The Wisconsin Badgers take on the Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl in one of the more anticipated pre-2010 bowl match-ups. Both teams come in with 9-3 records and a chip on their shoulder as each could have gone to more prestigious bowl games but were passed over by the committees.
Both have dynamic offenses with suspect defenses and, on paper, are very evenly matched. Although the outcome could go either way, one thing is for sure: offense will rule the night.
Here are three reasons why each team could end 2009 with a bowl trophy in their hands.
Why Wisconsin Will Win
1. Rushing Offense
This one's pretty obvious. Wisconsin sophomore running back John Clay comes into the game leading the Big Ten in rushing and shows no signs of slowing down.
With almost 1,400 yards this year, Clay is the key to Wisconsin's offense, and luckily for him, Miami's rush defense hasn't been stopping anyone this year.The Hurricanes give up about 120 yards rushing every game.
Not only do the Badgers have Clay, but they also have freshman Montee Ball, who has performed admirably this year, and junior Zach Brown. As a team, the Badgers have the second-best rushing attack in the Big Ten, averaging over 200 yards per game.
Although Miami quarterback Jacory Harris is one of the bright young stars of the ACC, he does have the tendency to turn the ball over.
Seventeen interceptions is certainly not something coach Randy Shannon hoped for this year, but as Harris is only a sophomore, it is somewhat understandable. Wisconsin hasn't had a whole lot of success creating turnovers this year, but if given the chance they're definitely capable.
Chris Maragos has had a few key interceptions this year, including one in the second overtime against Fresno State in September, but as a whole Wisconsin has been pretty unsuccessful. If O'Brien Schofield and company can put pressure on Harris, the Badgers should get some chances come Dec. 29.
This game is huge for Wisconsin. It's a chance for them to notch their first bowl win in three years, get to 10 wins, and, probably most importantly, prove they can beat a quality team.
If the Badgers can beat Miami, it would go along way in building their confidence for next year, and it would probably put them in the top 20 to start the 2010 season.
After their embarrassing loss to Florida State last year on the very same field, Wisconsin will be looking for redemption in this year's game. This game could be a defining moment in Bret Bielema's career as Wisconsin's head coach and would help silence some of his critics.
Why Miami Will Win
1. Passing Offense
The Hurricanes have a clear advantage over the Badgers when it comes to passing the ball. Harris, though somewhat prone to turnovers this year, is still one of the best quarterbacks the Badgers will face this year.
And, to put it lightly, the Badgers' pass D isn't very good. They give up over 200 yards passing per game, and their cornerback play has been awful.
Miami, though it doesn't have a bonafide star receiver, has a plethora of targets for Harris. Wisconsin doesn't have the talent on defense to keep up with these Hurricane receivers, and unless they can get significant pressure on Harris, they simply don't have a chance of stopping the Hurricane passing attack.
2. Scott Tolzien's Inexperience
Although he's played an entire year now, Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien still is relatively inexperienced.
For being a first-year starter, Tolzien has had an adequate year. Sixteen touchdowns and 10 interceptions with almost 2,500 yards isn't too bad for a quarterback playing in a run-first offense.
But in big games, Tolzien has struggled. In Wisconsin's three losses, Tolzien had six interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns against Ohio State and three in the Badgers' 10-point loss to Iowa.
Tolzien is good at managing the game, not winning the game. If Miami can pressure Tolzien or even get an early lead and force the Badgers to throw, it could be a long night for Wisconsin's offense.
3. Home-field advantage
Played in Orlando, the Champs Sports Bowl is only hours away from the University of Miami.
Although Wisconsin traditionally has tremendous fans when it comes to traveling, there is no way it'll outnumber Hurricane fans. Not only is Miami much closer, but this is also the second year in a row in which Wisconsin is playing a semi-prestigious bowl game in Orlando.
If it was the Capital One Bowl instead of the Champs Sports Bowl, Badger fans would still roll into Orlando despite being there the previous year. A bowl game that, in many fans' eyes, isn't that important will probably deter many fans from coming.
Miami will no doubt be feeling at home when it takes the field in Orlando.
Prediction: Miami 38, Wisconsin 34