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Wish Upon a Badger: A special day with one of UW's biggest fans

It's a very common sight at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison to see large men decked out in red roaming the halls and paying visits to children who are there seeking treatment for various conditions.

It may be the time of year for Santa Claus to visit the hospital, but the men in red I'm talking about spend most of their time visiting patients during the football season. Each week, a number of players from the Wisconsin football team choose to give some of their time to some of their smallest -- but most passionate -- fans.

However, when one of those fans can leave the hospital to pay the Badgers a visit, it's even more special. That was the case earlier this season with Nelson Happel, a 7-year-old from Madison whose appearance at Camp Randall Stadium was a great sign of success in his battle against Nueroblastoma, a cancer of the brain.

Sandwiched between what doctors believed to be a successful surgery and the last of many week-long stays at American Family Children's Hospital, Nelson paid a visit to a Badgers practice.

Photos: Wish Upon a Badger - Nelson Happel

Nelson was already familiar with a number of Badgers from encounters during their visits to the hospital, including his favorite player, sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.

After meeting head coach Bret Bielema and taking behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium and the team's facilities -- where he was reunited with another familiar Badger, senior punter Brad Nortman -- Nelson was introduced to the team and received a special gift from Abbrederis himself.

After getting to know the Badgers, Nelson and his father, Gary, had the opportunity to watch the team's win over South Dakota that Saturday from a suite at Camp Randall. Since then, things have continued to look up for the aspiring football player.

Just last week, Nelson's doctors declared him to be cancer free.

Now the young lefty can focus on working toward his dream of playing quarterback for the Badgers.

Speaking as someone who did his best wide receiver impression for Nelson that day at practice, If his arm strength at age 7 is any indication, I like his chances.

Reflecting on 2011: 'Hello, Russell Wilson!'


The hype started in earnest on June 27 when Russell Wilson announced that he was transferring from NC State to Wisconsin. A three-time All-ACC performer, Wilson was seen as the missing piece to the Badgers' championship puzzle.
It didn't take long for those who watched UW's practices in August to realize that Wilson was the real deal. However, doing it with a green non-contact jersey on in an empty stadium is a far cry from delivering in front of a sold-out crowd at Camp Randall Stadium.
And his debut wasn't just another game, it was a Thursday night, prime time affair to kick off the college football season on ESPN.

If he had any pre-game jitters, it certainly didn't seem that way as Wilson led the Badgers 65 yards in just over three minutes on their opening possession and capped it with 4-yard TD pass to Montee Ball. But it wasn't until late in the second quarter that Wilson truly put his stamp on Wisconsin.
UW got the ball on its own 44-yard line with 1:37 left in the half looking to add to a 27-3 lead. After a 10-yard pass and an incompletion set up second-and-10 at the UNLV 46, Wilson dropped back to pass but couldn't find anyone open.

He took off up the middle and cut to his right to avoid a defender at about the line of scrimmage. He got a great block from Nick Toon at about the 25-yard line, cut to the sideline and used his speed to burst towards the end zone. Jared Abbrederis was locked up with a UNLV defender at the goal line and Wilson tiptoed the sideline into the end zone.
As the "Voice of the Badgers" Matt Lepay said, "Hello, Russell Wilson!" It was a great introduction to a player who would go on to re-write the UW record book.

Game Recap: For starters: Badgers run off Rebels in rout, 51-17



AP awards highlight Badgers' All-America additions

FB_111215_Ball_Montee.jpgWith awards season ongoing in college football, All-America teams continue to be released by media outlets and other groups. It's no surprise to see junior RB Montee Ball's name headlining several of those lists.

Ball added to his list of All-America awards with first-team nods from SI.com, Pro Football Weekly and Phil Steele. Carrying the most weight, however, was Ball's spot on the Associated Press All-America first team, an honor he shared with senior RG Kevin Zeitler.

Ball has been named a first-team All-American on nine major lists and was a second-team selection to the Walter Camp All-America Team, which includes just one running back each on its first and second teams.

Zeitler added a first-team selection by Pro Football Weekly this week, matching his selection by both the AP and the American Football Coaches Association. He also was named this week to Phil Steele's second team and was an honorable mention by SI.com.

Also earning first-team All-America nods was junior C Peter Konz, who was tabbed by both SI.com and Pro Football Weekly. He also was named to the AP second team and was a third-team pick by Phil Steele.

Senior QB Russell Wilson also earned a third-team nod from Phil Steele to go along with an honorable mention by SI.com.

The same went for sophomore LB Chris Borland and sophomore WR Jared Abbrederis -- who was recognized as a punt returner -- as both earned honorable mention from SI.com.

Wisconsin's 2011 All-Americans

Jared Abbrederis, So., WR/PR
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Montee Ball, Jr., RB
- First team, Associated Press
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Football Writers Association of America
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, ESPN.com
- First team, SI.com
- First team, Yahoo! Sports
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- First team, Phil Steele
- Second team, Walter Camp Foundation

Chris Borland, So., LB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Peter Konz, Jr., C
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, SI.com
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- Second team, Associated Press
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports
- Third team, Phil Steele

Russell Wilson, Sr., QB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports
- Third team, Phil Steele
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Kevin Zeitler, Sr., RG
- First team, Associated Press
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Pro Football Weekly
- Second team, Walter Camp Foundation
- Second team, CBSSports.com
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports
- Second team, Phil Steele
- Honorable mention, SI.com

Ball headlines Badgers named to All-America squads


Three more All-America teams were announced over the weekend and, not surprisingly, Badgers junior running back Montee Ball earned a place on all three.

Ball, who finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports.

The nation's leading rusher can add those distinctions to the recognition he had already earned on the American Football Coaches Association, CBSSports.com and Walter Camp All-America teams.

In addition to Ball's first-team nod, the Badgers' offensive line duo of guard Kevin Zeitler and center Peter Konz were named to Yahoo! Sports' All-America second team, while senior quarterback Russell Wilson and sophomore linebacker Chris Borland each picked up third-team honors.

Both Konz and Zeitler earned spots on the AFCA All-America squad last week, as well, while Zeitler has also been honored by both Walter Camp and CBSSports.com.

Ball not only was a Heisman Trophy finalist, but also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award presented to the nation's top running back. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, claimed the inaugural Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year award, was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten pick and earned the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the league's top player.

With 38 touchdowns on the season, Ball stands one TD shy of matching Barry Sanders' all-time FBS record of 39 and leads the nation in rushing with 1,759 yards.

At 191.6, Wilson ranks second nationally in pass efficiency behind Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III -- but well ahead of Colt Brennan's NCAA record of 186.0 -- and finished ninth himself in the Heisman voting.

He is just the fourth Big Ten quarterback to pass for 30 or more touchdowns in a season and was named the first-ever winner of the Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year Award, as well as the inaugural Grange-Griffin Championship Game MVP award for leading UW to a 42-39 win over Michigan State in the first Big Ten title game.

Borland ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten this season with 131 total tackles and averages 10.1 stops per game.

Konz started the first 10 games of the season for UW before suffering an ankle injury in UW's win over Minnesota on Nov. 12. Zeitler has started at right guard in all 13 games this season, blocking for an offense that has averaged 467 yards and ranks No. 4 nationally in scoring at 44.6 points per game.

Wisconsin's 2011 All-Americans

Montee Ball, Jr., RB
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, Football Writers Association of America
- First team, CBSSports.com
- First team, ESPN.com
- First team, Yahoo! Sports
- Second team, Walter Camp

Chris Borland, So., LB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports

Peter Konz, Jr., C
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- First team, CBSSports.com
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports

Russell Wilson, Sr., QB
- Third team, Yahoo! Sports

Kevin Zeitler, Sr., RG
- First team, American Football Coaches Association
- Second team, Walter Camp
- Second team, CBSSports.com
- Second team, Yahoo! Sports

Ball and blockers Konz, Zeitler named All-Americans


Record-setting running back Montee Ball and two of the Wisconsin teammates who have helped pave the way for his remarkable season, offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler, were each named to the 2011 AFCA Coaches' All-America Team released Monday by the American Football Coaches Association.

The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Ball has scored 38 total touchdowns this season to stand one score shy of Barry Sanders' single-season NCAA record of 39 TDs. He also ranks fourth nationally with 135.31 rushing yards per game and leads the nation with 32 rushing touchdowns.

His average of 6.4 yards per carry is second-best nationally among players with at least 200 carries on the season.

The Badgers' starting center, Konz also was named a finalist Monday for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the most outstanding center in the nation. Selection to the AFCA All-America squad should help Konz's chances, as it is one of four All-America squads the Rimington committee uses to select its winner.

Konz started the first 10 games of the season for UW before suffering an ankle injury in UW's win over Minnesota on Nov. 12.

Zeitler has started at right guard in all 13 games this season, blocking for an offense that has averaged 467 yards and ranks No. 4 nationally in scoring at 44.6 points per game.

The Badgers' three offensive selections are the most of any team. Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford each had two players selected to the All-America team's offensive unit.

Wisconsin had two All-Americans on the AFCA list last season, LT Gabe Carimi and TE Lance Kendricks. Both were selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.

A viewer's guide to Big Ten Championship Game weekend

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The usual flood of college football games flowing through your TV will slow to a trickle as conference championship weekend gets underway this Friday and Saturday.

It's not necessarily a bad thing, with quality taking the place of quantity as leagues look to crown their champions and teams await their bowl-game fates.

In the middle of it all is the first-ever Big Ten Football Championship Game, meaning there will be no shortage of Badgers-related programming for you to consume leading up to kickoff Saturday. Not surprisingly, BTN will have blanket coverage from Indianapolis.

It begins Friday with live coverage of the coaches' press conferences for Bret Bielema and Mark Dantonio, live from Lucas Oil Stadium at 3 p.m. (CT). The pressers also will be streamed live on BTN.com.

You can also watch a replay of the Spartans' 37-31 win over the Badgers on Oct. 22 at 6 p.m., followed by a special edition of the Big Ten Football Report, live from Indy. The 60-minute preview show features Dave Revsine, Mike Hall, Howard Griffith, Gerry DiNardo and Glen Mason talking all things Badgers-Spartans.

The action gets going early Saturday, with ESPN College GameDay featuring record-setting Badgers RB Montee Ball as part of its broadcast that begins at 9 a.m.

A special edition of BTN Live is set for 10 a.m., live from the Big Ten Fan Fest in Indianapolis. Revsine, Griffith, DiNardo and Mason will take questions from Twitter and Facebook.

BTN is back to Indy at 5:30 p.m. with a one-hour pregame show, which leads directly into Fox's live pregame show that begins at 6:30 p.m. Kickoff from Lucas Oil Stadium is set for 7:17 p.m., live on Fox.

You can catch a replay of the championship game at 8 p.m. Sunday, immediately following BTN's one-hour Bowl Selection Special at 7 p.m.

If you can't be near your TV, be sure to watch a live simulcast of the BTN broadcasts on BTN2Go.com or grab the BTN2Go app for iPhone or iPad.

Big Ten Championship Game TV Schedule (All times Central)
3 p.m. BTN Coaches Press Conferences
6 p.m. BTN Replay: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Oct. 22)
8 p.m. BTN Big Ten Football Report Special Edition
8 a.m. ESPNU College GameDay
9 a.m. ESPN College GameDay
10 a.m. BTN BTN Live
5:30 p.m. BTN Big Ten Championship Pregame Show
6:30 p.m. FOX Pregame Show
7:17 p.m. FOX Big Ten Championship Game
8 p.m. BTN Replay: Big Ten Championship Game

Ball claims fourth Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor


For the fourth time in his record-breaking junior season, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

Ball earned the honor for the second-consecutive week, and the four weekly awards Ball has claimed this season rank as the second-most by any player in a single season in conference history.

Combined with the three Offensive Player of the Week awards earned by senior QB Russell Wilson, the Badgers secured seven weekly offensive honors in 12 weeks this season.

Ball shares the title this week as co-offensive player of the week alongside Michigan QB Denard Robinson.

Ball extended his Big Ten single-season record to 34 total touchdowns by rushing for four scores in the Badgers' 45-7 win over Penn State on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The Wentzville, Mo., native carried 25 times and finished with 156 yards to go along with the fourth four-touchdown game of his career.

Ball now has 27 rushing TDs on the year -- also a Big Ten single-season record.

By scoring multiple touchdowns for the 12th-cosnecutive game, Ball broke the NCAA record for consecutive multi-TD games held by Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders. He also is closing in on Sanders' single-season touchdowns record, which was set at 39 in 1988.

In all, Ball has scored at least one touchdown in 18 straight games.

Wilson picks up third Big Ten Player of the Week award

FB_111114_Wilson_Russell.jpgHe wasn't quite perfect, but Russell Wilson's nearly-spotless performance Saturday against Minnesota was enough to earn the Badgers quarterback his third Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award this season.

Wilson completed 16 of 17 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns as the Badgers cruised past Minnesota, 42-13, in Minneapolis. He connected on his first 16 throws before a long pass to Nick Toon was broken up in the third quarter.

His 94.1 completion percentage ranks as the fourth-highest in a game in Big Ten history.

The honor ties Wilson with RB Ron Dayne for the second-most Big Ten weekly awards by a UW player in a single season, as Dayne picked up three weekly conference honors as a freshman in 1996. He also claimed four awards as a senior in 1999, the highest single-season total in Badgers history.

Wilson's nod gives the Badgers a total of five offensive honors this season, with RB Montee Ball also picking up a pair of weekly awards.

Wilson's ultra-efficient work Saturday improved his nation-leading mark in passing efficiency to 201.6, well ahead of the NCAA record of 186.0 set by Hawaii's Colt Brennan in 2006. Wilson also leads the nation in yards per attempt (11.1) and yards per completion (15.1) as well as yards of total offense per play (9.9.).

A semifinalist for both the Davey O'Brien Award and Maxwell Award, you can read more about Wilson's place among the nation's best in this blog post.

Big Ten champs vault to No. 1 in national poll


Just two days after proving themselves the class of the Big Ten for the 13th-consecutive season, the Badgers now find themselves atop the list of the nation's top teams, as well.

For the first time since 2007, the Wisconsin men's cross country team is ranked No. 1 in the USTFCCCA National Coaches Poll.

UW received seven of the possible 12 first-place votes to vault Oklahoma State for the top position in the latest poll, which was released Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Cowboys picked up the remaining five first-place votes and come in at No. 2.

BYU, Colorado and Oklahoma round out the top five.

"Of course it's an honor to be ranked No. 1 in the country, and I'm very happy for our athletes," said fourth-year UW head coach Mick Byrne. "But that does nothing to change the challenges ahead of us."

The move to No. 1 comes on the heels of the Badgers' dominant win Sunday at the 2011 Big Ten Championship, where UW used a team score of 17 points to claim its 13th-straight conference crown. Indiana, which finished runner-up to the Badgers at the Big Ten meet, follows No. 6 Stanford and checks in at No. 7 in the national poll.

Behind the Hoosiers, No. 8 Portland and a tie for No. 9 between Iona and Princeton round out the national top 10.

Byrne is pleased voters took notice of his team's performance at the conference meet, but he says the role of favorite for the upcoming NCAA championship hasn't changed.

"Oklahoma State is the two-time defending champion, returns everyone from last year and is the clear favorite for the NCAA meet," Byrne said. "They have looked fantastic this season and Girma Mecheso hasn't even competed yet. That's a guy that was seventh at the national meet last year.

"They are the team to beat."

Byrne was cautious to put much stock in rankings heading into the heart of championship season.

"Coach (Martin) Smith's teams often fly under the radar, but what Oklahoma did to compete with Oklahoma State at the Big 12 meet has them on my radar," Byrne said. "The same thing goes for Coach (Mark) Wetmore, because Colorado is always a team that shows up and performs on the day. You can count on it.

"Plus, we know that BYU and Stanford both have very talented teams and will be a factor when we get to Terre Haute."

For Wisconsin, the return to No. 1 marks UW's 22nd week as the nation's top-ranked team since 1998. Only Stanford, at 31, has been atop the USTFCCCA rankings more often than the Badgers.

Wisconsin, Stanford, Colorado and Arkansas are the only programs to be ranked in each of the 99 polls released since the start of the 1998 season.

Bielema heads to Bristol for ESPN takeover


It will be hard to miss Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema if you tune into an ESPN network on Friday.

Taking advantage of the No. 4 Badgers' bye week, Bielema will spend the day in Bristol, Conn., to appear on a number of TV and radio shows.

Here's a look at Bielema's scheduled appearances (Central time):

- 8:40 a.m.  SportsCenter - ESPN
- 10 a.m.  SportsNation Chat - ESPN.com
- 11:40 a.m.  SportsCenter - ESPN
- 12:30 p.m.  Scott Van Pelt Show - ESPNews / ESPN Radio
- 2:20 p.m.  SportsCenter - ESPNews
- 2:30 p.m.  College Football Live - ESPN2
- 3 p.m.  College Football Live (Replay) - ESPNU
- 4 p.m.  SportsNation - ESPNU
- 5:20 p.m.  SportsCenter - ESPN
- 7 p.m.  College Football Live Pregame Show - ESPN

In addition to his broadcast schedule, Bielema also will spend time recording a podcast, sitting down with the crew from College GameDay Radio and conducting an interview with ESPN The Magazine.

In all, Bielema will put in a full nine hours on the Bristol campus.