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UW limped into the postseason with four defeats in its final five games of the regular season after a 6-1 start. But at least Auburn was a name opponent that had opened the year ranked No. 6 in the country. And, while the Badgers and Tigers would match up three times in a span of 12 bowl seasons, this was the schools’ first meeting since 1931. Nashville lived up to its reputation and, frankly, I was hoping that’s where UW would end up in this bowl cycle.

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Great location (San Diego) and a blueblood opponent, even if the Trojans were 8-5 entering this contest. Besides, it presented a great opportunity to revisit the classic Rose Bowl clash between these two programs from 53 years earlier.

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The Badgers’ best chance to make the College Football Playoff ended with a 27-21 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Four weeks later, they were playing a major bowl game in the Miami area for the first time against a brand-name opponent. Not too shabby.

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The Badgers were still stinging from wasting a 21-point lead in a 38-31 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten title game, but they still earned an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl. There wasn’t anything sexy about playing an opponent from the MAC, but the Broncos were unbeaten and had a coach that liked to talk. Perhaps too much, in fact, and UW fans by the end of the week were happy they’d never have to hear from P.J. Fleck again. Four days later, Fleck row, row, rowed his boat to Minnesota.

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UW’s Big Ten title hopes came crashing back to earth with a 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the title game and its consolation prize was a trip back to Tampa, where it was matched up against a team that was 8-4 and a frequent opponent for the Badgers. Not much intrigue there on bowl selection day. But then Gary Andersen bolted to Oregon State and, once again, there just happened to be an athletic director who was more than happy to coach the team against the Tigers.

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Back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Iowa ruined a 9-0 start and cost the Badgers a shot at a 2004 Big Ten title, and perhaps more. Still, it was the program’s first trip to Tampa in seven years and an opportunity to end the season on a high note with a win over a top-10 opponent. So much for that idea.