept the ball on the ground. In his career, he has thrown 13 passes. Yet he has proven to be tough as nails, coming back from three knee surgeries. He could have given up the game, and people would have understood.

However, Phillips has said he wants no regrets. He doesn't want to be in his late 20s wondering "what if?" He also has little interest in being the cute story of the player who returns from injury who gets to play a few snaps at the end of a blowout. If that is how it turns out, so be it, but to Phillips, he believes he can contribute to a greater degree.

Everybody understands what is on the line this week in Bloomington. The Badgers' defense will face a challenge with Indiana's up tempo offense that features the Big Ten's best passing attack.

The UW offense will look to re-establish its running game against an improving Hoosiers defense.

Yet in football, the attention usually will focus on the quarterback. And the fact is either O'Brien or Phillips will be in position to script an impressive personal comeback story.

More importantly, one or the other can help the Badgers continue their November success, and reach the conference title game for the second straight year.