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December 23, 2013

5 Badgers to watch



Bowl season pits teams that would otherwise never play against each other, providing intriguing matchups and giving stars from different regions of the country an opportunity to outshine each other. Part of what makes bowl games so fun is getting to see the opposing team's difference-makers play, while another part of it is seeing how your team handles them.

In the 2011 Capital One Bowl, it was Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead, Kenny Bell and Alfonzo Dennard. A year ago in the Outback Bowl, it was Michigan's Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Taylor Lewan and Jake Ryan.

Which Wisconsin players should you be watching for in the Capital One Bowl? Here's five to keep an eye on, as well as a look at how South Carolina will match up against them.


One-two punch in the backfield.

Wisconsin may have the best duo of tailbacks in the nation, and they're breaking the mold of the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Badger running back. Senior tailback James White rushed for 1,337 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon added 1,466 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. But unlike workhorse Wisconsin tailbacks of the past, White and Gordon are as good bouncing runs outside of the tackles as they are running between them.

These tailbacks can turn the corner in a hurry, as the 5-foot-10, 197-pound White averages 6.4 yards per carry and Gordon - slightly larger at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds - averages a whopping 8.1 yards per carry. The consensus second-team All-Big Ten selections will be the final test for South Carolina's linebackers this season, providing a chance for Skai Moore, Sharrod Golightly, Kaiwan Lewis and company to prove how far they've come since first playing together against North Carolina on Aug. 29.

The extra bowl practices will give South Carolina's linebackers plenty of time to review film of this season and begin scouting Wisconsin's tendencies. But it'll also give Gordon and White plenty of time to rest up, and they'll be hurling themselves at South Carolina's defense with fresh legs on New Year's Day.


Jared Abbrederis.

Abbrederis has come a long way since walking onto the team as a spread quarterback on the scout team. The fifth-year senior is perhaps Wisconsin's best player on offense, leading the Badgers with 73 catches for 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns. The red-bearded wideout also took six carries for 119 yards and two scores en route to earning a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection at receiver, the second straight season he's received the honor.

Abbrederis also ranks second all-time at Wisconsin with 197 receptions and 3,110 receiver yards, and he's tied at second with 23 touchdown catches. And no Jared Abbrederis player bio is complete without mentioning his talents in the return game, as the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder holds the school record for kickoff return average (25.8) and ranks fifth in punt return average (10.7). He garnered an honorable mention on SI.com's All-America team as a sophomore in 2011, and if any of Tyler Hull's punt are long enough to be returned, he could be a handful for South Carolina to cover.

Abbrederis is coming off a 12-catch, 135-yard performance in a loss to Penn State in the last week of regular season, and will look to cap his career at Wisconsin with a big bowl game. But Abbrederis will have to do it against Victor Hampton, the best cover corner South Carolina has to offer, who appears more than motivated to continue his recent string of excellent play and parlay a good performance into a early-round draft selection in April.


Chris Borland.

Wisconsin's sixth-ranked scoring defense owes much of its success this year to its best player, Chris Borland. The Big Ten Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten selection inside linebacker is the heart and soul of Wisconsin's defense, having started since his rookie campaign, when he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

The 5-foot-11, 246-pounder has excellent instincts and a nose for the football, leading Wisconsin this season with 102 tackles - exactly twice as many as South Carolina's leading tackler, Skai Moore. He recorded 10 or more tackles in seven games this season and added four sacks. Borland also ranks sixth in school history with 408 total tackles, fourth with 50 tackles for loss, and first with 14 forced fumbles - a mark that's also tied for first in Big Ten history.

How Borland matches up with South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw will determine much of what happens when the Gamecocks have the ball. Borland will probably be tasked with containing Shaw and shoring up South Carolina's rushing game, so Shaw will have to keep him on his heels to be successful.


Ryan Groy.

Groy, a fifth-year senior left guard and first-team All-Big Ten selection, will be a tall order for Kelcy Quarles in the trenches. Groy, a 6-foot-5, 320-pounder who looks to be the next in a long line of Wisconsin offensive lineman to make the leap to the NFL, moved in the preseason to left tackle before switching back to his comfort zone at guard for his final season. Though both players are likely to be wearing NFL uniforms this time next season, either Quarles or Groy could improve their draft stock with a strong performance against their counterpart.


Tanner McEvoy.

No list of Badgers to watch would be complete without former Gamecock Tanner McEvoy. The now-redshirt sophomore spent a season buried behind a bevy of other quarterbacks in South Carolina's depth chart before transferring to Arizona Western College after spring practice in 2011. McEvoy played quarterback in junior college, winning the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year after passing for 1,943 yards and 25 touchdowns and adding 414 yards and six more touchdowns on the ground.

McEvoy transferred to Wisconsin before the 2013 season to compete for the starting quarterback job, but was moved to wide receiver late in fall camp before eventually settling in at safety for the season. McEvoy logged 24 tackles - one of them for a loss - and four pass breakups this season.

McEvoy is still set on being a quarterback - only sliding over to safety to fill a team need while he waits for another chance to battling for the starting quarterback job - but it will be interesting to see him covering some players he could have been throwing to in practice or in games if he had stuck it out at South Carolina. Either way, it should make for an interesting game for McEvoy.



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