Big Ten Bowl Preview: Outback Bowl


TEAMS: Auburn (8-4, 4-4 SEC) vs. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)

TIME: January 1, 12:00 pm EST

LOCATION: Raymond James Stadium- Tampa, FL


This year’s Outback Bowl between the Auburn Tigers and the Wisconsin Badgers is the first college football game of 2015. Auburn, who was last year’s national runner up, failed to meet high expectations and finished fourth in the mighty SEC West. Wisconsin had a very strong regular season and won the Big Ten West, but was then annihilated by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Also, now former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen abruptly left to take over at Oregon State, leaving Barry Alvarez to coach the Badgers in their bowl game for the second time in the last three years.

Gus Malzahn’s high-speed offense produced the No. 4 scoring offense (35.8 ppg) and No. 1 rushing offense (258.5 ypg) in the SEC. Senior quarterback Nick Marshall runs the show and can hurt you with his arm (2,315 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) and his legs (780 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns). Marshall’s best game this season in terms of passing yardage came against No. 1 Alabama, a game in which he threw for 456 yards and 3 touchdowns. Wisconsin’s defense will have its hands full trying to defend against the signal caller from Georgia.

Marshall also has a very good running back joining him in the backfield in fellow senior Cameron Artis-Payne (1,482 rush. yards, 11 touchdowns). When Marshall and Artis-Payne get it going with the zone read option, Auburn’s offense becomes extremely difficult to stop.

Some bad news for the Auburn offense is that they’ll be without junior wide receiver D’haquille Williams (45 receptions, 730 yards, 5 touchdowns) due to suspension. But Marshall will still have the explosive Sammie Coates (30 rec., 717 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Quan Bray (34 rec., 408 yards, 4 touchdowns) to sling the ball to.

On the other hand, the Tiger defense has struggled more often than not in 2014. Auburn has the No. 10 scoring defense in the conference (26.1 ppg), as well as the second-worst passing defense (239.2 ypg).

Sophomore defensive back Johnathan Ford leads the team with 84 total tackles and junior defensive back Jonathan Jones leads the team with 6 interceptions. On the defensive line, junior DaVonte Lambert leads the team with 3.5 sacks. Sophomore Montravius Adams and senior Angelo Blackson each have 3 sacks. Junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy might be the best overall player on this defense. McKinzy has 82 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

Now on to Wisconsin. The Badgers boast the No. 4 scoring offense in the Big Ten (34.6 ppg) and their offense revolves around star running back Melvin Gordon. The Heisman Trophy finalist racked up an incredible 2,336 rush. yards and 26 touchdowns (he also had 3 receiving touchdowns this season). Gordon has already announced that he’s heading to the NFL after this game so this will be the last chance for us to watch the stud running back at the collegiate level.

Gordon isn’t the only weapon that Wisconsin has at the running back position. Sophomore Corey Clement (844 rush. yards, 9 touchdowns) is one of the best backup running backs in the country and he looks like the next great running back in Madison.

Wisconsin’s quarterback situation has been tricky all year. They have Joel Stave (1,229 pass. yards, 8 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), who’s more of a traditional pocket passer, as well as Tanner McEvoy (709 pass. yards, 5 touchdowns, 574 rush. yards, 6 touchdowns), who’s more of a runner and has struggled in the passing game this year. It’ll be interesting to see what Barry Alvarez and the staff decide to do at quarterback in this bowl game.

When it comes to catching the ball, Wisconsin had a bit of a drop off after losing Jared Abbrederis to graduation. Junior wideout Alex Erickson leads the team with 51 rec. for 734 yards and senior tight end Sam Arneson is second with 27 catches for 354 yards. They have 3 and 4 receiving touchdowns, respectively.

At the end of the regular season, Wisconsin’s defense was leading the Big Ten in points per game allowed. But after the debacle against Ohio State where they lost 59-0, they are now third in the conference in that category (20.0 ppg).

The Badgers are solid on the defensive side of the ball and are led by junior defensive back Michael Caputo and his team-high 99 total tackles. Senior linebackers Marcus Trotter (85 total tackles) and Derek Landisch (76 total tackles, team-high 8 sacks) are the No. 2 and 3 tacklers on the team, respectively. Sophomore outside linebacker Vince Biegel (55 total tackles, team-high 15.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) has a very bright future.

Wisconsin only picked off 6 passes this season and 2 of the 6 six were by linebackers. Senior Peniel Jean was the only player to have multiple interceptions with 2. It’s safe to say that Nick Marshall and the explosive Auburn offense will be a great test for a Wisconsin defense that will be looking to make up for its embarrassing performance in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Expect a high-scoring affair down in Tampa to kick off the new year. In each team’s most recent game, Auburn gave up 55 points to Alabama and Wisconsin gave up 59 points to Ohio State. The key here is the Wisconsin defense. Melvin Gordon is going to get his usual yards and touchdowns, but how is the Badger defense going to respond after that dreadful performance against the Buckeyes? Not many defenses can handle the speed at which the Auburn offense likes to play at. Also, how will the Badgers look without their head coach who bolted for another job just a few weeks ago?

Prediction: Auburn 35 Wisconsin 31