Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin Has Chance to Make National Statement Against SEC

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IDecember 30, 2013

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Wisconsin has traded the familiar sights of Disneyland and the Rose Bowl for Disney World and the Capital One Bowl, yet its goal is still the same—make a national statement. 

In each of the last three Rose Bowls, the Badgers proved they could compete with anyone. That's all well and good, but in college football close doesn't count for much, and Wisconsin failed to win all three attempts at the Rose Bowl. 

It lost to No. 3 TCU in 2011, No. 5 Oregon in 2012 and No. 6 Stanford in 2013. 

So, as No. 9 South Carolina stands in front of them at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day, don't expect the Badgers to be intimidated in the least. 

Do expect them to be hungry to go out winners for a change, after seeing the last three senior classes leave empty-handed. According to Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal, it's all the motivation guys like James White need heading into the Capital One Bowl.

Since I’ve been here, I haven’t won a bowl game and I really haven’t done much in a bowl game...It’s definitely important for me and the rest of the seniors to go out here and work hard and put on a great performance.

Nov 30, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back James White (20) rushes as Penn State Nittany Lions safety Von Walker (25) defends at Camp Randall Stadium. Penn State defeated Wisconsin 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Spo
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin has been close to breaking through the glass ceiling of being considered an elite team for four years now.

It now has an opportunity to put itself on the map in its next two games, as they also take on LSU to open 2014.

But Wisconsin must take care of part one before it worries about part two. 

That's a task easier said than done, especially when you look at the matchup between the efficient Gamecocks' quarterback Connor Shaw and UW's secondary. 

It's a fact not lost on Badgers secondary coach Ben Strickland, according to Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal

As a whole, we have to be different to win this ballgame...We can’t just line up and play and expect for those guys on the offensive side not to pick us apart. So, we’ve got to be different in what we’re doing from a scheme standpoint (and) a different mentality approach as well, to make sure our kids are locked in and ready to execute at a high level.

Wisconsin's season finale against Penn State didn't go the way anyone wanted in the cardinal and white, as the Badger secondary gave up 339 yards and four touchdowns through the air. 

Yet statistically speaking, the Badgers have been one of the best teams in college football against the pass. They rank sixth in passer efficiency (105.22) and 12th in passing defense (192.7 yards per game) nationally. 

Additionally, this unit has given up just 12 passing touchdowns on the year—tied for the lowest in the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks present a whole different level of challenge though, as they will be just the fifth opponent Wisconsin has faced to rank in the top 50 nationally in passing. 

Nov 16, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton (8) intercepts a pass during the first quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Shaw comes in with 21 passing touchdowns to just one interception, so the Wisconsin secondary will need to be on the mark in order to make part one of their statement a success.

Wisconsin's chances against the South Carolina passing attack could come down to a very intriguing matchup between wide receiver Bruce Ellington and UW's standout freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton. 

Shelton's first year saw him get named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media, and for once the 5'9" corner won't be tasked with covering a much taller receiver, as Ellington is all of 5'9" himself. 

If Shelton can shut down Ellington, it makes the game much easier for the rest of his teammates and the big goal just that much more likely—getting to 10 wins. 

Hitting that mark for the third time in four years won't hurt Wisconsin's chase for nationally elite status either, and even for the seniors who are departing it's an important goal. 

"This game is very important to us," said senior linebacker Chris Borland. "Getting a 10th win against a great team would say a lot, validate a lot. Our last performance wasn't us." 

Getting that 10th win would not only tie this senior class for most wins in a four-year span, but also could serve as a launching point for bigger things ahead. 

Wisconsin capping off one season with a win against a top SEC foe is one thing, but doing that and taking on LSU to open its next season is a task that will make the nation sit up and take notice.

Now all that's left is for Wisconsin to go out and win both of those games. 

Do so, and the Badgers will not only have back-to-back wins over top SEC foes but the respect that comes with it. 


*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.


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