MADISON - The similarities between Wisconsin and Miami over the last 20 years do not quite compute. Yes, the Badgers have won three Rose Bowls and have reached the 10-win mark five times. Miami has won three national titles and nine conference championships.
But compare the last two seasons and the Badgers and the Hurricanes can certainly relate to each other. Both teams were 7-6 last season before rebounding to a 9-3 season, a pretty high mark in the world of college football.
Only 20 of 119 Division I-A teams made it to 10 or more victories in the 2008 season. This season, 14 of 120 teams have reached or surpassed 10 wins with another 14 have the opportunity to reach that mark.
Wisconsin hasn't had a 10-win season since going 12-1 in 2006, but Miami hasn't had a 10-win season since going 11-2 in 2003, all the more reason that Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl featuring No.20 Wisconsin and No.14 Miami has two teams eager to regain a measure of national prominence.
"We are both searching for our 10th win," UW coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday. "I think the thing we've stressed is that it's 2009 Badgers verse 2009 Hurricanes and not so much any of the past."
Tuesday's bowl game also has a measure of the future for Wisconsin, who will bring the fifth youngest team in FBS football to Orlando for the fourth time in five years, hoping to get a good jump start on next season.
"I think the kids have tasted success," Bielema said. "We are so young, recruiting is going very well, which is a good indicator of what the pulse is. Bottom line, we want to finish this thing out right."
Finishing has been the key this season for the Badgers, who struggled to close out wins in last year's frustrating campaign. The Badgers blew three fourth-quarter leads last season and were dismantled in last year's Champs Sports Bowl that has set the tone for this season.
"We played our tail off in the first half, and had a (expletive) second half," Bielema said. "That's what it was. For us to move forward and put (us) in position to finish the season, we have to finish this game."
"Every indicator that these guys have given me is they have been ready to play every game. We didn't get the results we wanted in three of them, but I like how they prepared."
One key way the Badgers have prepared was the preparation and travel to the Hawaii game, a trip many players considered a mini-bowl trip to help them get acclimated to different temperature and extreme circumstances in preparing to play a game. Now with the ease of traveling to Orlando and going through the same routine, the indicators are good for Bielema, especially with only a 24-day layoff.
"This is the shortest preparation in the UW bowl history, so it was a task," Bielema said. "There is so much that goes into coordinating a trip of 300-plus people. The only problem is the finals. That's going to be a test within its self because it's puts a lot of stress on our guys. We're in game week right now."
An Apple A Day
It was already a rough stretch for freshman Kraig Appleton before the season even started. Having his best friend murdered back home less than a week after he moved up to Madison for summer conditioning, Appleton considered moving home and putting football on the back burner.
Although the production isn't as high as many hoped it would be (three catches, 26 yards), having Appleton around his teammates every week turned out to be a positive experience on the East St. Louis wide receiver, especially when the head coach watched the 6-foot-3 receiver try his hand at surfing.
"There probably haven't been too many people from East St. Louis surfing," Bielema said. "Kraig has had to go through his own set of adjustments. He'll be the first to admit that he's been in my office many times and something he had to transition through. The one thing is Kraig Appleton is a great human being, a great football player and as a football player, has done everything we have asked him to do."
The decision to redshirt was never in question for Bielema, who has had past experiences dealing with players that have come from impoverished areas of high crime.
"It's better to play those guys and get their feet wet rather than idle time," Bielema said. "All those trips we would have taken, he would have been alone from Friday afternoon to basically Sunday. That's never anything good."
Waiting to Make the Grade
Bielema applauded the effort of his players for battling through a challenging week of practice for staying focused on the task at hand and being punctual instead of worrying about their final exams. Now the only thing the head coach has the worry about on the academic side of the things is if all his players will be eligible.
"Every day, more guys get crossed off," Bielema said. "By the time I hit the practice field today, we had 58 percent of the guy's grades were in. The magic number is they have to pass six (classes)."
Sixteen players are especially looking forward to the relaxation the next 36 hours, as that group was required to take a Zoology exam at 7:45 Wednesday morning. After finding out a player (Mario Goins) was ineligible and forced to send that player back last season, Bielema doesn't foresee anybody in dire straights and should know the status of all the players in the next 48 hours.
Extra Points: Bielema said he's gotten more cards and emails talking about Dustin Sherer's touchdown in Hawaii than any other play this season ... After a team meeting tonight in Orlando, Bielema plans to give the players off Thursday, like a normal Monday of game week, to enjoy the Disney Theme Parks ... Bielema talked to a Florida high school coach early Wednesday who told him it was a chilly 68 degrees, compared to the weather in Madison which was 30 degrees with snow flurries.