Big Ten: Champs Sports Bowl first take
Dec. 29, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
The Badgers are heading to Orlando for the second consecutive season, but there's certainly a different feeling within the program this time around.
Wisconsin was one of the nation's biggest disappointments last year, tumbling from the top 10 to the middle of the Big Ten. The season ended things with a very lousy showing against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
This time, head coach Bret Bielema leads a nationally-ranked team that has exceeded most expectations into a Dec. 29 matchup against Miami. The Badgers boast a balanced offense and an aggressive defense led by ends O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt, who have combined for 36 tackles for loss, the highest total among any FBS tandem. Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren needs both Schofield and Watt to get after Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, an early season Heisman Trophy contender who has thrown multiple touchdown passes in nine games.
The bowl could be a classic speed vs. power matchup, as Wisconsin tries to neutralize Miami's speed with its downhill rushing attack. Sophomore running back John Clay, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year, ranks 14th nationally in rushing and has eclipsed 100 rush yards in each of his last five games.
Wisconsin is 1-2 all-time against Miami, last facing the Canes in 1989. The Badgers are 0-1 in the Champs Sports Bowl but 2-1 in Orlando bowl games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Both of these teams will have an eye toward the future when they clash Dec. 27 at Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Wisconsin's BCS bowl dreams have long since vanished, but it recovered from a miserable four-week stretch to close the regular season with three consecutive wins. The Badgers seemed to establish an identity on offense after junior quarterback Dustin Sherer replaced Allan Evridge, and they finally started to utilize the Big Ten's deepest rushing attack.
Quarterback Christian Ponder is Florida State's future, but like the team this season, the sophomore had mixed results. The same can be said for Wisconsin's veteran defense, which will need to contain Ponder and running back Antone Smith.
Defense and special teams are Florida State's strengths, and Wisconsin must wear down the Seminoles with running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay, who were used effectively in the final four games. Sherer won't have many opportunities to attack the nation's eighth-ranked pass defense, but Florida State struggled to stop the run against Georgia Tech and Florida and could be vulnerable against the ground game.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Purdue Illinois 12:00 PM ET 20 Ohio State Maryland 2:30 PM ET North Texas Indiana 3:30 PM ET 17 Wisconsin Northwestern 7:00 PM ET Michigan Rutgers 8:00 PM ET 19 Nebraska 10 Michigan State