MADISON, Wisc. -- The cheers swept over Camp Randall Stadium with 8:13 remaining in the second quarter of Saturday's game -- and the applause had absolutely nothing to do with Wisconsin's growing lead over Minnesota.
Instead, the noise was in response to the latest partials posted on the end zone scoreboard:
Texas A&M 21
And. . .
You can't blame the record crowd of 83,069, and maybe even Badgers coach Barry Alvarez himself, for sneaking peeks. When you're fifth in the BCS Rankings, behind No. 2 OU and No. 4 Cal, you tend to notice possible upsets.
Plus, this game was pretty much decided shortly after the coin flip. The only items in question were the final score (38-14) and how quickly the coveted Paul Bunyan's Axe would be snatched from the Minnesota bench (Badger players began sprinting across the field with 21 seconds left).
Minnesota coach Glen Mason would have preferred to keep the axe for a few more minutes -- and use it on some of his players. Wisconsin led, 31-0, before Mason could get a halftime orange slice. By then the Badgers had outgained the less-than-Golden Gophers, 336-55, had 15 more first downs, and a 14-minute advantage in time of possession.
"If you're going to play against a quality team like Wisconsin, you better bring your A-game," said Mason, who looked as if he need several hugs.
Minnesota, now 6-4 and losers of four of its last five, brought something in the X-Y-Z variety. Meanwhile, the unbeaten Badgers played like a BCS teacher's pet, scoring on their first five possessions, racking up 44 minutes, 31 seconds of possession time, running 86 plays to the Gophers' 52 -- and not committing a turnover on any of them. Best of all they improved to 9-0, remained with seat belts buckled in the driver's seat of the Big Ten standings, and were a couple of mini-miracles of being a heartbeat away from a No. 3 BCS ranking.
No, A&M and Oregon couldn't squeeze out upsets, but the Badgers didn't seem to mind. If they did, they're not saying so. Wisconsin coaches have these guys so brainwashed that it's like interviewing a team of Manchurian Candidates.
"One-and-oh every week," said star defensive end Erasmus James, repeating the
James, who hadn't played since suffering an ankle injury against Purdue Oct. 16, didn't spend a lot of time on the field Saturday. He came. He crushed. He chilled. By his own admission he wasn't close to 100 percent healthy, but he was good enough to earn double-teams and the occasional triple-team. Later, with Wisconsin comfortably ahead, him and his special ankle brace were directed to a warm spot on the bench.
James didn't seem too concerned about the possible BCS ramifications of a Wisconsin blowout win combined with narrow victories by OU and Cal. Instead, he all but grabbed pom-poms and sis-boom-bah'd about the Badgers' record.
"I've never been 9-0 at anything," he said.
Wisconsin certainly will be favored to win its 10th when it travels to Michigan State next weekend. After that comes the regular season finale at Iowa. And after that -- well, the Badgers don't talk about that stuff.
"It really doesn't mean anything right now," said senior cornerback Scott Starks of the recent BCS Standings that had the Badgers trailing undefeated USC, OU, Auburn and once-beaten Cal.
Starks is serious. He doesn't make any effort to even glance at the weekly polls and rankings. He doesn't even subscribe to ESPN on his cable plan.
"Just basic," he said.
"To avoid seeing the rankings?" someone asked.
"I got basic to avoid being broke," he said.
OK, so they do care about how this BCS scenario might play out. Of course, don't mention this Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez.
"I don't know what (Saturday's win) means or how people perceive us, and quite frankly, I don't care -- I really don't," said Alvarez. "I sound like a broken record -- and I'm not trying to be short or curt -- (but) we just want to win games."
They won this one with ease. And for the first time since the season opener against Central Florida, they won it primarily because of their offense. Sophomore quarterback John Stocco played as if his four years of eligibility were up. Running back Anthony Davis, who missed last season's loss to Minnesota, gained 124 yards and scored twice before tweaking his ankle. The offensive line gave their quarterback enough time to write a term paper in the pocket.
"It's the first time (we) played well as a whole team," said linebacker Dontez Sanders.
Afterward, Alvarez tried to work up a sweat over Mike Allen's two missed field goals. Otherwise, there wasn't much to criticize. The Badgers dominated every statistical category, including Most Photos Posing With An Axe.
Mason and his Gophers were on the wrong end of every number. Since starting the season 6-0, Minnesota has been in a freefall.
"At halftime we were on the verge of being totally embarrassed. . . run out of the state of Wisconsin," he said. "I'm totally disappointed in almost every aspect of my program."
The Badgers had a lot to do with that. The celebrated Minnesota tag team of Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III combined for just 91 rushing yards. And the not-so-celebrated Minnesota defense gave up 525 total yards.
Mason was asked about Wisconsin's chances in the BCS lotto.
"I'm a firm believer that you win championships in any conference and on any level with defense," he said. "And that's gotta be one of the best defenses in the country."
You'll get no argument from Wisconsin. Actually, you won't get much of anything from the Badgers, except one phrase:
Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.