Wisconsin awaits its bowl fate
MADISON—In his fifth year in the Wisconsin football program, Jacob Pedersen is known as a soft-spoken performer.
No screaming. No pompom waving.
Knowing Pedersen’s history and demeanor, it was telling to listen to him speak after UW’s 31-24 loss to Penn State, a loss that ended UW’s BCS hopes and left the players wondering about their bowl destination.
Frustration and anger dripped from his words.
“I don’t care where we go,” he said. “I don’t care who we play. We’ve just got to know that this sour taste in our mouths, we’ve got to get it out of there.
“We’ve got to come back and work harder than we ever have for this bowl prep.
“I don’t care if we’re playing Alabama, Florida State … or Connecticut. We’ve got to work. … We just weren’t Wisconsin today, and we’ve got to get back to that.”
UW (9-3, 6-2), which dropped from No. 15 to No. 21 in the Bowl Championship Series standings on Sunday, likely won’t know its destination and opponent until after the conclusion of the league title games Saturday. The likely landing spots are either the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1 or the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 1. Either game would feature a Southeastern Conference foe.
The result of the Big Ten title game featuring Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) and Michigan State (11-1, 8-0) will help slot UW.
Ohio State, No. 2 in the BCS standings, now has the inside track to reach to reach the BCS title game against No. 1 Florida State (12-0). Michigan State No. 10 in the BCS standings, is in position to land an at-large berth even if it loses in the title game.
That scenario likely would send UW to the Capital One Bowl. Florida Citrus Sports officials, who oversee the Capital One Bowl, attended several UW games this season.
The Badgers last played in Orlando in 2009, when they upset Miami, 20-14, in the Champs Sports Bowl.
History suggests the loser of the SEC title game, this season either Auburn (11-1) or Missouri (11-1) will be sent to the Capital One Bowl.
UW defeated Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl after the Razorbacks lost to Florida in the 2006 SEC title game.
It appears UW will land in the Outback Bowl only if Michigan State fails to secure a BCS at-large berth.
“I don’t know,” senior linebacker Chris Borland said when asked about UW’s possible bowl destination. “I’m not into the projections. Hopefully a Jan. 1 bowl.”
UW’s players and coaches will have several weeks to address the issues that cropped in the last two games, especially in the loss to Penn State.
In short, Penn State’s staff did a masterful job keeping UW’s defense off-balance and slowing the running game.
“I thought Penn State was very well-prepared,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “The coaches did a nice job, and their players did a nice job … They were pretty schooled up on how to attack us.
“Got us on our toes a couple times on defense and we did not react well to that. The key to that whole situation starts with the coaches, and we didn’t handle it good enough. So that wasn’t acceptable.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda acknowledged earlier this season he learned valuable lessons in the loss to Arizona State on Sept. 14 and in the victory over Illinois on Oct. 19.
After reviewing those games, Aranda discerned his game plan at Arizona State was too complex and at Illinois he wasn’t aggressive enough in going after quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who passed for 249 yards.
It will be interesting to see what Aranda has to say in the wake of the loss to Penn State, considering the confusion on defense and the lack of a pass rush against Christian Hackenberg.
For now, the players and coaches must move past the disappointment of seeing their BCS hopes crushed.
“We’ll get a really good team in the bowl game,” senior safety Dezmen Southward said. “And at the end of the day it is an opportunity to line up and play another game with people that I consider my brothers.
“I guarantee you’re going to see a fired-up Wisconsin team. Obviously we would have loved to go to a BCS game. Who wouldn’t?
“But it’s not going to be one of those deals where we tank because we don’t go. We’re going to show up and be the same team.
“The only thing we can do now is prepare for any team that we’re going to play next and go out with a bang. That is exactly what it will be.”