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Saturday’s bowl previews: Miami, Wisconsin can’t forget Hurricane Irma

Head coach Mark Richt of the Miami Hurricanes addresses his team on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Miami plays Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. (Joe Skipper / Associated Press)
Head coach Mark Richt of the Miami Hurricanes addresses his team on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Miami plays Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. (Joe Skipper / Associated Press)
Associated Press

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.”

TaxSlayer Bowl

Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Louisville (8-4), at Jacksonville, Florida, 9 a.m. (ESPN). Line: Louisville by 6 1/2. Series: Tied 2-2.

Mississippi State’s senior class is going for its 34th victory, which would tie the school record set in 1942 and matched in 2015. The Bulldogs also want to send interim coach Greg Knox out with a win. Louisville is trying to end the season with a four-game winning streak and potentially send 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson to the NFL on a high note. The junior hasn’t said publicly whether he will forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

Liberty Bowl

Iowa State (7-5) vs. No. 19 Memphis (10-2), at Memphis, Tennessee, 9:30 a.m. (ABC). Line: Memphis by 4. First meeting.

Memphis is seeking its first 11-win season in school history. The Tigers went 10-0 in 1938 and 10-3 in 2014. An eighth victory would give Iowa State its highest single-season win total since a 9-3 finish in 2000. Iowa State is seeking its first bowl victory since a 14-13 Insight Bowl triumph over Minnesota on Dec. 31, 2009.

Fiesta Bowl

No. 9 Penn State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Washington (10-2), at Glendale, Arizona, 1 p.m. (ESPN). Line: Penn State by 2 1/2. Series: Penn State leads 2-0.

Once a top contender for the Heisman Trophy, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley rushed for 1,134 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’ll be going against a Washington defense that was No. 1 in the FBS against the run, allowing 92.3 yards per game. The Huskies average 36.6 ppg behind QB Jake Browning. The prolific junior holds numerous school records and threw for 2,544 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions this season.

Orange Bowl

No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1, CFP No. 6) vs. No. 11 Miami (10-2, CFP No. 10), at Miami, 5 p.m. (ESPN). Line: Wisconsin by 4 1/2. Series: Tied, 2-2.

Wisconsin is bidding for the first 13-win season in school history, and possibly its best year-end finish in the AP Top 25 since ending No. 4 in 1999. Miami is looking for its first 11-win season since 2003, and a second consecutive bowl victory. The Hurricanes must be able to run the ballwith RB Travis Homer, in order to give a depleted receiving corps a chance. Wisconsin is giving up 3.0 yards per carry and has allowed five rushing touchdowns all season. Wisconsin freshman RB Jonathan Taylor is for real, with 1,847 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

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