2008 Champs Sports Bowl Preview
by Matt Severance - 12/26/2008
Wisconsin (7-5) vs. Florida State (8-4)
Conference matchup: Big Ten vs. ACC
When: Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Location: Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Spread: FSU -5.5, total at 52
Line movement: There has been some fluctuation here, with the point spread moving about a half-point in either direction of five at most books. The late money has been toward FSU. The total has fallen between a half-point and a point since its opening.
Bowl history: This will be Wisconsin's first non-January bowl game since the 2003 Music City Bowl and first bowl game against a school from outside the SEC since 2002. The Badgers are 10-9 all-time in bowls, including losing the Outback Bowl to Tennessee last season. The Noles used to be major bowl regulars but haven't played in one of the big four since the end of the 2005 season (Orange Bowl loss to Penn State), with FSU's last two bowl stops being the Emerald in 2006 (win over UCLA) and Music City last year (loss to Kentucky). Florida State is 21-14-2 all-time in bowls and is making its 27th straight trip to one, the longest streak in the country.
How they got here: Frankly, the Badgers are a bit lucky to be here. They were 3-0 and ranked No. 9 in the country after winning at Fresno State but then lost their first four Big Ten games, including a choke job at Michigan. Wisconsin did win its final three games to get bowl-eligible, but the finale was a 36-35 overtime win over I-AA Cal Poly where the Badgers trailed by eight points with four minutes left. FSU's high point was a 30-20 win over Virginia Tech on Oct. 25 that got the Noles to 6-1 and in control of the ACC Atlantic. But Florida State alternated losses and wins, going 2-3, in the final five games, including being routed by Florida in the regular-season finale (that means FSU is due to win here, I guess).
Key trends: Oddsmakers tend to slight Wisconsin in bowls, as the Badgers are 4-0 ATS in their past four bowls as an underdog of 3.5-10 points. FSU is 6-0-1 in its past seven neutral-site games. The under is 4-1 in UW's past five bowl games, but the over is 4-0 in FSU's past four postseason games.
Key injuries: FSU's best all-around offensive threat, WR Preston Parker, is questionable for Saturday's game. Against Florida, Parker suffered an ankle injury and hasn't participated in a full practice since before the Gators game. Actually, Parker has had a very disappointing season, which started with him being suspended for the first two games. He has caught just 40 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns this season. Still, he can present matchup problems as sort of a Percy Harvin-lite.
Wisconsin for sure won't have a key contributor as linebacker Jonathan Casillas underwent surgery last week for a lingering knee issue. Casillas is a three-year starter who twice earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. He ranks third on the team in tackles (62) with six tackles for loss and an interception.
Sackmaster: Watch out for FSU defensive end Everette Brown, who could single-handedly disrupt the Wisconsin passing game the rare times the Badgers throw. Brown ranks No. 3 nationally with 1.04 sacks per game. He has 12 ½ of the Seminoles' 36 sacks and 20 ½ of the team's 104 tackles for loss. He also had three or more sacks in three games.
UW has surrendered 26 sacks in 12 games (2.2 per game). In the six games since junior Dustin Sherer took over as the starting QB, opponents have recorded 17 sacks (2.8 per game).
Overview: Both teams are inconsistent throwing the ball (let's call that a wash), so the better running team should prevail. The Badgers led the Big Ten in averaging 212 rushing yards per game. Junior P.J. Hill is Wisconsin's main man, with team highs of 1,024 yards and 13 touchdowns as UW ranked 14th in the nation in rushing. The Badgers also have freshman John Clay, the heir apparent to Hill who had 845 yards on the ground and nine TDs.
FSU rushed for 2,194 yards this season, its most in six years, led by Antone Smith, who had 753 yards and 14 touchdowns. But that ground game slowed down in the second half of the season, averaging 149.7 yards in the final six games after averaging 216.0 rushing yards per game in its first six. Smith had only 121 total yards in the final three games as he dealt with an ankle injury.
In stopping the run, Florida State ranks 34th, holding opponents to 126.8 yards per game, and Wisconsin ranks 43rd at 133.3 yards.
This is the first-ever meeting between the schools, and obviously Florida State will have a sizable crowd advantage. Wisconsin is too one-dimensional with its running game, and the fast FSU defense allows fewer than 300 yards per game. The Noles will stack the box and make Wisconsin QB Dustin Sherer beat them. He won't.