Adam Hoge (11-1, +171): Wisconsin 24, Miami 20
Jake Harris (10-2, +146): Miami 31, Wisconsin 28
Adam Rittenberg (ESPN.com): Wisconsin 27, Miami 24
After a season that mostly went the way we thought it would, this game is probably the toughest one to predict. These two teams are remarkably similar, both statistically and in other ways. Both teams have high-scoring offenses and defenses that defend the run well, but sometimes struggle against the pass. The special teams units in this game are almost equally abysmal.
Jacory Harris will be able to make some plays for Miami with his arm. The Hurricanes boast a trio of talented wide receivers, the likes of which the Badgers haven't faced since playing Fresno State in week two. That game became a shootout because of Wisconsin's inexperienced and overmatched secondary. Expect that to be an issue again, but also look for the Badgers to get off the field in some key spots because of their stout play against the run. Miami's leading rusher finished the regular season with barely more than half the yardage total that John Clay put up. That must have a front seven who didn't allow a Big Ten team to rush for over 100 yards in a game this season licking its collective chops. Harris is no threat to run and threw 17 interceptions this year, so as long as the defensive linemen can put pressure on him in the pocket and force him into some bad throws on the move, the opportunistic defensive backs will have chances to create turnovers.
While Miami's defense finished third in the ACC against the run, it simply has not seen anything like Wisconsin's three-headed rushing attack of John Clay, Montee Ball and Zach Brown, not to mention Wisconsin's offensive line. Expect the Badgers to find success running the football. If they don't, quarterback Scott Tolzien played well over his last five games, and Nick Toon has emerged as a go-to wide receiver. The passing game has become a legitimate complementary piece of this offense, rather than a last resort. The Badgers may try some end-arounds to loosen up the Hurricanes defense a bit, especially if they try and load up the box to stop Clay. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst designed game plans that produced a combined 88 points in two contests after extended time off. That should bode well for the bowl game.
While Wisconsin is 0-2 against ranked teams this year, the Badgers won three of five games away from Madison. Miami will have the home-field edge with this game being played in Florida, but all reports are that Badger backers have again traveled well and won't be outnumbered too badly. The Badgers were craving an opportunity to knock off a highly-ranked opponent, and they got exactly what they wanted, with Miami ranked 14th in the country. Facing Auburn in the Outback Bowl would not have given them the same chance. Bielema's squad is putting absolutely everything on the line in this one, in the hopes of completing a ten-win season, making a statement that Wisconsin football truly is back, and generating excitement for what is sure to be a fun 2010.
Who has the edge?
Special Teams: Miami