#19 Auburn v. #18 Wisconsin
Raymond James Stadium — Tampa, FL
January 1, 2015 — 12:00 pm Eastern (ESPN2)
Why You Should Watch
This gives you a great matchup of top-20 teams to switch over to when the Cotton Bowl is in commercial breaks, at the very least. But it is also a great game in its own right, the perfect antidote to the New Year’s hangover. The Outback bowl, a traditional New Year’s Day fixture that has been featured in the quirky confines of Raymond James Stadium since the late 1990s, is celebrating its 20th year of affiliation with the SEC in the same year that the sponsorship deal with Outback Steakhouse began. It is one of the traditional Florida Bowls that offers a showdown between the Big Ten and the SEC, one of three games between the two leagues that will take place this year (including the Sugar Bowl showdown between Alabama and Ohio State.)
What Each Team Brings to the Table
The same thing I mentioned about Mississippi State and Ole Miss is also applicable to Auburn, who has gone from winning the SEC and playing for the national championship in 2013 to a fourth-place finish in the SEC West in 2014. The Tigers were still in good shape for a possible College Football Playoff bid in November when they were 7-1, but they enter this bowl game on a three-game skid against FBS opponents. Quarterback Nick Marshall completed over 60 percent of his passes for 2300 yards and 18 touchdowns, and added 780 yards and 11 scores on the ground. Combined with the work of senior tailback Cameron Artis-Payne, who ended the regular season 18 yards shy of 1500, the Tigers finished 12th in rushing yardage with nearly 260 yards per game. The defense was 58th in total yards allowed and 60th in points given up, allowing opponents to score more than 26 points per game. That put them just 10th in the SEC in scoring defense.
The Badgers opened the season with a heartbreaking loss to an SEC West team, falling to LSU 28-24 at NRG Stadium in Houston. They were 3-2 after dropping their Big Ten opener to Northwestern 20-14 on the first Saturday of October. Then Wisconsin rolled off seven straight wins to claim the Big Ten West and a spot opposite Ohio State in the league championship game. Gary Andersen’s crew was promptly blown out 59-0 by the Buckeyes, and now Andersen has bolted for Corvallis before the bowl game. Barry Alvarez, the former coach and current AD in Madison, will once again serve as the ceremonial figurehead during the bowl game. Wisconsin’s success is entirely predicated on the ground, where Badger backs finished fourth nationally in yards per game. Melvin Gordon, the Heisman runner-up, was at the heart of the attack, leading the nation with 2336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. Wisconsin had two quarterbacks, meaning it had none, though Joel Stave started to lay stronger claim to the role as the season progressed. The defense helped fuel the Badgers to 10 wins, ranking third in the country in total yards allowed and conceding just 20 points per game.
What is Likely to Happen
Gus Malzahn has to find a way to get his team excited about a trip to Tampa after playing in Pasadena last year. Meanwhile, Wisconsin arrives on the Gulf coast of Florida without its head coach. The Badgers’ style of play won’t change with Alvarez patrolling the sideline, however, and Gordon has a second chance at redemption after sitting the second half against LSU with an injury and sputtering in the Big Ten title game. In his last game as a Badger, Gordon will have his ninth game with at least 150 rushing yards against one of the SEC’s weaker defenses. The Wisconsin defense will clamp down well enough to keep Marshall, Artis-Payne, and the big Auburn receivers in check. In the end, the Badger line will plow the way for Wisconsin’s first bowl victory since 2009.
Wisconsin 38, Auburn 28