WISCONSIN BADGERS BREAKDOWN The Badgers' streak of three straight Rose Bowls has come to an end. That doesn't mean, however, that Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was a failure. Wisconsin actually added one more win to its total compared to a season ago, when it went 8-6.
James White (left) and Melvin Gordon powered a Wisconsin run game that was among the best in the country.
Wisconsin's rushing attack ensured Andersen would find success this season, as Melvin Gordon and James White combined to form the No. 8 run game (283 YPG) in the nation. The speedy duo helped the Badgers average an FBS-best 8.3 yards per carry outside the tackles, and both rushed for more than 1,300 yards.
Wisconsin's new 3-4 defense also helped it move up nine spots from last season's 15th-ranked defense. But that doesn't mean the Badgers didn't have their weaknesses. Besides the passing game (and lack of weapons outside of Jared Abbrederis), inconsistency plagued Wisconsin.
The Badgers allowed the opposition to score more than 30 points in just four games -- and three of those games wound up as losses. Wisconsin suffered a controversial ending against Arizona State, fell by a touchdown vs. the Buckeyes ... and then was somehow upset by a sanctions-depleted Penn State squad. Wisconsin is obviously hoping to bounce back after PSU's huge upset, and it should be ready for this bowl game. It can actually improve on last year's record despite playing one fewer game. -- Josh Moyer
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BREAKDOWN Quietly, Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to yet another 10-win season. A postseason victory, and South Carolina would have its third straight 11-win season under Spurrier.
Connor Shaw battled injury but South Carolina has finished strong.
It's been a fun season for the Gamecocks, who started it with a loss to Georgia but were on the heels of their second SEC Eastern Division crown after upsetting Missouri in double overtime on the road. But they just fell short of their goal to return to Atlanta after Mizzou won out after losing to the Gamecocks.
The game that will really have this team kicking itself is that 23-21 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville. South Carolina turned it over twice and lost starting quarterback Connor Shaw to a knee injury but was clearly the more talented team. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, that was their final stumble. They won their last five games by a combined 181-81 margin, including a 31-17 win over Clemson that made it five in a row for South Carolina over the Tigers.
The star of the show for the Gamecocks was supposed to be defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Nagging injuries and constant double-teams left him with a pedestrian three sacks, but he did have 10.5 tackles for loss.
The top performers for South Carolina were Shaw and bell cow running back Mike Davis.
Shaw continued to show the country why he's one of the toughest players. His knee sprain sidelined him only briefly, as he returned in the fourth quarter against Mizzou only to throw for 201 yards and three touchdowns to erase a 17-point deficit. Shaw finished the year with 2,135 yards with 21 touchdowns to just one interception.
Helping Shaw along the way was Davis, who made a strong case for the title of the SEC's top running back. Davis, who was a home run threat and a legitimate between-the-tackles bruiser, rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. -- Edward Aschoff