2008 Champs Sports Bowl Preview - FSU vs. UW
FSU's Everette Brown & UW's P.J. Hill
FSU's Everette Brown & UW's P.J. Hill
Posted Dec 25, 2008

Florida State vs. Wisconsin - The 2008 Champs Sports Bowl Preview & Prediction

2008 Champs Sports Bowl

Wisconsin (7-5) vs. Florida State (8-4)

Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

$2.125 million   Location: Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, FL

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National Rankings
Florida State Wisconsin
Total Offense
55th  368.67 ypg 33rd  404.75 ypg
Total Defense
14th  291.75 ypg 32nd  322.33 ypg
Scoring Offense
27th  32.67 ppg 42nd  28.67 ppg
Scoring Defense
32nd  20.75 ppg 63rd  25.25 ppg
Run Offense
32nd  182.83 ypg 14th  212 ypg
Run Defense
33rd  126.83 ypg 42nd  133.25 ypg
Pass Offense
87th  185.83 ypg 82nd  192.75 ypg
Pass Defense
8th  164.92 ypg 35th  189.08 ypg
Turnover Margin
74th  -0.25 85th  -0.42
Florida State
W Carolina W 69-0
UT Chat W 46-7
Wake Forest L 12-3
Colorado W 39-21
at Miami W 41-39
at NC State W 26-17
Va Tech W 30-20
at Ga Tech L 31-28
Clemson W 41-27
Boston Coll L 27-17
at Maryland W 37-3
Florida L 45-15
Akron W 38-17
Marshall W 51-14
at Fres St W 13-10
at Michigan L 27-25
Ohio State L 20-17
Penn State L 48-7
at Iowa L 38-16
Illinois W 27-17
at Mich St L 25-24
at Indiana W 55-20
Minnesota W 35-32
Cal Poly W 36-35 OT
Position Ratings
relative to each other
FSU 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 2.5
4 RBs 5
3.5 Receivers 2.5
3.5 O Line 3.5
4.5 D Line 3.5
4 Linebackers 3
4.5 Secondary 4
4 Spec Teams 3.5
5 Coaching 4

It’s redemption time for two programs looking to use this bowl game as a clean start and a new beginning. Last year, Florida State lost the Music City Bowl to Kentucky after getting hit with an academic scandal that depleted the team. Wisconsin came up with a clunker of a season and is hoping to get back its bowl groove after starting out 2008 with an Outback Bowl loss to Tennessee. 

This was supposed to be the year Wisconsin finally got back over the hump and into the BCS. The best team to not get into a BCS game since beating Stanford in the 2000 Rose Bowl, the Badgers played in four straight New Year’s Day games, and went 2-3 against the SEC in their last five bowl games, with the three losses all in respectable battles, to set the tone for this year. With a slew of talented veterans returning and head coach Bret Bielema appearing to hit his stride, this was a preseason sleeper team in the national title discussion

After a 3-0 start with a looked-great-at-the-time 13-10 win at Fresno State, everything collapsed in one stunning choke in Ann Arbor.       
Up 19-0 at halftime, Wisconsin became one of the few teams that couldn’t handle the Michigan offense, and with a slew of big mistakes, lost 27-25. But the Badgers appeared to get their groove back with a tough, gutsy performance for roughly 55 minutes against Ohio State before Terrelle Pryor came of age leading the way to a 20-17 Buckeye win. And then the wheels came apart in lifeless losses to Penn State and Iowa. Just when it seemed like things were turning back around, Bielema’s team found another way to lose in a bizarre late loss to Michigan State.
So now the question becomes this: is Wisconsin really good, and just lost its mojo, or is it lousy and is lucky to be going anywhere this post-season. It was the only team to have problems with Minnesota late in the year, and it needed three missed extra points to escape an embarrassment against Cal Poly. One win over Florida State would all but wipe the slate clean going into 2009.
Florida State is hoping to do a little bit of the same, but it has an exciting, young team with some good players to work around. The defense became dominant again, the offense found a running game for the first time since Bobby Bowden had dark hair, and this turned out to be a nice stepping-stone season that shouldn’t be marred at all by a 45-15 home loss to Florida.

There was a nice 30-20 win over eventual ACC champion, Virginia Tech, and while there were two blow-off wins over Western Carolina and UT Chattanooga, when all was said and done, the Noles ended up beating five teams that ended up going bowling.

Boston College beat Michigan State in a decent 24-21 game last year, but traditionally, the Champs Sports Bowl is the biggest dog of the bunch with no game from 2001 to 2006 decided by fewer than nine points. Since 1993, only 12 of the 15 games were decided by a touchdown or less. This year’s matchup should be interesting because of all the X factors, and one way or another, one proud program will be able to build off of it.
Players to watch: Rarely does one game determine the direction of a program, but this could be it as far as the Florida State quarterback situation for the next few seasons. Christian Ponder has been fantastic at times, and a team-killer in others. The sophomore got the nod over veteran Drew Weatherford to start the season, and he responded by throwing six touchdown passes in the blowout wins over the two FCS teams on the schedule. He only threw six touchdown passes the rest of the way along with 13 interceptions. In the mix is fellow sophomore D’Vontrey Richardson, who’s more of a runner and will get a shot for the job going into next year along with hot-shot redshirt freshman-to-be, E.J. Manuel. If Ponder struggles, the Seminole quarterback derby will be one of the ACC’s hot off-season topics.
Wisconsin knows all about quarterback controversies. Senior Allan Evridge was the scapegoat for the struggles in the first part of the season. Out went Evridge and in came junior Dustin Sherer, a big passer who, like Evridge, threw five touchdown passes and five interceptions. While Sherer isn’t a runner, and is a limited thrower, he was at the helm over the second half of the season when the Badgers turned things around. He can’t throw outside the hashmarks, but he’s fine down the middle.
Catching those passes is junior TE Garrett Graham, a top pro prospect who stepped up his play after All-American Travis Beckum was lost with a broken leg. Wisconsin is a running team, but it’s Graham who kept the chains moving as the team’s leading receiver. He caught 37 passes for 478  yards with five touchdowns, and while he disappeared at times, and has had injury problems of his own, he’s the one Sherer looks to in the clutch.
Needing to keep tabs on Graham will be the great FSU defensive backs, Tony Carter and Myron Rolle. Rolle was known more for earning a Rhodes Scholarship, but he had a nice season on the field as well finishing second on the team with 57 tackles. The safety was one of the nation’s top recruits a few years ago, and while he’s a top pro prospect, the NFL might have to wait. Carter will also get a long look from the big leagues thanks to his toughness in the open field. 24 of his 25 tackles were solo stops, and he finished off his Second Team All-ACC season with a team leading two picks.

Florida State will win if... Everette Brown and the pass rush get their groove on. Wisconsin’s offensive line has gotten by on reputation more than anything else over the last few seasons, and it has a hard time against the better pass rushers. Having an immobile quarterback like Sherer, as opposed to Evridge, doesn’t help. Last year in the Outback Bowl, Tennessee was in the Badger backfield all game long battering around then-QB Tyler Donovan over and over again. This year, Florida State is sixth in the nation in sacks with 36 on the year and second in tackles for loss. If the Seminole defensive front dominates, the Badger passing game won’t go anywhere.
Wisconsin will win if
... it gets the running game into a lather. Florida State’s defense has been fantastic, and the numbers against the run have been fine, but those teams that could run the ball, did. Florida rumbled for 317 yards and three touchdowns, while Georgia Tech ran for 288 yards and four scores. The Noles gave up just five rushing scores against everyone else. Wisconsin has to get the combination of P.J. Hill, John Clay, and Zach Brown going right away. Of course, Florida State knows that Wisconsin is going to come out running, but Wisconsin has to bang away anyway. As soon as the Badgers try to get cute with a mix of different pass plays, and the further away they get from the power running game, the worse things get.
What will happen: The Florida State defense will be swarming all over the Badger backfield. Wisconsin’s defense will do a great job of keeping the Seminole attack in check, but without top LB Jonathan Casillas, who’ll be out with a knee injury, there will eventually be problems against the run. It’ll take a little while, but eventually, the Noles will break off a few big plays to take control of the game, Wisconsin will have to start passing, and then the score will open up a bit.

Line: Florida State -4.5 ... CFN Prediction: Florida State 27 … Wisconsin 17   

2008 Champs Sports Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More