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October 28, 2013

UW looks to defend the Heartland

MADISON, Wis. - The Heartland Trophy has occupied its case in Wisconsin's locker room for the last three years, gathering dust while the Badgers and the Iowa Hawkeyes were split into different divisions by the Big Ten conference. But the Badgers and Hawkeyes will renew their rivalry this Saturday in Iowa City, forcing the Badgers to dust off the trophy and bring the bull with them to Kinnick Stadium.

And while the Heartland Trophy doesn't have quite the same mystique or history to it when compared to the other super-sized trophy currently sitting in Wisconsin's locker room, the players said they've grown accustomed to seeing it every day and don't want to come back to Madison without it this weekend.

"It's a big game. We've got the trophy. We want to keep our trophy," running back Melvin Gordon said Monday. "We don't want to give it back to them, so this game is going to be very high-intensity. They're going to bring it. We're expecting that, but we're going to play well too."

Saturday's game will mark the last meeting between the two teams before they're moved into the same division next season, after Maryland and Rutgers join the conference. Wisconsin and Iowa will both play in the Big Ten West division for the foreseeable future, making the battle for the Heartland Trophy an annual contest once again.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said he and his players are excited to have the Hawkeyes back on their schedule, even though it means another tough, emotional game for his players to try and handle.

"I think our kids are excited about the opportunity," Andersen said. "[The rivalry] goes way back and a lot of our kids have played against Iowa. It's been a couple of years since they have, but … it's gone back and forth and been very physical and I expect nothing different.

"Our kids have great respect for Iowa. I'm sure Iowa's in the same boat and they know that they're going to have to put their best foot forward to win on both sides."

The Badgers and Andersen stress not getting too high or too low for individual games, but Andersen admitted that rivalry games and trophy games can always add a little extra edge to both teams when they take the field.

"You sit there and you look at that trophy- it's either a trophy case with a trophy in it or a trophy case that's empty," Andersen said. "And you either hope to hold onto it or hoping to get it back. So it does matter to kids and it's something these kids talked about it all last week, and they understand it and it does give a little bit extra edge."

And Andersen has some experience with rivalry games, even if he'll be coaching in his first trophy game for the Badgers. Andersen and his teams competed for the Old Wagon Wheel against BYU and won the Beehive Boot over Utah and BYU for the second time in three seasons. Andersen said he thinks rivalry games and trophies help level the playing field at times, when both teams go all-out to keep their trophies safely ensconced in their locker rooms

"I think it's important for the fans. It's college football," Andersen said. "That's why college football is so special."

News and notes:

-- Andersen said he is "very optimistic" that inside linebacker Chris Borland will play this week against Iowa. Borland missed the majority of Wisconsin's game against Illinois, and Andersen said Borland's hamstring injury would have probably kept him out this past week if the Badgers had a game instead of another bye week.

"[In] practice we'll be careful," Andersen said. "We'll continually watch him and monitor him as it goes. Trainers have done a great job as far as getting to this point Chris has done a great job. Obviously it's not an injury that's foreign to him. He's been through this before."

But Andersen said that Ethan Armstrong is preparing to play at inside linebacker for the Badgers if they get to the game on Saturday and decide that Borland isn't ready to go.

-- With Wisconsin's second of two bye weeks in the books Andersen said he got to watch some college football on Saturday, even though his wife had some chores to do for him around the house. But Andersen said he enjoyed the bye week, and just tried to be a college football fan for a day instead of breaking things down as a coach.

"I just want to sit back and be a fan for a day and enjoyed it," Andersen said. "So it was good. Tailgated a little bit in my kitchen by myself had a good tailgate party. Me and the dogs. Hung out. It was a good day."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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