One final test: UW takes on Miami in the Orange Bowl

Senior linebacker T.J. Edwards and the rest of the Badgers defense will have to be wary of New Mexico's run game

Image By: Brandon Moe

When the Badgers (9-1 Big Ten, 12-1 overall) face off against the Miami Hurricanes (7-2 ACC, 10-2 overall) on Dec. 30 in the Orange Bowl, it will be the 16th straight season that Wisconsin has played in a postseason game.

Various players along the way have made their way to the pros, and the coaching carousel of college football has hit UW just like other major programs.

But even with the program’s familiarity to bowl games, one would be remiss to ignore the uniqueness of this season to the Badgers.

In 2017, Wisconsin recorded its first-ever undefeated regular season, a major milestone for a program that has long been known as a stable one rather than a national powerhouse.

That once-spotless record, which would only be tarnished by a 27-21 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, was produced on the backs of a truly exceptional defense.

Led by the stellar inside play of senior Leon Jacobs, junior T.J. Edwards and senior Alec James, UW boasted a fearsome front-seven and finished as the fourth-best total defense in the country.

Furthermore, Wisconsin was also strong in defending the pass game, as senior Natrell Jamerson and junior Nick Nelson enjoyed their first season as starters alongside senior cornerback Derrick Tindal.

That the Badgers’ loss at the hands of the Buckeyes hurt the players so badly is a testament to the way they forced themselves into the playoff conversation this year.

A favorable schedule was always going to give Wisconsin less room for error, but the team played a near-perfect 12 games.

True freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, was an absolute revelation, while sophomore receivers Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor provided the type of speed and route-running ability not often seen at Camp Randall.

It’s possible that with a tougher schedule next year, which includes away dates at Iowa, Penn State and Michigan, the Badgers will revert to being a solid, two or three loss team rather than a playoff contender.

Nonetheless, the 2017 season was a unique season for Wisconsin, as fans will be disappointed to not see the team in the playoff but encouraged with the level of dominance it displayed throughout.

But while the offseason will provide time for introspection, the Badgers still have one last opponent remaining, as they’ll face a Miami team who also held playoff aspirations late into the season.

For both teams, who each lost in their respective conference championship games, the Orange Bowl will provide an opportunity not only for redemption but for distinction as well.

While the playoff selections mark Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma as the elite of college football, the Badgers and Hurricanes will at least be looking to show themselves as the best of the rest.

The Hurricanes were outscored 62-17 in their last two games of the season, and will hope the sunny Florida weather and a raucous home base propel them to a postseason victory.

The game will be just the fifth-ever meeting between the two teams, who have remarkably different personalities: The Hurricanes gained national attention for their flashy “turnover chain,” while the Badgers relied on a steady defense and run game to win their first 12 contests of the season.

Yet both teams, despite their stylistic differences, will be looking to culminate 2017 with one final victory.

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