MADISON – While he’s still in the moment, senior Michael Caputo recognized that some of the opponents he has squared off against in his career has been pretty special.
Already with a Big Ten championship ring from his redshirt freshman season, Caputo has played every team in the Big Ten, with the exception of Michigan, squared off from Alabama (briefly) and LSU and played bowl games against Stanford, South Carolina and Auburn.
In a little more than three weeks, Caputo will add 11-time national champion USC to the mix in his final game for the program.
“I think that’s really cool to say looking back 10 years from now,” said Caputo. “I think it’s really cool.”
While Wisconsin won’t be playing in a January bowl game for the first time since the 2009 season, No.23 Wisconsin’s matchup with the Trojans in the Holiday Bowl Dec.30 is anything but a bummer for the players in the program.
The Badgers will make a bowl game for the 14th straight season (the longest streak in the Big Ten) and will be escaping the winter weather for sunny Southern California for a matchup with a premier opponent.
“San Diego is a great place to be this time of year, especially being from Wisconsin,” said linebacker Joe Schobert. “It’s not a January 1st bowl, but it’s a pretty big bowl and a big opponent (in) USC. Growing up in the 2000s and watching Reggie Bush, Clay Matthews and those guys just dominate for a couple years there, it’s a storied program.”
It was a dream matchup for the San Diego Bowl Game Association, which is in charge of selecting teams for the Holiday Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Dec.23, so much so that the committee when against their unwritten role of not inviting the same team in consecutive years (USC beat Nebraska, 45-42, in last year’s game).
It will be the first matchup between the two schools since 1966 and the first bowl meeting since No.1 USC defeated No.1 Wisconsin, 42-37, in the 1963 Rose Bowl.
“Putting Wisconsin and USC on the field, that is tradition-rich Pac-12 vs. Big Ten football and we’re bringing that to San Diego,” Mark Neville, executive director of the San Diego Bowl Game Association, told the San Diego Tribune. “It doesn’t get much bigger than this. This is one of those matchups where we’re pinching ourselves."
“We took this decision seriously,” he added. “We wanted to see what was best for the bowl game and best for San Diego. It’s one of those matchups where 10 years down the road we don’t want to have passed on something like that.”
Wisconsin is grateful for it, too. The Badgers ended a four-year losing streak in bowl games last season with a thrilling overtime win over Auburn and hoped to parlay that into a step forward in 2015. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
While UW won at least nine games for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the Badgers fell flat against then-No.3 Alabama in a nationally-televised contest to open the season, struggled offensively in their two toughest conference games and failed to beat a team that finished with a winning record.
A victory against a perceived power program by USC would do more than give the 2015 instant credibility; it would catapult the Badgers in a 2016 season where they face six teams in the top 20 of the college football playoff rankings, including three in the top seven.
“Both programs have had great teams throughout the years,” said senior Alex Erickson. “Obviously they are one of the most elite programs in college football. It’s exciting. They have good players, but we have good players. It’ll be a fun matchup.”