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Capital One Bowl Preview and Prediction: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina

South Carolina Gamecocks

For the first time in four years, Wisconsin won’t be playing in the Rose Bowl. After three straight losses in the Granddaddy of Them All, the Badgers will have to face a 10-win SEC powerhouse coached by a Hall of Famer.

In his first season at the helm in Madison, Gary Andersen led his squad to a respectable 9-3 record that many fans likely feel should have been better. A controversial loss to Arizona State early in the year and inexplicable defeat at the hands of Penn State at home in the season finale relegated UW to the Capital One Bowl.

South Carolina, too, had higher expectations this fall. Wins over Missouri, Clemson and others validate this team as one of the nation’s best, but a critical loss to 5-7 Tennessee cost the Gamecocks a trip to the SEC Championship game.

Neither ended the season where they expected to finish so both teams are better than their record indicates, making this one of the most intriguing matchups of the bowl season. The Badgers and Gamecocks have never faced one another and it should provide an entertaining matching of strengths — Wisconsin’s power rushing game against South Carolina’s NFL defensive line.

Wisconsin vs. South Carolina

Kickoff: Wednesday, Jan. 1. at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Pick 'em

Three Things to Watch

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Chris Borland vs. Connor Shaw
Chris Borland was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for a unit that was surprisingly stingy all season long. He is a tackling machine and has showed a major knack for making big plays — i.e., forcing fumbles, blocking kicks and playing in the opponent’s backfield. Connor Shaw, on the other hand, matches his toughness, grit and leadership for South Carolina. The mobile quarterback is the winningest in school history and is one of the top, if not the No. 1, most underrated quarterback in SEC history. Both are winners and both love to compete. Watching the chess match between these two star athletes when South Carolina’s offense is on the field should be a joy for any football fan.

South Carolina's defensive line
Wisconsin likes to run the ball. This isn’t a shock to anyone. But the Gamecocks defensive line will likely be the toughest the Badgers have faced all season. The Big Red finished eighth nationally at 283 yards on the ground per game this season with a trio of dynamic backs. Jadeveon Clowney made himself quite a name with his play in the bowl game last season, and packaged with Kelcy Quarles, create the most formidable defensive wall for the Badgers O-Line to face. Clowney’s effort and commitment has been questioned at times, but he has one game left in college to prove himself, and there is no better task than facing this type of running game. Melvin Gordon and James White better have their chinstraps buttoned up tight in this one. 

The 'Ol Ball Coach
Steve Spurrier has been on an absolute roll this season. The original troll is the most entertaining and witty coaches in all of college football and he has been at his best lately. Quips towards the Florida Gators, Jadeveon Clowney’s car and the Redskins soap opera have been vintage Ball Coach in the last few weeks. But what does he know about the Wisconsin Badgers? What will his game week, pregame, halftime and postgame interviews be like against an opponent he has no deep ties or experiences to cull for material? Big, fat offensive lineman? Cows and cheese curds? Slow Big Ten football? His counterpart Gary Andersen couldn’t be a nicer guy, so Spurrier’s opponent offers little in the way of bulletin board copy. And this is a bowl game, after all, so fans should expect some trick plays, bizarre play calls and more than a few dramatic fourth downs to go along with what should be the most entertaining interviews of the bowl season.

Key Player: James White, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon is the most talented running back for Wisconsin — maybe the most talented to ever play in Madison (which is saying a lot). He has elite breakaway speed and power. However, senior James White has quietly completed one of the best careers for a Big Ten running back in history, predominately as a backup. This is his final game in college and he is playing his best football right now. He finished the season with 1,629 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns and brings a versatile skill set. He is an excellent receiver, and more importantly in this game, will be asked to pick up the blitz against a brutally tough Carolina defensive front. If not one, but two Wisconsin running backs can find success, it means Wisconsin could walk away from a bowl game victorious for the first time since beating Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl.

Final Analysis

The unstoppable force versus the immovable option. Wisconsin has one of the best backfields and offensive lines in the nation while South Carolina boasts arguably the most talented defensive line in the country. Both would rather be playing in a BCS bowl but will have to settle for what should be one of the more physical games of the bowl season. On the other side of the ball, Connor Shaw and Mike Davis are a formidable duo in their own right, while Wisconsin boasts one of the most underrated defensive units in the nation at 4.5 yards per play allowed. Shaw is the difference maker and will likely make more plays than Wisconsin’s Joel Stave. Expect a close, physical battle against two teams that are better than their five combined losses indicates. 

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Prediction: South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 21