NCF Nation: Champs Sports Bowl first take
Dec. 29, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Miami take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The Canes get to stay in their home state, which they wanted, and they’ll face a Wisconsin team that boasts the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year in John Clay, who finished the season with 1,416 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Clay’s 172 yards and three touchdowns in the Badgers’ 51-10 romp of Hawaii in the regular-season finale helped push Wisconsin back into the national rankings this week, but Miami is at No. 17 in the BCS standings and wrapping up its best season since 2005. Clay is a major reason the Badgers have the No. 15 rushing offense in the country and the No. 1 unit in the Big Ten, but Wisconsin is a more one-dimensional team than Miami.
Miami’s defense will be tested in this game, but so will Wisconsin’s, as both teams will present different styles of offense. The Canes, led by quarterback Jacory Harris, have relied more heavily on their passing game, but can turn to several running backs to mix it up. The Badgers have the No. 8 rushing defense in the country, but haven’t been spectacular against the pass. The Canes had ample time to rest and heal and enter the postseason off of back-to-back wins. It’s the second bowl appearance in the third season under Randy Shannon.
The Hurricanes are 2-1 all-time against the Badgers, with the last meeting coming in 1989 when UM defeated Wisconsin, 51-3, in Madison.
Wisconsin take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: 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.
Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Wisconsin take by Big Ten blogger 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.
Florida State take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Florida State will face a middle-of-the-pack Wisconsin team that was reflective of a bulk of the Big Ten -- average. The Badgers were expected to contend for the Big Ten title, but fell below the preseason expectations and barely escaped their season finale against Cal Poly.
It's the first time these programs have met, and they're similar in that their strengths are both their running games. The Badgers finished the regular season 14th nationally and lead the Big Ten with 212 rushing yards per game, and are led by P.J. Hill, who has 1,021 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
The Seminoles are holding opponents to an average of 291.8 total yards, and have the No. 5 rushing defense in the ACC. Wisconsin's challenge will also be to stop the run -- namely Antone Smith and Jermaine Thomas -- and force quarterback Christian Ponder into throwing the ball deep and making mistakes.
The Badgers will also be challenged to match Florida State's speedy playmakers, and stop the ACC's No. 1 scoring defense at 32.7 points per game. Wisconsin has the No. 5 rushing defense in the Big Ten at 133.2 yards per game. Wisconsin won three straight to end the season.