The Guaranteed Rate Bowl offers no guarantee when it comes to the best players taking the field on Dec. 27 in Phoenix.
Wisconsin (6-6) and Oklahoma State (7-5) have been hit with heavy attrition, but they’ll continue their longstanding streak of bowl appearances when they meet two days after Christmas at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field. The Badgers have the third-longest streak at 21 and Oklahoma State is sixth at 17 consecutive bowl showings.
Among other commonalities: Each team lost a veteran starting quarterback to the transfer portal. Garret Rangel will quarterback the Cowboys with four-year starter Spencer Sanders gone, while either senior Chase Wolf (six pass attempts this season) or freshman Myles Burkett (five) will start for the Badgers in place of three-year starter Graham Mertz.
Wisconsin has a new coach in Luke Fickell and the change may have fueled some of the opt-outs. In addition to players placing their name in the portal, six Badgers have skipped out of the game in favor of preparation for the 2023 NFL Draft, including star linebacker Nick Herbig (11 sacks) and nose tackle Keeanu Benton (10 tackles for loss).
Oklahoma State also lost leading tackler Mason Cobb — a linebacker with 96 stops — and leading rusher Dominic Richardson (543 yards) to the portal.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy sees the game as an opportunity to notch a victory. Oklahoma State has lost five of seven games since a 5-0 start.
“Every game we play is important,” Gundy told reporters. “And I’ve always said this, we try to instill basic values and core principles in our team from Day One. It doesn’t make a difference who we are playing, where we are playing, what the records are, we’re playing in a game.
“And so we all signed up for this. We have an obligation to compete, to prepare, to play the very best we can, coach the very best we can, put the best product on the field every game.”
Meanwhile, Fickell, who was hired away from Cincinnati, is serving in a figurehead role for this game.
Fickell told reporters that former interim coach Jim Leonhard will run the defense and offensive coordinator Bobby Engram will lead the offense. Fickell has made hires to replace both men for next season.
Inside linebacker Maema Njongmeta, the team’s leading tackler with 88, said he likes Fickell’s approach for this game.
“His messaging has been really consistent,” Njongmeta said. “‘Hey, I’m here for you guys. I’m not trying to do anything to change anything. I’m learning about you. I’m not trying to control anything just yet. I understand I have to let you guys finish this season off.'”
One star playing in the game is Badgers running back Braelon Allen, who has rushed for 1,126 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Another is Cowboys safety Jason Taylor II, who has 87 tackles and is tied for second nationally with six interceptions.
This is the first meeting between the programs.
–Field Level Media