Wisconsin football: USC Provides Badgers Last Chance for Signature Win


The Wisconsin football team can end the season on a high note

The Wisconsin football team heads into the Holiday Bowl with something to prove. The Wisconsin Badgers have yet to beat a team with a winning record this season, and they will have that chance on Wednesday night against USC in San Diego.

Related Story: Holiday Bowl Primer

The Badgers come into the bowl game with a 9-3 record, but the teams Wisconsin has beaten have a combined regular-season record of 34-75. The Badgers played three teams with records above .500, and lost all three – a blowout loss to Alabama in the season opener and devastating home losses to Iowa and Northwestern. The two conference losses are hard to stomach looking back, not only because it snaps a streak of five-straight New Year’s Day bowl games, but Wisconsin was so close to finishing the regular season 11-1 with a shot at Michigan State that could have led to a College Football Playoff spot.

Looking ahead to the Holiday Bowl, Wisconsin’s defense will need to prove itself in its final game. Dave Aranda’s unit has been incredible this season and deserved better in the Badgers’ two Big Ten losses in which Wisconsin scored just 13 points combined. The Badgers rank among the top in many major team defensive categories, allowing the fewest points per game (13.1) and third-fewest yards per game (267).

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  • The numbers are there, but who were the Badgers going up against? The best offense Wisconsin has faced was in the season opener against Alabama, which ranks No. 33 in points per game (34.1). The Badgers were overmatched and gave up 35 points and 502 yards in a loss to the Tide. Alabama attacked the middle of Wisconsin’s defense that did not have starting strong safety Michael Caputo, who exited early with an injury, and free safety Tanner McEvoy, who was mostly used as a wide receiver in the game.

    USC will be the best offense Wisconsin has seen all year. The Trojans score 34.9 points per game, which ranks No. 30 in the country. A three-year starter at quarterback, senior Cody Kessler has completed 67.6 percent of his passes this season with 3,315 passing yards and 28 touchdowns and six interceptions. His top target is All-American wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has 85 receptions for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. It will be a big day for Badgers’ senior cornerback Darius Hillary, who will likely be matched up against Smith-Schuster.

    The Trojans have a well-balanced offense with a solid running game to go with the passing attack with Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II in the backfield. The duo have combined for 302 carries for 1,815 yards (6 yards per carry) with 13 rushing touchdowns.

    Wisconsin’s defense will have its toughest test of the season against the Trojans.

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    Offensively, all eyes will be on Wisconsin’s senior quarterback Joel Stave. Perhaps the most polarizing figure in Wisconsin football history, Stave needs a big game to leave Madison as the program’s all-time winningest quarterback. USC’s pass defense ranks No. 98 nationally in pass defense, and Stave will have a healthier Austin Traylor to throw to, and Rob Wheelwright will return after missing the final four games of the season with a left leg injury.

    The Badgers will also likely have the services of Corey Clement, who has had a bad 2015 with injuries limiting him to three games and an incident on Nov. 8 in which he received two citations for disorderly conduct. It would be nice for Clement to finish the year on a high note in what has been a disastrous season for the junior running back.

    Wisconsin has an opportunity to score its lone signature win of the year against USC. A Holiday Bowl victory would give the Badgers a 10-win season in Paul Chryst‘s first year as the head coach, they would have a big win against a traditional college football powerhouse and head into the offseason with momentum, which could help in recruiting. With a loss, Wisconsin would finish with a respectable 9-4 record in another “what could have been” season as a treacherous schedule looms in 2016. The Wisconsin football program has a lot on the line in its final game of the season.

    Next: Holiday Bowl Predictions

    Stay tuned to Badger of Honor for more as the Holiday Bowl unfolds.