On November 24th, the Wisconsin Badgers faced off against its rival in the Minnesota Gophers for the rights to win Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Wisconsin entered the game holding the axe for 14 straight seasons and Vegas had the Badgers as ten-point favorites in front of their home crowd. However, the game quickly turned disastrous for the Badgers as they were humiliated by the Gophers and lost by 22 points. The loss pushed Wisconsin, a preseason top-four team in the country, to a pedestrian 7-5 record in one of the most disappointing seasons in program history. However, the team still qualified for a bowl game and was put in the Pinstripe Bowl which will take place in Yankee Stadium.
Wisconsin’s opponent for this bowl game will be the Miami Hurricanes who also entered the season with high hopes but fell flat on their faces once the actual season began. This will be the second straight season in which these two teams play against each other in a bowl game (Wisconsin won last year’s encounter at The Orange Bowl). As for Miami, the team entered the season as the eighth-best team in the country according to the preseason AP Poll. However, its season also turned into a disaster as the team imploded and only won seven games. Although this has been a catastrophic season for both teams, this bowl game provides them with an opportunity to end season on a high note.
Wisconsin is entering this game following a much needed layoff after the egg it laid against Minnesota in the regular season finale. In that game, the team failed to generate anything offensively as the Badgers only had seven points in the first 58 minutes of the game. The team also had less than 300 total yards of offense prior to the team’s final drive. Wisconsin’s offense has struggled with consistency all season long, but the team has had over a month to prepare for this game. One hopes that the added time will do wonders for this offense.
Out of those 359 total yards against Minnesota, Jonathan Taylor rushed for 120 of them which brings his total on the season to 1,989 — the most in all of college football. Taylor has been remarkable this entire season and he was amazing once again in the regular season finale. In addition to the yards, he also averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Now, he will get to face a quality rush defense in Miami which gives up the 33rd-fewest rushing yards per game. If Wisconsin plans on winning this game, Taylor will most likely need to most of the heavy lifting.
One area of concern for the Badgers this entire season has been quarterback play. Last season, starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook struggled but had some extremely solid performances which provided the fanbase hope that he had potentially turned a corner. In the bowl game last season, for example, Hornibrook played one of his best games as he threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions against Miami. However, that success did not carry over as he has been the main reason for the team’s struggles this season. While his underwhelming performances were on display, he also missed a couple of games this season due to a concussion before returning for the team’s game against Minnesota. In that game, Hornibrook was awful as he threw for just 189 yards and four turnovers, but has clearly not recovered from some of his head injuries. Now, Jack Coan will get to face the same Miami Hurricanes defense that Hornibrook torched in last season’s bowl game.
As for Miami, Mark Richt’s third season as head coach has gone a lot worse than his first two seasons with the program. After finishing his first two seasons with at least nine wins, including a 10-3 record last season, Miami was expected to potentially compete for a college football playoff spot. However, that dream quickly died as the team lost four straight games in conference play which pushed the team’s record to 5-5. However, unlike Wisconsin, the Hurricanes did end the season on a positive note as the team won its last two games to finish the season with a 7-5 record. In its last game of the season, Miami destroyed Pittsburgh by 21 points as its defense held the opposition to just 200 total yards of offense. Now, its defense better be ready to ball out once again if the Hurricanes plan on getting revenge against Wisconsin.
Similarly to Wisconsin, Miami’s offense this season has been derailed by its awful quarterback play. The original starter was senior Malik Rosier who was inconsistent last season but looked to play well in his final season of eligibility. However, that did not happen as Rosier was inevitably benched for true freshman N’Kosi Perry, who has looked slightly better throughout the course of the season. However, despite playing well for most of his starts, Perry struggled in the last game of the regular season as he only went 6-24 for 52 passing yards despite the team’s 21 point victory.
This season, Perry has thrown for over 1,000 passing yards and 13 passing touchdowns while also contributing one rushing touchdown. Wisconsin has struggled in the past with containing mobile quarterbacks. Although Perry’s accuracy might not be the best, his mobility will definitely be something the Badgers will have to gameplan for in this one.
For my prediction, I have to side with Wisconsin. Both teams are extremely similar in terms of style and inconsistent quarterback play. However, this game will be held in New York during the middle of winter and I have to question Miami’s ability to excel in the cold weather. Wisconsin deals with cold weather year-round and I can see the Badgers leaning on its elite ground game to get this win.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Miami 20