The 2013 Capital One Bowl features a couple college football powerhouses in South Carolina (10-2) and Wisconsin (9-3), and both teams face significant challenges in the upcoming contest.
The Badgers are coming off a disappointing 31-24 loss to Penn State to close out the regular season on Nov. 30. The team has made it to the Rose Bowl the past three years (losing all three times), and it was a disappointment to miss out on another chance at a BCS bowl game.
However, safety Dez Southward made it clear in a recent interview that the Badgers will be approaching this game with full focus, as noted by Kevin Chroust of the Associated Press, via Yahoo! Sports:
We're not taking this game lightly at all. This is an enormous game. Just because it's not the Rose Bowl, just because it's not a BCS bowl game, it doesn't mean the opponent is not the same caliber. That's the case with South Carolina. They're above and beyond almost anybody we've played this year.
South Carolina lost just two games all year and finished the season with an impressive 31-17 win over Clemson, which was the No. 6-ranked team in the nation at that time.
Though the two teams finished the season 10 spots apart in the final BCS rankings, they both feature special traits that could ultimately lead to victory. With that in mind, here's a look at the biggest challenge for both teams.
Wisconsin Must Rattle the Unflappable Connor Shaw
South Carolina won 10 games this year in large part because quarterback Connor Shaw proved to be one of the most unflappable and reliable quarterbacks in the nation.
The senior signal-caller's final stats don't jump off the page, as he passed for just 2,135 yards with 21 touchdowns, adding another 511 yards and five touchdowns running the ball.
However, Shaw remarkably threw just one interception all year long. It occurred in the team's loss to Tennessee, which proved his worst performance of the year. The Volunteers had him on the run all game long, which forced him into many a bad throw.
His ability to keep drives alive with both his arm and his legs helped the Gamecocks put together one of the finest seasons of any team in the nation.
After Shaw led a three-point, double-overtime victory over Missouri on Oct. 26, Alex Brown of Optimum Scouting remarked on his toughness, competitiveness and poise:
For Wisconsin, it's going to take a relentless effort by the team's pass-rushers to keep Shaw from efficiently running South Carolina's balanced offense. It's easier said than done, however, because the senior has seen it all before and isn't easily rattled.
South Carolina Must Clamp Down on Wisconsin's Potent Rushing Attack
South Carolina's defense was formidable in 2013, finishing the regular season as the No. 13-ranked scoring defense in the nation (20 points allowed per game). Led by pass-rusher extraordinaire Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks allowed just 202.8 passing yards per game and just 13 total passing touchdowns.
But the team was exposed a few times against top rushing attacks and finished the season allowing 4.05 yards per carry, 142.3 yards per game and 16 total rushing touchdowns.
Wisconsin's offense could give South Carolina's defense some big problems.
Led by Melvin Gordon and James White, who combined for 2,803 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns this season, the Badgers finished the year as the nation's No. 8-ranked rushing offense, averaging 283 yards per game.
Clowney talked about the upcoming challenge, via Chroust: "They can run the ball pretty well. They'll try to pound it at us. We've got to be ready to stop the run. I think they pass the ball a lot more than you expect. They do a lot of play-action pass."
That play-action passing game won't be hardly as effective if Clowney and his defensive teammates can shut down Gordon, White and Wisconsin's rushing attack. Should this occur, then South Carolina should be able to cruise to victory.
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