Champs Sports Bowl Location

Champs Sports Bowl Location:

Wisconsin is back in the Champs Sports Bowl for the second consecutive season. And, for the second year in a row, the Badgers will be faced with the task of handling a Florida team playing close to home. Wisconsin can only hope to be more competitive on Tuesday than it was last December, when Florida State’s overwhelming athletic advantage led the Seminoles to a 42-13 rout. This year’s team is undoubtedly better than the 7-6 version of 2008, but the question remains: Can the Badgers — of the stodgy Big Ten — compete against the faster, more athletic team from the Sunshine State?

It would not surprise me in the least to hear that Miami fans have begun construction on a statue to honor Mark Whipple, the first-year offensive coordinator who has swiftly turned around a recently pedestrian Miami attack. The Hurricanes are pace to score their most points in a season since 2002, so the acclaim is justified. Whipple’s touch has been most seen in the development of quarterback Jacory Harris, who has cracked the 250-yard mark in seven games thus far on the season. The offense would be even more effective were it not for those pesky turnovers: Miami has given the ball away 20 times, 17 of those — tied for fifth-worst in the country — via interceptions.

The Badgers are actually worse at protecting the ball (21 turnovers), but Wisconsin has offset those giveaways with 26 turnovers gained, while Miami, with only 18 gained turnovers, is in the red. The improvement on offense has overshadowed the gains made on defense. While the Hurricanes have struggled forcing turnovers, the unit is poised to allow roughly three fewer points per game. With the youth on this roster, Miami should look to this game against Wisconsin serving as a launching pad toward a potential national championship run in 2010.

The dichotomy of offensive styles is striking. Miami’s philosophy involves taking advantage of its team speed, allowing running backs and receivers opportunities to create plays in space. Wisconsin, on the other hand, would be happy to limit plays to within the hash marks, allowing its bruising, ball-control offense to wear down opposing defenses.

And the Badgers run the ball as well as any team in the country, ranking 14th nationally with 206.7 yards per game. In fact, only four teams in the F.B.S. who use a pro-style offense (T.C.U., Fresno State, Stanford and Alabama) average more yards per game on the ground. (Not surprisingly, these five teams have gone a combined 51-12 on the year.) It wouldn’t be Wisconsin if there weren’t one running back doing the heavy lifting; this year’s version is John Clay, who enters this bowl having reached 100 yards in each of his last five games.

The success of the ground game has opened things up for quarterback Scott Tolzien, who has two talented weapons to work with in receiver Nick Toon and tight end Garrett Graham. If Miami is to beat the Badgers, it will need to slow down the Wisconsin running game and keep defensive end O’Brien Schofield under wraps. Schofield, an all-conference end (22.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks), has been devastatingly effective, and Miami may have its hands full without the use of starting left tackle Jason Fox, who will miss the game because of injury.

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