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Wisconsin seniors seek elusive bowl win

Ryan Groy and his Wisconsin classmates aren't in a reflective mode, and might not be for a while.

When you're in your early twenties, you tend to live in the moment. The Badgers' seniors know what's behind them, the Big Ten championships and Rose Bowl appearances, the coaching changes, the milestones and the adversity. But they're savoring their final days of game prep together, and looking forward to their final game, which carries plenty of meaning.

"It'll cap off our legacy," said Groy, Wisconsin's left guard. "It's very important. Obviously, it's the last game of our senior career. We're focusing on that."

A win against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl would give the seniors 40 victories since the start of the 2010 team, tying them with the 2012 and 2007 Wisconsin seniors for the most in a four-year span. But other than linebacker Chris Borland, none of the seniors have been part of a bowl win.

Borland played as a true freshman in 2009, earning Big Ten freshman of the year honors and starting at outside linebacker in the Champs Sports Bowl, as Wisconsin beat Miami 20-14 (he redshirted the 2010 season after a shoulder injury). The Badgers reached greater heights the next three seasons with Rose Bowl appearances, but lost all three games by single digits.

"It really feels a lot better to end the season on a high note," Borland said. "We've had a few conversations in smaller circles and it's not a bad idea to talk to the whole team, but I think our guys are hungry to win regardless.

"They've been preparing the right way so far."

The Rose Bowl setbacks are in the seniors' minds as they prepare for their final postseason appearance. Running back James White, who has 3,908 career rush yards and 45 touchdowns, had three forgettable outings in Pasadena: eight carries for 23 yards against TCU, eight carries for 30 yards against Oregon and six carries for four yards against Stanford, including a fourth-and-goal stall on the Stanford 1-yard line and dropped pass on a well-designed screen on third-and-10.

"I haven't had much of an impact in the bowl games," White said, "so I definitely want to go out here my last season and have an impactful game and get a win."

Win or lose, Wisconsin's seniors will be remembered as one of the more accomplished groups in program history. Arguably their most significant achievement is the way they handled coaching changes, especially the surprising departure of head coach Bret Bielema after the 2012 Big Ten championship game.

The team hit surprisingly few speed bumps during the transition to Gary Andersen, surging to a 9-2 record before a surprising loss to Penn State on Senior Day at Camp Randall Stadium.

"We just stuck together and were tight-knit during all those times of adversity and change," nose tackle Beau Allen said. "We really bought into this program and did everything that we could to make sure we handled that right.

"It paid off in the end."

Allen admits that the Capital One Bowl "might not be the same stage or setting as Pasadena," but Wisconsin's opponent matches up with the ones it faced in the Rose Bowl. South Carolina began the season ranked No. 6 nationally and has been in the top 15 in all but one week, rising to No. 9 in the final BCS standings.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the headliner, but quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis form a dangerous backfield combination. Borland sees similarities between South Carolina and Ohio State, one of few offenses to move the ball effectively against the nation's No. 6 defense.

As it turned out, Wisconsin's loss to Penn State didn't cost the team a BCS at-large berth after Michigan State upset Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. But there's still a sense of unfinished business for the Badgers, especially those taking the field for the last time.

"We're incredibly motivated," Allen said. "I don't think there's anything else that we want more. We haven't won a game in the postseason, so those three Rose Bowl losses, that's not something you take lightly. We're just going to do everything in our power to prepare right for this game and make sure that we come out on top."