NCF Nation: champs 0827

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 AP Photo/Rob Carr
 Wisconsin's Dustin Sherer, shown here getting sacked by Florida State's Toddrick Verdell, struggled in the Badgers' 42-13 Bowl loss on Saturday.

The Champs Sports Bowl marked Wisconsin's final chance to take the sting off an extremely disappointing season.

After a 42-13 loss to Florida State, the Badgers' pain won't go away for some time.

As expected, Florida State was the faster and more athletic team. But speed wasn't the main reason why Wisconsin got torched in Orlando, Fla.

The quarterback position plagued the Badgers all season, and Dustin Sherer's struggles Saturday encapsulated the inconsistency under center. Sherer looked overmatched against Florida State's defense, and his two fumbles that led to Seminoles touchdowns prevented Wisconsin from hanging around. It wasn't all Sherer's fault, but the offense couldn't sustain drives despite gashing Florida State for several big plays.

Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst must do a better job of identifying a capable quarterback in the offseason. The answer might very well be Sherer, but other players certainly deserve a look. Quarterback simply cannot be a liability for a team that shapes its identity around the run game.

Special teams also doomed Wisconsin, thanks to Florida State superstar kicker/punter Graham Gano, who pinned the Badgers back deep throughout the first half. Wisconsin couldn't do much about Gano, but special teams must be upgraded going into 2009.

The Badgers' defense put pressure on Christian Ponder in the first half but didn't make any game-changing plays.

You would never know by the final score, but Wisconsin actually played a pretty good first half. P.J. Hill found running room and Florida State's offense couldn't capitalize on favorable field position. The Badgers moved the ball well despite not fully committing to the run. But Derek Nicholson's head's-up play to return a Sherer lateral for a touchdown combined with Wisconsin's inability to manage the clock led to a 14-3 Florida State lead at the break.

I actually picked Wisconsin to win (head banging against wall), but when a team has been disappointing for the better part of 12 games, things usually don't change in a bowl.

This is a significant blow for Wisconsin, a senior-laden team which entered the season with BCS aspirations after four straight January bowl appearances. The Badgers had more than their share of injuries, but they looked poorly coached at times and seemed to lose confidence in a hurry. Head coach Bret Bielema needs to rebound in 2009.

Wisconsin's loss won't change many opinions about the Big Ten. Six games remain, but if the Champs Sports Bowl is any indication, it could be a rough postseason for Big Ten teams.

FSU romps over Wisconsin

December, 27, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

North Carolina, even in its losing effort, set the entertainment bar high with an instant classic in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and the ACC's second game of the day paled in comparison.

Even the officials got caught sleeping in this one.

Florida State's speed beat Wisconsin's power repeatedly, and the Seminoles earned their first nine-win season since 2004. Considering how poorly the Badgers played, though, it wasn't exactly the kind of win that will have everyone proclaiming the program is back. It was a convincing postseason win nonetheless, and Bobby Bowden will take it -- especially considering it didn't happen last year.

The two major factors in this game were Florida State's defense and kicker/punter/Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano. Gano pinned Wisconsin deep in its own territory, as three of his punts dropped inside the 3-yard line in the first half, and once inside the 10. It gave the defense momentum and energy early.

The Seminoles' defense was the difference in the game, as they snagged three turnovers and kept Wisconsin's bruising, powerful backs off the field. Two of those fumbles were returned for touchdowns, and Florida State actually wound up controlling the clock by about 10 minutes. If defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews wanted to retire, he couldn't have asked for a better sendoff from his players, but all indications from within the program are that he'll be back for another season.

FSU quarterback Christian Ponder spent much of the first half on his bad back, but had enough playmakers around him -- namely receiver Greg Carr -- to take advantage of Wisconsin's mistakes on defense.

Ponder struggled with his accuracy in the first half because there was so much pressure on him, but improved in the second half when the offensive line gave him some time to throw. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has played it safe most of the season with his play calling, keeping Ponder to shorter throws. Ponder's at his best with the play action, when he uses his feet and rolls out of the pocket. Overall, he managed the offense without turning it over and will only get better.

Florida State does have a balanced offense, but the running game has been the backbone, and Wisconsin took that away and forced Ponder to beat them. Antone Smith ran it when it counted, though, and was more effective later in the game. He also got some help from Ty Jones, who will be part of the future of FSU's running game along with Jermaine Thomas.

Even without injured playmaker Preston Parker, one of the team's top receivers, FSU's depth, height and athleticism at the position were too much for Wisconsin to handle.

Champs Sports Bowl preview

December, 27, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten bowl season finally kicks off today as Wisconsin (7-5) faces Florida State (8-4) in the Champs Sports Bowl (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET). Here's a quick look at the matchup.

WHO TO WATCH: Wisconsin running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay

The Badgers' upset hopes rest on the burly backs of Hill and Clay, who respectively rank 48th and 62nd nationally in rushing. The plan calls for Wisconsin to pound the ball and overpower Florida State's speedier defense with a rushing attack that led the Big Ten and ranks 14th nationally (212 yards per game). Wisconsin had a 100-yard rusher (Hill or Clay) in each of its final four games, and both backs hit triple digits against Michigan State and Indiana.

WHAT TO WATCH: Wisconsin's offensive line against Everette Brown

Sacks have been a problem at times for quarterback Dustin Sherer, and the Badgers' mammoth offensive line must keep Brown out of the pocket. Florida State ties for sixth nationally in sacks (3 sacks per game), with Brown and Neefy Moffett leading the way. The Badgers' line entered the season as one of the team's strengths. Today is the time to prove it.

WHY TO WATCH: It's the first Big Ten bowl game

You've waited 35 days to see a Big Ten team in action again, longer than any other fan base in college football. Wisconsin isn't as big an underdog as many of its Big Ten brethren, and despite a disappointing regular season, the Badgers could get the league off to a positive start in the postseason. The game also pits power versus speed, which is always entertaining.

Champs Sports Bowl preview

December, 27, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich


WHO TO WATCH: Florida State defensive end Everette Brown. He is arguably the best defensive end in the ACC, and it could be his last game in a Florida State uniform. Brown finished the regular season second in the nation with 20.5 tackles for losses and third in the nation with 12.5 sacks.

WHAT TO WATCH: FSU's defense on third downs. Statistically, it's the best in the FBS. Just ask the ACC champs. Virginia Tech was successful on one of 11 third-down conversion attempts against FSU. Opponents have converted just 26 percent of their third downs against the Seminoles, and getting Wisconsin off the field in a timely fashion will be key. The Badgers are one of the best in the country when it comes to controlling the clock.

WHY TO WATCH: Florida State could earn its first nine-win season since 2004, and the Seminoles have never lost a game in Orlando. It's also a classic power vs. speed matchup.