Know thy Foe: Wisconsin Badgers

In one of the better match-ups this bowl season, the University of South Carolina takes on the University of Wisconsin. sat down with Benjamin Worgull of and discussed today's game.

You can find Rob Veno's Q&A with HERE.

The break-up between UW and Bret Bielema wasn't pretty. What were the fans' expectations going into the season with the new staff, and have those expectations been met?

The breakup was nasty to say the least. Some Wisconsin fans will never let the events that transpired immediately following the Badgers' victory over Nebraska go, with Bielema telling his players to not pay attention to the coaching rumors involving his name and then taking a job with Arkansas before telling AD Barry Alvarez (who handpicked Bielema as his successor). I could go on, but Bielema will always shoulder a lot of blame for UW's shortcomings the last handful of seasons, including the last three Rose Bowls.

However, one thing Bielema did do well was recruit and he certainly elevated the talent level of Wisconsin's roster. That made it a great situation for Andersen to walk into, as the Badgers' senior-laden roster (20+ seniors this season) and numerous vital underclassmen embraced Andersen and his staff. Without the talent on defense, UW probably could not have made a drastic change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense look so seamless.

There were a lot of questions going into this season (how will the new-look defense respond, how will the secondary play with three new starters, what will be the changes on offense, etc.), but the level of talent on the roster made many fans think a fourth straight BCS bowl was possible. Although UW missed out on the Orange Bowl, I think the majority of fans will tell you this season has surpassed their expectations are really excited for the future of the program.

Nationally, the Big 10 has been trendy to bash for the past few years as being weak despite having some of the most storied programs in college football. On the other side, the strength of the SEC is discussed ad nauseam 12 months a year. For the UW team and fans, what does it mean to have the opportunity to ignore conjecture and settle the argument by teeing it up?

It means a lot to Wisconsin to test themselves a quality opponent, SEC or not. The Badgers' schedule this year has been, um, light to say the least. UW played only two AP ranked teams and beat up on a lot of really bad teams (Illinois, Indiana and Purdue). Andersen has talked about the willingness to play anyone, which I believe is part of the reason UW is opening up the next three seasons against a SEC opponent on a neutral field (LSU in Houston in 2014, Alabama in Dallas in 2015, LSU in Green Bay in 2016).

Wisconsin has won two of its last three bowl games against a SEC opponent, but hasn't played one since 2008. I think that makes everyone excited to see if this Wisconsin team is as good as we think they are or if they are a product of its schedule.

What have been the differences between Gary Andersen's approach to recruiting versus the previous regime's approach?

Andersen believes that Wisconsin should be a school that can recruit nationally and compete for any player in any region, no matter the stars next to their name. The old staff was centrally focused in the Midwest, especially in-state, and then would branch out to Florida, Ohio and the East Coast, with some spot recruiting here and there.

While the new staff still makes recruiting Wisconsin the primary focus, this new staff has been everywhere. Wisconsin has offered a ton of kids in the Maryland/DC metro area, the Carolinas, close to 20 offers in Georgia, Arizona, Utah, California and the Pacific Northwest. That Wisconsin brand evidently has resonating, as UW has received verbal commits from high-ranked kids all over the country.

UW also remains aggressive with kids who are committed to other schools, as the Badgers currently have commitments from seven kids who were once committed elsewhere, including three-star tailback Caleb Kinlaw from Goose Creek. Lastly, UW wants close to 30 players on its roster from Florida and have grabbed five Florida-natives in this recruiting class, so playing a bowl game in Orlando is a great sales pitch.

Have the UW fans embraced the expansion of the conference?

It is what it is, which is all about the money. At this moment, Maryland and Rutgers really aren't adding anything to the conference in terms of football ability (did you watch their two bowl games this past week?), so it's clear that it's the Big Ten's attempt to push its brand, and the highly-lucrative Big Ten Network, into New York, Washington D.C. and other East Coast markets.

Wisconsin fans are the most excited that the league will be splitting into two seven-team divisions, and that the Badgers will play border-rivals Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern on a yearly basis. UW really lucked out considering the other division is loaded with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

The loss to Penn State at home on Senior day was a blow, but Gary Andersen coached teams have been solid after a loss, even going back to his days at Utah State. However, this will be the best team he has ever faced after a loss. What has been the vibe coming from the program in December?

It's similar to what it was after the controversial loss to Arizona State in September – forget the loss but play with a chip on your shoulder. UW was flat in all areas against Penn State; they were out played, out schemed and out coached. With such a veteran roster, UW has shortened practices and given players time off to get their minds focused on non-football things. Will it work? Certainly can't hurt, but a lot of underclassmen are send this highly-decorated senior class off with their first bowl win.

We all know Wisconsin likes to pound the football with the run, but Jared Abbrederis has been great with over 1000 yards receiving on the year. Is Abbrederis an anomaly in the offense, or is the passing game actually better than advertised?

Definitely the former. Abbrederis is a former high school quarterback from a lower-division school who walked on to Wisconsin, changed positions during his redshirt year and has been Wisconsin's go-to receiver for the last two years. He's a special player, and a vital player considering UW has failed to develop a quality No.2 pass-catching receiver for the past two seasons. UW uses its tight ends a lot in the passing game, which helps takes some pressure off of Abbrederis, but the in-state senior continues to make plays despite going against opposing team's top corner or double teams. Without Abbrederis, the passing game is below average. With him, it's slightly above average.

Will Joel Stave be the starter at quarterback his entire career?

I would be surprised if he was. Stave is entering his second season as a starter and has been decent, but not great. He's had some real impressive games this season (at Arizona State, at Ohio State), but had a lot of clunkers. In three of the final games of the season, Stave passed for under 150 yards. Against Penn State, Stave threw 53 times – a number not often associated with UW's offense – and three interceptions. Bluntly, Stave doesn't always make the throws a division-1 quarterback needs to make.

Wisconsin wants a duel-threat quarterback to run its offense, somebody who can beat defenses with his arm and his legs. It's what UW has recruited to the last two recruiting cycles, and a skill set Stave doesn't have. However, Stave has the most game experience on UW roster and he has progressed, just not as much as many expected he would have entering the season's 13th game.

Connor Shaw has beaten a lot of teams over the years because of his ability to tuck it and run when need be. How has Wisconsin fared against mobile quarterbacks?

It's been hit and miss. Wisconsin struggled against Ohio State's Braxton Miller (83 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns) but did well against the up-tempo offenses of BYU, Indiana and others. Obviously South Carolina's offense is more on the Ohio State level than the latter, so it will be good gauge to see how much the Badgers have grown since that 31-24 loss in Columbus in late September.

Fast forward one year: where is Wisconsin after the regular season in 2014.

I can see this team in the conversation for a Big Ten West division title because, again, the Badgers don't have a challenging conference schedule. UW goes to Rutgers, Purdue, Iowa and Northwestern and host Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois and Minnesota. UW probably is looking at a 7-1 season, which should be good enough to compete for a fourth Rose Bowl in five seasons.

Prediction for the game?

I have South Carolina winning by four. I think the Gamecocks will get gashed via Wisconsin's running game, but I don't think the Badgers will be able to pass the ball consistently and Conor Shaw is a good enough quarterback to make some big plays against Wisconsin's good, but still young, secondary.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories