Big Ten spotlight: Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Part I

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The comparisons to Robert Gallery were made throughout the summer, but Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga simply shrugged and smiled when he heard them. Bulaga always handled his hype well, and the affable junior took the same approach when he faced a bout with adversity in early September. Bulaga was hospitalized following a practice and missed three games with a thyroid condition. He's back on the line now and leads No. 11 Iowa into Madison, where the Hawkeyes put their perfect record (6-0) on the line against Wisconsin on Saturday (ESPN, noon ET).

The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Bulaga is regarded as Iowa's latest superstar offensive tackle and the Big Ten's top offensive lineman, at least according to this guy. While watching "Monday Night Football" earlier this week, Bulaga took a few minutes to talk about his illness, his return and the challenges ahead.

The last time Iowa was 6-0 [1985] was before most of you guys were born. How has the atmosphere been around campus?

Bryan Bulaga: In Iowa City, everyone's pretty fired up about it. Going to class today, everyone seemed pretty excited, a 6-0 start, first time in a while. Everyone in the locker room is pretty positive and fired up. We know we still have a lot of work to do. Obviously, we haven't played a perfect game yet, but we're excited. To start 6-0 is the best you can be at this point.

You guys finished the season strong last year. Has it been a matter of carrying that over to this year? What have you noticed being on the field or being on the sideline that has been different?

BB: We've learned from last year what it took to finish those close games. From that win at Penn State last year, we figured out what it took. A lot of the guys on the team last year are back this year, and we bring that same mentality. You just learn from game to game how to pull out these close ones. We've had a couple of them this year [laughs]. We just stay positive and upbeat, that never-quit attitude, and that's what we learned from all the seniors last year.

You guys have a lot of rivalry games, but where does this one rank for you?

BB: Every year, this is a big game for us. If you look at both sides of the ball, we're very similar in a lot of ways. I know a lot of guys get recruited to both these schools. This is a big game. There's a lot of history there. I get excited for each game, but it's a big one for both programs, and the trophy makes it a little bit more interesting.

Was Wisconsin a school that looked at you?

BB: Yeah, I got recruited pretty heavily by Wisconsin. I thought they were a great program. Coach [Bret] Bielema is a great guy. Coach Randall McCray, he's with the [safeties] now, he was the guy that recruited me. I liked Wisconsin, they were great coaches, I just thought Iowa would be the better fit, and that's how it turned out to be.

Are you feeling more comfortable being back in there, or is it still a work in progress?

BB: Every practice, you get a little more comfortable. But you've got to settle in a little bit. From a comfort standpoint, I feel good, but from a technique standpoint and a fundamental standpoint, there are still some things I need to clean up, for sure. I showed that [against Michigan]. But just having continuity with the guys on the line, I definitely feel I'm back in the full swing of things.

How frustrating was it for you to miss time? You never expect for something like that to happen.

BB: It was really frustrating. It wasn't something that physically hurt me. It wasn't my knee or a shoulder or anything that was really bothering me. It was something that was internal. I really didn't feel anything besides that one day where I was pulled out of practice. When you don't feel something and you just sit on the sidelines and watch, it's very frustrating. I wasn't too worried that I was going to be sitting out for a season. Once I was in the hospital and they found out it wasn't anything with my heart or a cardiac issue, I got a sense of relief, knowing that, 'Hey, it's something that's a lot smaller and not as significant.' It was just a matter of getting that blood level down. Until that happened, it was just frustrating to watch. I was able to run and bike and lift weights, but not play.