Capital One Bowl, New Year’s Day, 1, ABC
Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2) — In his first season following Bret Bielema’s departure to Arkansas, Gary Andersen’s led the Badgers back to a meaningful bowl game with nine wins despite losing Doak Walker award winner Montee Ball. Another trip to the Rose Bowl –or perhaps better — was the ultimate goal, but an early-season loss to Arizona State followed by a rough first half two weeks later at Ohio State derailed those hopes.
Related: Complete SEC bowl schedule
THE SKINNY: These Badgers take the traditional Big Ten approach on gamedays — run, play defense, repeat. They’re up against the most prolific attack South Carolina’s had on offense under Steve Spurrier featuring sophomore tailback and 2014 Heisman candidate Mike Davis and the reliable Connor Shaw, a dual-threat signal caller and 2.5-year starter. Much-maligned early this season for breakdowns in coverage at Georgia and Central Florida, South Carolina’s defense transformed into one of the nation’s best by season’s end and hasn’t given up more than two touchdown passes in a game since Oct. 5. Wisconsin’s giving up only 14.8 points per game — second only to Michigan State’s 12.7 in the Big Ten — and controls the clock a two-headed backfield.
KEY PLAYER: Wisconsin’s success on the ground is well-documented behind dual 1,000-yard backs Melvin Gordon and James White, but Shaw is this game’s best player who’s not in the spotlight. A win would mark his third straight postseason victory in central Florida on New Year’s Day and provides the Gamecocks with another 11-2 season. Shaw finished 17-0 career at home with a regular season-ending win over Clemson and leaves the program as the school’s all-time winningest quarterback. A gameplan centered around No. 14 in his final start seems fitting for the Head Ball Coach’s favorite player.
WHAT TO WATCH: How will the loss of Damiere Byrd affect the Gamecocks’ passing game? South Carolina’s second-leading receiver injured his knee last week at practice and had arthroscopic surgery, effectively ending his junior season one game early. The 5-foot-9 speedster is the team’s top deep threat with three touchdown receptions this fall spanning at least 45 yards. His over-the-top 76-yard score in the second quarter at Tennessee wound up going a long way in determining his first career 100-yard game. Shaq Roland, Bruce Ellington and Nick Jones are three guys capable of filling the void on the outside.
FINAL SAY: Right now, this is Vegas’ only ‘pick ‘em’ bowl game with the oddsmakers finding no clear favorite. The Gamecocks can finish in the Top 10 for a third consecutive season with their 11th win while Wisconsin is going for its first victory of the season against a ranked team. This bowl’s been included on several ‘must-see’ non-BCS game lists and should come down to execution in the final quarter. It’s also the last time we’ll see heralded star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney on the collegiate gridiron before he’s taken in the NFL lottery by a cellar-dweller.
Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports