FORT LAUDERDALE — Mark Richt was informed his head coaching counterpart in the upcoming Orange Bowl, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, was also a quarterback for the school he now coaches. He responded in his usual calm, self-deprecating style.
“I’m sure he was a better one than I was,” said Richt, who was mostly a backup at UM from 1978-82. “He also didn’t have to compete against Jim Kelly.”
The first part isn’t quite accurate. Chryst saw action as a reserve quarterback in 1987, and was moved to tight end and long-snapper as a senior in 1988. Richt played four seasons, mostly as Kelly’s backup, and became the full-timer in 1982 after the future Hall of Famer busted his shoulder.
Richt and Chryst, the coaches of the year in the ACC and Big Ten, respectively, lead teams with a few things in common. Both nearly survived the season undefeated and would have made the College Football Playoffs had they not lost in their respective conference championship games. Both have outstanding defenses and offenses led by boom-or-bust quarterbacks.
And when they get together Dec. 30 at Hard Rock Stadium (8 p.m., ESPN), both want to end the season on a high note after disappointing defeats.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard Wisconsin was like Miami,” Chryst joked.
One side — that would be Wisconsin — was happy to escape the always-icy weather. Temperatures in Madison were in the high 20s when Chryst, on the opposite side of the dais from Richt, answered questions from local reporters poolside, with straw-hut cabanas flanking the stage and the sun nestling into the palm trees behind. He was already thinking about the beach.
“For at least a week, it’ll get us out of the cold,” Chryst said.
The Orange Bowl, of course, is more than happy to welcome Badgers fans hoping to trade snow for sand.
“What better thing could you ask for than a classic, wonderful, historic Big Ten team versus our own hometown team,” Orange Bowl President Don Slesnick said. “We are delighted.”
After Hurricanes coaches spend this week recruiting and players rest, run, study and lift, they will begin bowl preparation. The week of the game, they’ll stay in a hotel on the beach, participate in Orange Bowl-sponsored activities, and prepare to face a Badgers team that won its first 12 games before losing 27-21 to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship.
The Badgers (12-1, 9-0 Big Ten) finished the year in the top five in a host of defensive categories: first in yards allowed (253.2) and opponent passer rating (96.32); second in rushing yards per game allowed (92.62); third in yards per play allowed (4.24) and points allowed (13.2); and fifth in yards per carry allowed (2.96).
“Tough, physical, hard-nosed bunch of players,” Richt said of Wisconsin, acknowledging he was too busy recruiting to dig too deep into the film. “They are serious about being physical. They coach it, they teach it, you can see it in their body types. It’s going to be a battle.”
UM’s FBS-long 15-game winning streak ended two weeks ago at Pittsburgh, and the season ended on a sour note with a 38-3 loss to top-ranked Clemson in the ACC Championship.
“I know our players certainly were disappointed at the outcome of the last two games,” Richt said. “It certainly was painful. But when the dust settled and we ended up in the Orange Bowl, that’s about as good as it gets. … We’re not going to have any problem with motivation.”
This is UM’s first Orange Bowl since 2003 and first major bowl since 2005. Wisconsin, which beat UM 20-14 in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl, has never played in the Orange Bowl.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here,” Chryst said. “I’m really thankful for our team and what they’ve done to give us the opportunity to play in this game. … It’s an iconic bowl game.”