What: No. 9 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3);
Where: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium (65,438), Orlando, Fla.;
When: Wednesday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: ABC (Dave Pasch, Brian Griese, Tom Luginbill), Gamecock IMG Sports Network (Todd Ellis, Tommy Suggs, Langston Moore).
For the third straight year, South Carolina will face a Big Ten team in a New Year's Day Bowl game with the cherished opportunity to win an all-important 11th game of the season. The Gamecocks have beaten Nebraska and Michigan in the past two years, and now face Wisconsin for the first time ever. Will recent history repeat itself with the Gamecocks handing a Big Ten foe another loss on the first day of the new year?
USC OFFENSE v. WISCONSIN DEFENSE:
After totaling just 76 yards in USC's final three games, the most frequently asked question heading into the Capital One Bowl is WWMD - What Will Mike (Davis) Do? The sophomore running back is finally healthy and eager to reaffirm his status as one of the top running backs in the SEC after rushing for 1,134 yards in 11 regular season games (103.1 yards per game).
Facing a very physical and strong Wisconsin defense, though, means Davis should get timely support from Shon Carson (256 yards on 60 carries) and Brandon Wilds (205 yards on 40 carries) in order to keep him fresh throughout the game.
Ultimately, though, the Capital One Bowl will be remembered as the final appearance for quarterback Connor Shaw in a Gamecock uniform. Assured of finishing his career as the winningest quarterback in school history (26-5), as well as the most accurate passer (64.7 career completion percentage), Shaw's legacy is cemented in Gamecock lore. The only remaining question is whether he will conclude his career with a win.
The torn meniscus injury suffered by Damiere Byrd during the early stages of bowl practice isn't expected to slow down USC's wide receiver corps since Nick Jones is expected to take on a larger role after catching just six passes in the second half of the season.
Running the new 3-4 scheme installed by first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has proven a masterstroke for the Badgers defense. Wisconsin ranks in the top 12 nationally in all four major defensive categories - scoring defense (14.8 ppg), total defense (294.0 ypg), rushing defense (101.3 ypg) and passing defense (192.7 ypg).
Wisconsin's recipe for defensive success under Aranda's guidance is straightforward: get off the field on third down (29.9 percent conversion percentage by opponents; 26:05 TOP), keep teams out of the red zone (30 red zone trips by opponents, tied for seventh nationally) and, when they do penetrate inside the 20-yard line, keep them out of the end zone (nation's best 36.7 percent red zone TD percentage).
Aranda is obviously doing something right - this is the second consecutive season an Aranda-led defense has topped the nation in red zone TD percentage. Overall, Wisconsin has surrendered just three touchdowns in their opponents' last 13 red zone trips.
The Badgers are led by inside linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Borland (102 tackles) is a major reason Wisconsin has held five of its 12 opponents without a TD this season, one less than Michigan State (6) and has limited seven opponents to 10 points or fewer. Seven of Wisconsin's opponents have been held to their lowest scoring output of the season by the Badgers. Six opponents have been held under 250 total yards.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Connor Shaw, RB Mike Davis, RB Brandon Wilds, WR Bruce Ellington, WR Nick Jones, LT Corey Robinson, RT Brandon Shell.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DT Beau Allen, ILB Chris Borland, OLB Ethan Armstrong, SS Dezmen Southward, S Michael Caputo, CB Sojourn Shelton.
1. USC RB Mike Davis vs. WIS ILB Chris Borland;
2. USC WR Bruce Ellington vs. WIS CB Sojourn Shelton;
3. USC QB Connor Shaw vs. WIS OLB Ethan Armstrong.
COACH'S COMMENT: "I really believe the Capital One Bowl is by far the best bowl for our University, our team and our fans that we could possibly go to. We're getting a good Wisconsin team. They have two 1000-yard rushers, the quarterback is a very good player, and they're just a well-rounded team. It should be a heck of a game" - USC head coach Steve Spurrier.
WISCONSIN OFFENSE v. USC DEFENSE:
Wisconsin's overriding offensive philosophy is summed up by this statistic: the Badgers are the lone Division I (FBS) team boasting multiple running backs averaging at least 100 yards per game in sophomore Melvin Gordon (122.2 ypg) and senior James White (111.4).
Although Wisconsin has one of the top receivers in the Big Ten in Jared Abbrederis (73 receptions), the offense is centered around handing the ball to Gordon and White. Almost half of the Badgers' offensive plays this season (390 of 843 snaps) involve handing the ball to one of them, with White getting the most carries (209) compared to Gordon (181).
One very good reason exists for relying on the running back duo to such an extent - working behind a big and strong offensive line, Gordon (8.1 yards per carry) and White (6.4) gain huge chunks of yardage whenever they touch the ball and have combined for 25 rushing touchdowns.
The Badgers rank No. 2 nationally in average yards per carry (6.61 yards), which is more than a yard better than the current school record (5.52 yards in 1996). They have already shattered the school record for rushing yards in a season.
Wisconsin's proficiency running the football doesn't mean the Gamecock secondary will be able to take the afternoon off. Abbrederis, who has already accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, captured the Burlsworth Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top player that began his career as a walk-on. He ranks second in school history with 3,110 career receiving yards and is tied for second with 23 receiving touchdowns and 197 receptions.
Tight end Jacob Pedersen (36 receptions for 501 yards) provides the Badgers with another inviting target in the passing game. He ranks third among active Division I tight ends with 17 career TD receptions.
With all the talent surrounding him, sophomore quarterback Joel Stave is asked to be more of a game manager than playmaker. He has completed 61.6 percent (199-of-323) of his passes this season for 2,414 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Inside the red zone, his completion percentage rises to 63.3 percent for 246 yards and 15 touchdowns with zero interceptions, so few quarterbacks are able to match his efficiency (180.3 rating) in the red zone.
Soon after the bowl matchup was announced, Steve Spurrier joked that USC would have to put on their run defense pants for this game. The defense front seven for the Gamecocks, particularly the young linebackers, could face their toughest test of the season.
Jadeveon Clowney has been in the spotlight since the day he arrived at USC, and after Wednesday's game he will immediately transition to life as a pro football player. Clowney should be a top five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Joel Stave, RB Melvin Gordon, RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Chaz Sutton, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Kaiwan Lewis, OLB Skai Moore, CB Jimmy Legree, CB Victor Hampton, FS Chaz Elder.
1. WIS RB Melvin Gordon and RB James White vs. USC MLB Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman
2. WIS WR Jared Abbrederis vs. USC CB Victor Hampton.
3. WIS LT Tyler Marz vs. USC DE Jadeveon Clowney
COACH'S COMMENT: "The motivation for me and the team hopefully is to embrace the moment that you're in. Every kid on the football team will see their life change, some drastically. Some will never play this game again. None of us will be all together again. If you can't get motivated to play for three hours in this setting, national television, the care factor of the fans, I don't believe you're a true competitor" - Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen.
Quarterback - Edge to USC
Running Back - Edge to Wisconsin
Wide Receiver - Even
Offensive Line - Even
Tight End - Edge to USC
Defensive Line - Edge to USC
Linebacker - Edge to Wisconsin
Secondary - Even
Special Teams - Edge to USC
SYNOPSIS: Two years ago, Steve Spurrier says, he watched the Nebraska equipment truck pull up to the hotel where the kickoff luncheon was being held. The side of the truck was adorned with all the years the Cornhuskers had won a conference or national championship. However, when the time came to finally play the game, all those past titles meant little as the Gamecocks won. Wisconsin has appeared in three straight Rose Bowls and won the Big Ten title on a number of occasions. But USC enjoys a big advantage in experience at the quarterback spot with Connor Shaw getting ready to play his last game for the Gamecocks. In addition, a healthy Mike Davis has seven 100-yard rushing games this season and has heard all week about how good Gordon and White are. He should be highly motivated to prove he ranks among the best running backs in the country.
PREDICTION: The Gamecocks have won the turnover battle by a 15-0 margin in the last four games. Chances are, they're going to need to be better than the opponent in that category again. A defense that has held 10 of 12 opponents below their season scoring average must show up and keep the Wisconsin running game contained. The Badgers are No. 2 nationally in time of possession (33:54 per game), so they hope to keep the ball, grind out long drives and occasionally pop a big play. Wisconsin is 8-2 following a loss since the beginning of the 2010 season, while USC has won 14 consecutive games against non-conference opponents. So, something must give in Orlando. The guess here is it will be the Badgers as the SEC continues its successful run in Florida bowl games.
The Pick: USC 24, WISCONSIN 17