One of the biggest could be the matchup between Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers and Badger senior wide receiver Lee Evans. The second-leading receiver all-time in the Big 10 Conference, Evans is another in a long line of top receivers the Tigers have faced this season and Rogers says he's looking forward to seeing how the secondary stacks up.
A receiver built like a running back, Evans has 60 catches for 1,162 yards and 12 touchdowns this season after coming back from a serious knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2002 season. An explosive runner after the catch who can take it the distance, he will have to be kept under wraps for the Tigers to have a shot at the victory in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. In addition to Evans, Brand Williams can also get the job done at receiver with 43 catches for 592 yards and one touchdown.
When the Badgers keep the ball on the ground they will be perhaps the toughest opponent the Tigers have seen this season. Three interchangeable backs have combined for just under 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. Leading the way is Dwayne Smith with 856 yards and nine touchdowns this season, but a healthy Anthony Davis is the main man and he could spell trouble for the Tigers. In just seven games he rushed for 605 yards and seven touchdowns and has two 1,000-yard seasons to his credit.
"It's going to be a great matchup," Rogers says. "He runs good routes (Evans), he's big and physical. I'm looking forward to the challenge of facing somebody that's potentially going (to the NFL) in the first round. We have to try to stop him, but the other wide receivers can hurt you too. Their backs are like our backs. They have three outstanding backs that have a high amount of yards. Their running game is going to be crucial for this game."
Montae Pitts is expected to see significant action at cornerback in the bowl game.
Helping out in the Auburn secondary against the Badgers will be redshirt freshman Montae Pitts. After playing sparely for much of the season, he saw his playing time increase late in the year and had several nice plays in a victory over Alabama. His improved play earned him a move to the side opposite Rogers for the bowl game and a possible start against the Badgers. Rogers says he's anxious to see how Pitts plays under the microscope.
"Montae is looking good," Rogers says. "Coach made that switch and he was kind of shaky and nervous. He's got some things he needs to work on, but Montae is picking it up and he seems like he's getting better and better since he got here."
For a while it looked like there would be another change for the Tigers in the bowl game as Rogers worked some at safety during the practices on the Auburn campus before Christmas break. Looking to get his best athletes on the field, Coach Gene Chizik gave the move a look, but Rogers says for right now it's not likely to happen.
"That was something we just did," Rogers says of his work at safety. "Me and Coach just talked about it and I don't think I'm going to do it any in this game. Maybe next year I'll get back there next year and show how versatile I am and play a little safety."
At home at his familiar cornerback position, Rogers will try to lead an Auburn defense to a strong finish to the 2003 season with a win on New Year's Eve. To do that the Tigers will have to defeat a team that has been tough in the postseason under Coach Barry Alvarez. Rogers says it's just another in a long line of tough games for the Tigers this season and he's hoping some reminders from last year will help give Auburn the edge it needs for victory.
"It's another challenge," Rogers says. "This is especially fun because of all the hype coming in. This is similar to last season when we played Penn State. This is kind of like the same matchup. They had a good running back last year at Penn State and had a good wide receiver. Wisconsin has two or three good running backs and a great wide receiver. It's a big challenge for us."