New Year's Day is usually a sign that bowl season is about to head into overdrive, and that is certainly the case on the first day of 2014. One of the day's marquee matchups features Wisconsin taking on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
The Badgers will be looking to rebound after a lackluster performance in the regular-season finale against Penn State. Before that loss, the team's only defeats came on the road against a pair of strong teams in Arizona State and Ohio State.
South Carolina got its head-scratching loss out of the way a little bit earlier, dropping a game against Tennessee in mid-October. The Gamecocks bounced back strong, though. They won their last five games, including triumphs over Missouri and Clemson.
Which team will pick up the Capital One Bowl win?
Let's check out all the key details for the Capital One Bowl, followed by a preview and prediction for which side will end the season on a high note.
Where: Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Connor Shaw put together a terrific season for South Carolina. After throwing 13 interceptions over the previous two seasons, he had just one to go along with a career-high 21 touchdown passes as a senior to help pace the Gamecocks offense.
He was particularly impressive down the stretch, with 10 touchdowns and no picks in the final five games after the loss to Tennessee. He even showed off his dual-threat ability in the regular-season finale, rushing for 94 yards and a touchdown in a win over Clemson.
Perhaps the biggest sign of Shaw's improvement was that he was able to play that well without a truly dominant wide receiver to work with. Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington are solid targets and Shaq Roland flashed some potential, but it's not an elite receiving group.
QB rating vs. #SEC competition 1 AJ McCarron 163.5 2 Johnny Manziel 162.8 3 Connor Shaw 162.7 4 Zach Mettenberger 155.9 5 Aaron Murray 150.6— Saturday Down South (@SDS) December 27, 2013
Add in running back Mike Davis, and South Carolina has an underrated offensive group. It's a unit that will need to find a way to move the ball consistently against a Wisconsin defense that ranks fifth in points allowed at less than 15 per game.
As illustrated in comments passed along by Ryan Wood of The Post and Courier, Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda knows slowing Shaw down is the biggest key to success:
While you (pressure him), don't let him out of the pocket. Those two things don't always go hand in hand, and so it's difficult to accomplish. I think the mix is the best thing. The mix is the answer in my mind, whether it's going from man to zone to four-man to three-man.
So we'll see how all that goes. We were talking earlier today. I think a lot of people have tried, and not a lot of people have been successful.
The Gamecocks defense isn't far behind at 20 points per game, good for 13th in the nation. Since the teams are pretty even on that side of the ball, the game will likely come down to which offense is able to make one or two big plays in the second half.
For Wisconsin, which provided an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the team's preparations leading up to the bowl game, it all starts with the ground game.
The combination of Melvin Gordon and James White tallied over 2,800 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. They set the tone for the entire offense and take a lot of pressure off quarterback Joel Stave, who tossed three interceptions when asked to take on a more pass-heavy attack against Penn State.
So the key for Wisconsin is establishing that rushing attack early. If it can get Gordon and White rolling and in turn lessen the amount of throws Stave needs to make, the Badgers should be able to control the pace of the game.
Of course, South Carolina understands that as well and will be loading up to stop the run. Don't be surprised if that leads Wisconsin to use some play-action early in an attempt to stop the Gamecocks from stacking the box. That's where Jared Abbrederis would come into play.
Ultimately, this should be one of the closest battles of bowl season. In the end, Shaw will be able to make enough plays late to push South Carolina over the top.
Prediction: South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 23