Sunday, December 7, 2008

Badgers are Champs, after all

So the bowl destination is ... Florida. Again. It beats Christmas in Madison, but I was sort of hoping for Pasadena or New Orleans or Phoenix or Miami. Oh well.

The Champs Sports Bowl it is, set for December 27 against Florida State. My thoughts:

-Love the opponent. Florida State is a brand name in college football, and was arguably the top program of the 1990s. As a kid I was enamored with their uniforms, the mascot, the Tomahawk Chop that Braves fans stole from FSU fans.

What I also love is that they are eminently beatable nowadays. The Seminoles lately have been a shadow of what they were in the '90s, for a variety of reasons. A decline in offensive coaching. The resurgence of in-state rivals Florida and Miami. Off-the-field problems.

Can't say I paid close attention to this year's team, but looking at their results their four losses are respectable: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Florida.

Their quarterback, Christian Ponder, has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and has been sacked 17 times, but has run for more than 400 yards. Antone Smith, their leading rusher, is a well-regarded running back. Wide receivers Greg Carr and Preston Parker are also highly thought of, even if neither has more than 40 catches or 500 yards receiving.

-I want to learn more about this Myron Rolle kid. If you've been paying attention, he's the guy who recently was named a Rhodes Scholar, interviewing for it on the day of a game, then flying in to join the team while the game was underway. Great story.

When my brother, dad, and I were hearing about this a couple weeks ago, our shared reaction was "He was a potential Rhodes Scholar and he went to ... Florida State?" Surely Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt could have challenged him more academically. Whatever, good for FSU and good for Rolle.

-Rolle and his teammates had the 13th-best defense in the country this year, yardage-wise. That D is going to be a tough test for the Badger offense, lot of athletes and well-coached.

-As much as Orlando is starting to seem repetitive, and the trip might be a tough sell to Badger fans, going to Florida for the fifth straight year is a good thing. It's a state that Bret Bielema has made a recruiting priority, and we're doing pretty well there lately. Zach Brown. Aaron Henry. Jae McFadden. Elijah Hodge. Eriks Briedis. Anthony Mains. Kevin Claxton. Antonio Fenelus. Xavier Harris. Josh Nettles. Recruits David Gilbert and Conor O'Neill. (Florida State was also reportedly in the mix for O'Neill.)

Florida is an important state for us, and the more we're there, the better. Even if our fans aren't showing up in the usual numbers, you can bet that the family and friends of all those guys above will be in Orlando, and might even bring along some other promising young athletes.

-Even though this trip will be a tough sell, I'm hoping the opponent will be attractive enough to entice Badger fans to make the trip. (Disclosure: I won't be going.)

-This is our seventh straight bowl appearance, the second-longest in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. That's nice.

-Finally, this will be a battle of maligned coaches with the the initials B.B. If we think what Bielema has been going through this year is tough, imagine what it's been like for Bobby Bowden. He's presided over the slow decline of his program while enduring constant talk that he's too old, the game has passed him by. Sort of like Joe Paterno up in our conference.

My take on it is that Bowden really isn't that far off from having his program great again. He still hasn't recovered from Mark Richt leaving for Georgia (or too an extent from Chuck D'Amato leaving for North Carolina State), and putting his boy in charge of the offense didn't go that well. The other part of the downfall, off-field troubles, probably come from taking chances on kids of questionable character in an attempt to keep up with Florida and Miami. Or a run of bad luck. Iron those two things out and Florida State is not far from being golden again.

Hopefully it doesn't start with a win over Wisconsin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get to hear about Rolle until you're sick of hearing about him before this game is played. Austy