MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The College Football Playoff was the goal for No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 10 Miami just a few weeks ago. But after both teams fell in their conference title games, a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game served as somewhat of a consolation prize.
Suffice to say, the Badgers are happy with their reward. With a 34-24 win over the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl, Wisconsin completes its best season in program history at 13-1 and should be a preseason top-10 team moving into 2018. Coach Paul Chryst has now won 34 games in three seasons in Madison with three bowl victories to boot.
For Miami, the Hurricanes suffer their third straight loss and fall to 10-3 on the year. Here’s what we learned, plus what to look for in the future.
1. This was Alex Hornibrook’s best game of the season: To say that Hornibrook has been an enigma this year would be an understatement. He threw at least one pick in nine of his last 10 games, including four games with multiple interceptions. And yet, he could always give you five or six good, timely throws a game. This, however, was his most complete game: 23-of-34 passing, a season-high 258 yards and four touchdowns with no picks. Hornibrook, who won the Most Outstanding Player honor, didn’t just have a few key throws on Saturday — he had bunches of them, in particular over the middle of the field against the Hurricanes’ zone defense. You don’t want to read too much into a bowl performance but that consistency against an aggressive defense like Miami’s is a promising sign for the future.
2. Jonathan Taylor will be a force for years to come: The freshman sensation who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting broke FBS single-season freshman rushing record, previously held by Adrian Peterson at 1,925 yards. Taylor had 1,847 yards coming into the Orange Bowl and his 130 yards puts him at 1,977 for the season. He also had one reception for 13 yards. The amazing part about Taylor is that he’s still so young and has a lot of room to grow as a pass protector and receiver out of the backfield. His best days are still ahead of him.
3. Wisconsin is going to be “that” team in 2018: The Big Ten East may still be loaded with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, but Wisconsin is going to be the early favorite yet again to claim the conference’s West Division in 2018. And if it does come down to one game again for the Badgers, playoff-or-bust might not be a far-fetched mentality. Taylor is back, as is Hornibrook and the entire starting wide receiver unit — which is arguably the best the Badgers have had in years. The defense will be senior-laden once again, and Chryst has one of the top defensive coordinators in the game in Jim Leonhard. Getting double-digit wins has become common practice for Wisconsin and that trend figures to continue next season. The question: Can it do just a little bit more?
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