The 10th ranked Miami Hurricanes and sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers, combatants in Saturday’s Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, do not have any common field opponents this season. But there was one off the field: Hurricane Irma.
While the Hurricanes (10-2) canceled their game at Arkansas State on Sept. 9 because of the Category 5 storm and moved their team practices to Orlando the following week before facing Toledo on Sept. 23 at home, Wisconsin opened its doors to FAU and housed the Owls for six days, allowing them to use their facilities after beating them 31-14 at Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 9 after Irma swept through the Florida Keys and affected South Florida.
The experiences, Miami’s Mark Richt and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst said Friday at their final news conferences before Saturday night’s 8 p.m. kickoff, provided unique bonding experiences for their respective teams.
“I think our players enjoyed being around [FAU’s players],” Chryst said. “Some of them had known each other, but there was a number of them that didn’t. The way it came about was pretty neat. I know [Wisconsin athletic director Barry] Alvarez and I had talked and what’s the right thing to do, and how can you make it as good as you can for them. Certainly, we had a little bit of an understanding, at least for me personally, of what the players from down here, what they were going through with maybe their families.
“I think any time you’re around other people and you get a chance to learn, you’re appreciative of what you’ve got. It was just college kids being good to other college kids. It was pretty cool.”
FAU took out a full-page ad in Wisconsin’s local newspaper with a letter from Owls coach Lane Kiffin thanking the Badgers for their hospitality.
Said Richt: “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? What can we do to help? Even when we went to Orlando to Wide World of Sports, they just opened their doors to us … I don't think they charged us a penny. They were just like, you guys have a need and we have the facilities to help you, and we’re going to help you. Obviously [Wisconsin] opening their everything, all their facilities to Florida Atlantic was awesome, and I’m sure they were prepared to house them as long as they had to before they could get back in town.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Despite Hard Rock Stadium being within driving distance from campus, the Hurricanes have been staying at the Diplomat Resort & Spa on Hollywood Beach since Christmas night and practicing at Nova Southeastern University in preparation for the game. But on Saturday, Miami plans on treating everything like a home game.
UM will have its usual Cane Walk two hours before the 8 p.m. kickoff, “and we’ll roll in like we normally roll in for a home game,” Richt said.
“We know we have a tremendous opponent in Wisconsin,” said Richt, whose team is a 4 1/2-point underdog. “I’ve been saying it all along, the more film I watch, the more impressed I am with them. I'm a big guy on just fundamentals of blocking and tackling and playing hard and doing your job and doing it well, and that's all you see from them. I think it's going to be one heck of a battle. I know our guys are excited about the opportunity to compete. That’s one thing about our guys is they do like to compete. It ought to be one heck of a ballgame. I hear the weather is going to be beautiful, and everything you could hope for for an Orange Bowl, we’re going to have.”
▪ Wisconsin is only the fifth Big Ten conference school to appear in the Orange Bowl joining Michigan (33-32 losers to Florida State last season), Ohio State (40-35 losers to Clemson on Jan. 3, 2014), Iowa (24-14 winners over Georgia Tech in 2010) and Penn State (26-23 winners over FSU in 2006). Teams from the Big Ten are 4-4 in eight previous Orange Bowl appearances.
The fact that the Badgers are not part of this year’s college football four-team playoff will not change the mentality of his team, Chryst said.
“You know, every time we get a chance to play, we want to play our best, and obviously you want to win the game,” he said. “We’re playing this one to try to earn the right to be called Orange Bowl champions. That’s all this game is about, and it’s a ton. Our guys are ready for it. They’re excited for it. We know what the talk was outside, but what we were playing for all year long was the right to give ourselves the best chance we can to be the best team we can be. We didn’t win [the Big Ten Championship]. We didn’t do that. And fortunately we’ve got another opportunity for that team, this team, our team to play, and that’s against a really good Miami team, and if we score one or more points than them, then we’ve earned the right to be Orange Bowl champions. That’s something to really be proud of.”