Wisconsin slight favorite over South Carolina, but why?
ORLANDO, Fla. - University of Wisconsin football players and fans are a tightly knit and spirited bunch. A YouTube video of the Badgers and their "Packer Watch Party" made the rounds Sunday as the world got a kick out of the college kids celebrating Aaron Rodgers' game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb.
And Wisconsin fans, well, they're the ones poolside in Florida even when it's 64 degrees.
Pass the cheese curds.
A united dairyland front, however, doesn't explain why No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3) is a slight favorite over No. 8 South Carolina (10-2) in Wednesday's Capital One Bowl. Las Vegas wasn't built by dumb people, but maybe the "Ocean's 11" guys stole some of this year's college football results.
Factor in the Gamecocks' back-to-back bowl victories over Nebraska and Michigan and SEC dominance of the Big Ten in general and even Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said Monday he is "a little surprised" at the point spread.
But Borland, with emphasis, said: "We expect to win."
True, Wisconsin was robbed in its 32-30 loss at Arizona State and no shame in a 31-24 loss to Orange Bowl-bound Ohio State.
Few teams in college football have a running attack as formidable as the 1-2 punch of Melvin Gordon and James White rolling behind large, technically sound blockers.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is confident Wisconsin can take on Bruce Ellington and South Carolina's other speedy receivers with the kind of press coverage it used all season.
Like Ohio State
There is a lot to like about this team, starting with classy first-year head coach Gary Andersen, who came from Utah State when Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas. He phoned each one of his Utah State players to explain his leaving for Madison. That core group of Aggies upset Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois last week in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The Badgers obviously like playing for Andersen, who showed his stuff in Madison last season when Utah State nearly pulled an upset, losing 16-14 to Wisconsin.
"He brought the fun back in football," said senior Jared Abbrederis, a former walk-on turned All-Big Ten wide receiver.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig likes the way Andersen toils smartly while allowing staff members to have family time.
But peril awaits most Big Ten teams traveling south of Indianapolis, this one in particular.
Wisconsin is still reeling from a 31-24 home loss to Penn State in the regular season finale - Senior Day.
Borland said South Carolina reminds him of two teams Wisconsin played this season, Ohio State and BYU (27-17 win in Madison).
"They have some of the quarterback run-game we saw in BYU," he said. "As far as (Connor) Shaw's ability, it's similar to (Ohio State's) Braxton Miller. But they like to run the ball first, and we've seen that a lot this season."
The January factor
Shaw, as most Gamecocks fans know, is 26-5 as a starter, best in school history.
Pick your problem: Go after No. 14, drop back or mix it up.
"A lot of people have tried," Aranda said with a concerned look, "but not a lot of people have been successful."
What really sets these teams apart is recent January history. Veteran Badgers went to the Rose Bowl each of the last three seasons.
On the one hand, this is a bit of a comedown from Pasadena.
On the other, Wisconsin lost all of those Rose Bowls, and the players are still looking for a postseason exit strategy.
Don't bother looking on YouTube; the Gamecocks didn't hold a Carolina Panthers watch party Sunday.
But they do know how to win bowl games.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff