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“We do talk to our defensive players about you’re going to get to play in an environment where defense is appreciated,” Bielema said. “That’s something that’s kind of unique in the Big Ten.”

There are conferences where the laser-throwing quarterbacks and fleet wide receivers rule. But not necessarily this one.

“If we’re playing good defense, at least we have a chance to be competitive,” Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz said. “To try to outscore people all the time, that’s a challenge.”

It’s a basic tenet of the sport, but nowhere is it embraced more than in the Big Ten: the offensive guys get the headlines, while the defensive players decide the outcome.

“There’s always been great defenses in this conference. I can’t say that we’re one of those right now,” Fitzgerald, a former All-Big Ten linebacker, said with a laugh. “At the end of the day, yeah, you win championships on defense. There’s no question about that.”

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.