After the storm: Wisconsin, Miami find way to Orange Bowl
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The only common opponent for Wisconsin and Miami this season has no home stadium, made no bowl game and most assuredly has no fan base.
It wasn’t even a football team.
Hurricane Irma hit Miami, not Madison, though the devastating storm left a lasting impact on both programs. Miami was forced from its campus for more than a week because of the storm — as was Florida Atlantic, which played at Wisconsin on Sept. 8 and became the Badgers’ guests for several days afterward until it was safe for the Owls to return to their storm-struck home.
So maybe it’s fitting that No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1) and No. 10 Miami (10-2) were paired for the Orange Bowl, which will be played on the Hurricanes’ home field on Saturday night.
“I think any time you’re around other people and you get a chance to learn, you’re appreciative of what you’ve got,” said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, whose team will vie for a school-record 13th win on the season. “It was just college kids being good to other college kids. It was pretty cool.”
Most of Miami’s coaches and players ended up riding out Irma in Orlando, since that was the nearest spot where the Hurricanes could both escape the storm’s wrath and find enough hotel space to have everyone together.
The time made Miami get closer as a team, and coach Mark Richt said that clearly helped during the season. And he also has great respect for what Wisconsin did, opening its home to FAU.
“There’s good people everywhere in America, and everybody knows when there’s an issue and some type of catastrophic storm coming or whatever it may be, everybody is like what can we do to help?” Richt said. “What can we do to help?”
Irma cost Miami a bye week and necessitated a change in the date of the Florida State game, so the Hurricanes played on 11 consecutive weekends — and it took a toll. Miami’s worst two games, and its only losses, were on the last two weeks of that grind. Miami limped to the finish line, and was simply overmatched in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game against Clemson.
“There’s no doubt that we paid the price,” Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.
But they’re fresh now after basically a month off, and will need to be against the Badgers — a team that was one win from the College Football Playoff.
“You know, we could obviously finish in the top 10. That would be big,” Richt said. “Get 11 victories, which would be nice. So I mean, there’s a lot of things. But if you look at the things that Wisconsin is playing for, they’ve got some pretty strong motivation, as well.”
Here’s some of what to know going into Saturday’s Orange Bowl:
TIES THAT BIND: Miami offensive coordinator Thomas Brown was on Chryst’s staff at Wisconsin — briefly. Chryst was hired in December 2014 and initially retained Brown, who ended up leaving in February 2015 to join Richt at Georgia. “I have great respect for him and the way he runs his program,” Brown said of Chryst. “Obviously I met with him a little bit before I left, and he’s a great offensive mind. … It’ll be a tough matchup for us.”
RARE TRIP: Wisconsin is the fifth Big Ten school to appear in the Orange Bowl. Teams from that conference are 4-4 in eight previous appearances, the last win being Iowa’s 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in 2009.
BACK IN ORANGE: Miami is in the Orange Bowl for the 10th time, going 6-3 in its previous appearances. The last came to end the 2003 season, when the Hurricanes topped Florida State 16-14. And although this will be called a neutral-site game, Miami is 7-0 at Hard Rock Stadium this season.
SEEKING 13: Granted, teams for decades didn’t play as many games as teams do now — but Wisconsin still has a shot at a Big Ten rarity. The Badgers could become the fifth team in conference history to win at least 13 games, joining Ohio State (14 in 2014), Michigan State (13 in 2013), Ohio State (14 in 2002) and Minnesota (13 in 1904).
PLAYOFF IN 2018: Wisconsin and Miami would be well-served to strive for a return appearance in the Orange Bowl next season, since it’ll again be one of the two College Football Playoff semifinal games.