Wisconsin-South Carolina Preview
The eighth-ranked Gamecocks and 19th-ranked Badgers meet for the first time on New Year's Day in Orlando in a matchup of hard-nosed teams with elite defenses.
"We're not taking this game lightly at all," Wisconsin safety Dez Southward told the school's official website. "This is an enormous game. Just because it's not the Rose Bowl, just because it's not a BCS bowl game, it doesn't mean the opponent is not the same caliber. That's the case with South Carolina. They're above and beyond almost anybody we've played this year."
The Badgers (9-3) have lost in the Rose Bowl the last three seasons while the Gamecocks (10-2) are after a third straight bowl victory after beating another Big Ten opponent, Michigan, in the 2012 Outback Bowl.
While Wisconsin moved the ball on the ground all season, South Carolina could tip its attack more in that direction against the Badgers after learning second-leading wide receiver Damiere Byrd would miss the game. The 5-foot-9 speedster required arthroscopic knee surgery after suffering an injury in practice earlier this month.
The Gamecocks concluded the regular season with a 31-17 victory over then-No. 6 Clemson on Nov. 30 for their fifth win a row - a streak that started with a 27-24 victory at then-No. 5 Missouri on Oct. 26.
Senior quarterback Connor Shaw led an offense that didn't turn the ball over in the last four games of the season. The team had a plus-15 turnover margin over the last four weeks after posting a minus-4 mark through the first eight.
Shaw's decision making was sound all year as he threw 21 touchdowns and one interception. He was also second on the team in rushing with 511 yards behind Mike Davis (1,134) - the SEC's fourth-leading rusher.
While Shaw and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will play their final game for the school, Davis, a sophomore, and many others will likely return.
"It's pretty neat to go 10-2 with this team that was called the youngest team in America," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "These guys may have achieved the most for such a young bunch of guys that haven't played all that much."
The Badgers' 3,396 yards on the ground ranked eighth in the FBS, as did their 283.0 rushing yards per game. Their 6.6 yards per carry trailed only Ohio State.
"They can run the ball pretty well," Clowney told the school's official website. "They'll try to pound it at us. We've got to be ready to stop the run. I think they pass the ball a lot more than you expect. They do a lot of play-action pass."
There's plenty of reason to believe the Badgers will be a similar type of team next year after running back Melvin Gordon announced his plans to return for his junior year earlier this month. Gordon led the Badgers with 1,466 yards on 8.1 yards per carry.
The date with South Carolina will be fellow running back James White's last as a Badger. The senior racked up 1,337 yards and a team-high 15 total touchdowns.
Their hopes of displaying a dominant ground game on a BCS stage came to an end along with a six-game winning streak with a 31-24 home loss to Penn State in the regular-season finale.
"I can't sit back and say we had a bad week of practice, can't sit back and say I didn't feel like we were prepared," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said after the loss. "I'm going to say it again, I give a lot of credit to Penn State."
Both South Carolina and Wisconsin feature big-name defensive leaders. Clowney entered the year as one of the most-hyped players in college football and drew as much attention from opposing offensive lines as anyone. He ended an injury-plagued season with just three sacks, but it didn't stop South Carolina from ranking second in the SEC in scoring defense (20.0 points per game) and third in total defense (345.0 yards per game).
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland was named Big Ten defensive player of the year and a first-team All-American as the Badgers ranked second in the conference in scoring defense (14.8) and total defense (294.0).
The Badgers' last bowl victory came in Orlando over Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl.