After tiring of looking back over the last four or five days, I decided it was time to start thinking about the Capital One Bowl and Wisconsin. It didn't take long to figure out the prospects. The Badgers won't be an easy touch.
There are lots of ways to pick a bowl game and one of my favorites is the "common foe factor." I decided to look for teams both have playd of lagte. I finally found one, but I had to go all the way back to last year's Cap1 bowl when Wisconsin whacked Auburn, 24-10. The Hogs beat the Tigers, 27-10, this season.
That led me to call a colleague, Inside the Auburn Tiger publisher Mark Murphy. So what did he think about the Badgers when the Tigers saw them last year or this year's Arkansas-Wisconsin matchup?
"Very physical, very talented," Mark described the Badgers. "Don't know much about this Wisconsin team, but that one last year got tired of hearing how good Auburn was and did something about it in Orlando. Plus, it was the last game for Barry Alvarez (as UW head coach) and they wanted to send him out the right way. They made it sort of a crusade and they did (send him out right)."
So, the Hogs won't have to deal with that, but first-year coach Bret Bielema probably wants to make a statement in his first bowl game. No doubt, the Badgers won't return to Orlando sleep walking.
One of the first things I look at when I'm thinking about opponents is experience at quarterback. I had my first "oh no" when I lookd up John Stocco's class and numbers. He's a senior with 35 starts. That's bad news. When I think of the Hogs' last two outings, I look at Chris Leak and JaMarcus Russell, both with a stack of SEC starts under their belt.
Stocco is one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks. He leads a balanced offense with talent at tailback and at wide receiver and knows how to use all of it. He led the Big Ten in pass efficiency in conference games. And, the Hogs will have a hard time finding him even if he is 6-2, 204. His O-line measures (from right to left) 6-7 by 324, 6-6 by 326, 6-6 by 317, 6-6 by 316 and 6-8 by 313. And, the tailback, freshman P. J. Hill, is a bowling ball at 5-11 and 242.
The Hogs have struggled in special teams of late. Don't expect to get any help there from the Badgers. Every starter in that area is a junior. Punter Ken DeBauche set the school record at 44.8, best in the Big Ten, to make the Ray Guy Award watch list. Placekicker Taylor Melhaff, a lefty, is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Defense? The Badgers have seniors at both safety spots with and four altogether, but depend on six sophomores at starting spots elsewhere on that side of the ball. Middle linebacker Mark ZAalewski is the team captain and leading tackler. The down linemen are talented. Tackles Nick Hayden (6-5, 311) and Jason Chapman (6-4, 282) have 24 and 19 starts, respectively.
I used to listen to those who talked about the stereotypes when they mentioned SEC vs. Big Ten matchups. They'd say the Big Ten will be bigger and slower. They'd say the SEC team will be a bit smaller, but more athletic. They may be true overall, but when I see Big Ten teams in person, they look bigger, but just as fast.
There was nothing slow about Minnesota when the Hogs were blown away in the Music City Bowl. And, there was nothing slow about Michigan when they overcame some turnovers to rally past the Hogs in the Cap1 bowl to end Nutt's first season at Arkansas.
The thing I know about bowl games is the "stinger factor" as I call it. Who has their stinger and who does not? That's the question I want answered before I pick a winner. I'm not ready to do that just yet in this matchup.
I know the Hogs were glad to get the Orlando trip and favored it over the Cotton Bowl. But I don't know enough about Wisconsin's mental makeup to compare it to the Hogs at this point.
At 11-1, the Badgers have to be good. They did not play Ohio State and probably are tired of hearing about that schedule omission. It's sure not their fault that they didn't have to see them the Buckeyes this year.
I've been asking our Hawgs Illustrated prognosticators to give me their bowl pick for our next issue. Some have asked for more time. I think that's fair since I can't give you mine yet either.
If I had to make a pick today, I'd probably go with Wisconsin on the "QB factor" since Arkansas' two potential choices, Casey Dick or Mitch Mustain, have far less experience than Wisconsin's Stocco. When I get the stinger factor figured out I might change my mind.
Of course, there's the "best player factor" to consider, too. Arkansas would get the nod there with Darren McFadden, my personal choice for the Heisman Trophy. I sent in my ballot last week and listed McFadden first. It felt good to put a Razorback first (the only time I've ever done that in almost 30 years of voting) in those three slots the Downtown Athletic Club asks you to fill. I don't think Wisconsin has any players to compare with McFadden.
I'll let you know in a couple of weeks what I decide. For now, let's call this one too close to call.
State of the Hogs: Wisconsin
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