Florida State Awaits Wisconsin In Champs Sports Bowl
Dec. 19, 2008
(AP) - In 1977, Bobby Bowden led Florida State to Orlando for just its eighth bowl game in school history, making the city special for the legendary coach.
Twenty-nine bowl appearances later, Bowden and the Seminoles return to Orlando on Dec. 27 to take on Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl in a matchup of two teams trying to end their respective seasons on a high note after a disappointing year.
Wisconsin is making its fifth straight appearance in a Florida bowl game.
In Bowden's second season with Florida State, he led the Seminoles (8-4) to a 40-17 win over Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl - the precursor to the Capital One Bowl. This will be Florida State's 30th bowl appearance under Bowden and 27th consecutive one, the longest such streak in the nation after Michigan failed to qualify this season.
Bowden, who has led the Seminoles to three national championship games, referred to his first bowl game in Orlando as "one of my fondest." This is the first time he's been back there since a 17-all tie against Georgia at the Citrus Bowl in 1984.
"I have great memories of Orlando," Bowden said. "It's kind of exciting getting back."
It was an uneven season for Bowden and the Seminoles, who had been one of the nation's premiere programs during the late 1980s and throughout the '90s before struggling the past few years. Florida State has not had a 10-win season since 2004, and is appearing in its third consecutive non-BCS game after a string of 15 straight January bowl game dates.
Bowden trails only Penn State's Joe Paterno for all-time wins (381) and bowl victories (20), but he is coming off a loss in his last postseason game - a 35-28 defeat to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. Florida State was without three dozen players who were inactive, many because of an academic cheating scandal, and the loss was Bowden's first in a December bowl game (7-1-1).
While Bowden won't likely have to deal with player issues this year, there was some controversy as offensive coordinator - and Bowden's designated successor as head coach - Jimbo Fisher dealt with speculation he was leaving to take over for Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. The Tigers later hired Iowa State's Gene Chizik, but the controversy again brought up the issue of how much longer the 79-year-old Bowden will remain at Florida State.
Fisher signed a contract this year that stipulates if he's not the head coach of Florida State by 2010, the university owes him $2.5 million. He'd have to pay a $5 million buyout if he leaves for another team.
For now, Fisher will be focused on improving an offense that struggled in losing three of its last five games. The Seminoles rushed for 2,194 yards - their most in six years - mostly because of Antone Smith, who had 753 yards and 14 touchdowns. Florida State, averaged 149.7 yards in its last six games, failing to reach 100 in two of them, after gaining 216.0 rushing yards per game in its first six.
The Seminoles need an efficient running game because of the inconsistencies of quarterback Christian Ponder, who threw for more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). Florida State ranks 87th in the nation with 185.8 passing yards per game.
While the Seminoles have to make only a four-hour trek to Orlando, the location isn't exactly unfamiliar for Wisconsin (7-5), which is making its fifth straight appearance in a Florida bowl game.
As disappointing as the season was for Florida State, which was ranked as high as 16th in the polls, it may have been even more so for the Badgers, who had high expectations after returning 15 starters from last year's team. They climbed as high as ninth in the polls before losing four straight and five of six.
The Badgers have won three in a row heading into this game, but needed overtime to beat Cal Poly - an Football Championship Subdivision team - 36-35 in their season finale.
Wisconsin changed quarterbacks - from senior Allan Evridge to junior Dustin Sherer - following its 48-7 drubbing by Penn State on Oct. 11, but Sherer didn't put up attractive numbers either. He threw five touchdowns and four interceptions in six games as a starter, completing only 53.8 percent of his passes.
Sherer's job wasn't made any easier with All-American tight end Travis Beckum having his season end Oct. 25 due to a broken leg. Beckum had 75 catches and six TDs as a junior, but only 23 receptions for 264 yards in six games before the injury.
The Badgers, though, can fall back on P.J. Hill and a steady running game. Hill had team highs of 1,024 yards and 13 touchdowns as Wisconsin ranked 14th in the nation with 212.0 rushing yards per game.
Both teams, though, boast solid defenses against the run. Florida State ranks 34th, holding opponents to 126.8 yards per game, and Wisconsin ranks 43rd at 133.3 yards.
Wisconsin hasn't finished with fewer than eight wins since a loss to Auburn in the Music City Bowl capped a 7-6 season in 2003. The Badgers have lost three of their last five bowl games, including a 21-17 defeat to Tennessee in last season's Outback Bowl.
Coach Brett Bielema recognizes the importance of ending the season on a high note after going through such a frustrating stretch.
"To beat a team like Florida State would be a great redemption," he said.
This is the first meeting between the teams.