ORLANDO, Fla. — It would be understandable if South Carolina and Wisconsin were a little disappointed when they arrived in Orlando for the Capital One Bowl.
Even after some early season setbacks, both teams had a chance to earn spots in a BCS bowl game before coming up short.
But with a New Year’s Day matchup that on paper could be one of the best among the non-BCS games, neither the eighth-ranked Gamecocks (10-2) nor No. 19 Badgers (9-3) have had to search for motivation this week.
That’s especially true for Wisconsin, which is trying to snap a three-game bowl losing streak following three straight Rose Bowl losses. The Badgers climbed as high as No. 15 in the BCS standings, but had their season stunted by early-season losses to Arizona State and Ohio State and loss to Penn State in their regular-season finale.
“It’s tough. You definitely want to send the seniors out on a high note. I haven’t won a bowl game so I’m anxious to get out there and get a win,” said Badgers running back James White. “It motivates me a lot, and I know it motivates those guys (other seniors) as well. With a new coaching staff, we definitely want to get Coach (Gary) Andersen a bowl win in his first year.”
Andersen downplayed his first opportunity as Wisconsin’s to play an SEC foe, but did acknowledge the challenge in facing Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier’s offense.
“When you mix coach Spurrier and (quarterback Connor) Shaw together in their offense, it’s a pretty vicious weapon,” Andersen said.
The Gamecocks enter their first-ever matchup with Wisconsin having won two-straight bowl games over Big Ten foes, defeating Nebraska in 2012 and Michigan in 2013.
They reeled off four straight wins following an early loss to Georgia, but were then upset by Tennessee before ending the season on a five-game win streak.
A lot of eyes will be on South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is projected to be a top selection in this spring’s NFL draft should he decide to enter his name. He leads a Gamecocks defense that ranked fourth in the SEC and tied for 14th in the country, allowing 20 points per game.
“We were all wondering if he’s got a limo to take him out of the (stadium) tomorrow or not,” Spurrier said. “We were kidding him about all the autograph seeking around there. Wait until after the game and he can start charging for his autograph.”
Jokes aside, though, what hasn’t been lost on the Gamecocks is that they will take the field as a 1.5-point underdog despite being the higher-ranked team.
Spurrier said he mentioned it only briefly before the team arrived in Florida, but it seems the slight did resonate.
“I just kind of take it as a slap in the face,” defensive end Chaz Sutton said this week. “For us to be the (higher) ranked team coming into this game and be labeled as the underdog, we kind of take it as a slap in the face as a team collectively because we know what type of guys we’ve got coming to this (stadium)...and we just feel like, you know, we deserve way much more respect than what we’re getting right now.”
Here are five things to watch for in today’s Capital One Bowl:
NEW FULLBACK — Spurrier said that starting FB Connor McLaurin “cracked an ankle” during practice and won’t play. Starting in his place will be walk-on Garrison Gist, with reserve RB Brandon Wilds also expected to play.
SHAW SHOW — South Carolina QB Connor Shaw is trying to cap what has already been one of the best careers in Gamecocks’ history. He has battled injuries this season, but still managed to pass for 2,135 yards and 21 TDs.
BADGERS BACKFIELD — White (1,337 yards rushing) and fellow RB Melvin Gordon (1,466 yards) had big years and helped make the Badgers just one of five teams in the FBS with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
BALANCED ATTACK — Wisconsin put up gaudy numbers on both sides of the ball in 2013 and joined Florida State as the only teams averaging more than 475 yards on offense and holding opponents to less than 300 yards per game on defense.
FLORIDA BOWL SUCCESS — Wisconsin is 3-1 record in Orlando bowl games, while South Carolina’s most recent bowl wins — the 2012 Capital One and 2013 Outback Bowl — were both played in the Sunshine State.