December 27, 2008

Champs Sports Bowl: Five things to watch

MADISON, Wis. - When Wisconsin takes to the Florida Citrus Bowl field later this afternoon (3:30 p.m. CT), it will write the final chapter of the 2008 football season. A win over Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl will salvage a season many thought was disappointing and give many of the returning players momentum heading into 2009.

The following are five things to watch during UW's bowl game against the Seminoles:

1. Swan Song:

For 16 players on the current Badger roster, today's game will be the final time they wear the cardinal and white. Three of those players (Matt Shaughnessy, Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk) comprise the UW defensive line that looks to have a major impact on the game.

Florida State's offensive line is comprised of three true freshman and two sophomores. Needless to say, the Badgers hold the upper hand with experience with three seniors and a four-year junior O'Brien Schofield. Look for the defensive line to be productive in getting after Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder and force him out of his comfort zone.

2. Speed of the game:

Since UW received a bowl bid and learned who it was playing all the talk has been about speed disparities among the Badgers and Seminoles. Whether or not Florida State has more raw speed than Wisconsin is difficult to determine, but if it is noticeable, UW has the means necessary to counteract it. Look for the Badgers to run the ball over and again throughout the game.

The Badgers feel like they are bigger and stronger than the Seminoles and look to prove it with its massive offensive line and powerful running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay.

3. Bowl games are supposed to be neutral, aren't they?

With its campus only a couple of hours away, it is believed UW will be in hostile territory during the game. With its impressive fan base, Florida State has always traveled well and because this game is so close, it will outnumber Wisconsin fans, essentially turning the game into a road tilt for the Badgers.

Look for UW to thrive in this environment. On the season, UW took some lumps on the roads, but also had opportunities to steal some wins away from home, particularly at Michigan and at Michigan State. With the Seminole chop and rowdy FSU fans bearing down on them, it will be interesting to see how UW handles the environment.

4. Can Dustin Sherer continue to improve?

Nobody has been quicker to criticize the play of UW's new quarterback faster than the quarterback himself. After losses at Iowa and Michigan State, Sherer continually said he needed to play better. Apparently as the season progressed, including UW's current three-game winning streak, Sherer has proved to be a man of his word.

Look for him to perform at a level high enough that gives the Badgers an opportunity to claim victory in a tough environment. Knowing that Florida State tends to struggle in coverage of opposing tight ends, look for Sherer, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks to have a major impact on the game.

5. Polar opposite coaches

UW head coach Bret Bielema will turn 39 years old in approximately two weeks. Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden has approximately Bielema's age in coaching experience. At 79 years of age, there is no question Bowden has more experience, but it seems Bielema has a stronger stance on the importance of this game.

If this game turns into a tight contest, look to see how both coaches handle their respective sidelines. At certain points of the season, Bielema has made some hair-raising decisions and has also cost his team with critical penalties. It will be interesting to how he coaches in only his third bowl game of his young head coaching profession.

Some quick game notes:

-Today's game will be UW's seventh consecutive bowl appearance. That is a Wisconsin school record and second-longest current streak in the Big Ten.

-UW has never appeared in the Champs Sports Bowl and has never played Florida State.

-This game marks the fifth consecutive year the Badgers will play its bowl game in Florida, three of which have taken place in Orlando.

2004: Outback Bowl loss to Georgia (Tampa)
2005: Capital One Bowl win against Auburn (Orlando)
2006: Capital One Bowl win against Arkansas (Orlando)
2007: Outback Bowl loss to Tennessee (Tampa)
2008: Champs Sports Bowl vs. Florida State (Orlando)

-Six of UW's 12 games this season have been decided by three points or less. In those games, UW split with a 3-3 record. That is the most games decided by a field goal or less in school history in a single season.

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