Derek Nicholson and Dekoda Watson returned fumbles for touchdowns, Christian Ponder threw two TD passes and Florida State routed Wisconsin 42-13 Saturday in the Champs Sports Bowl.
"It looked like the old Florida State out there," Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said. "Not that we're there, but we looked like we used to."
Florida State (9-4) finished with more than eight wins for the first time since 2004.
Nicholson had two fumble recoveries, including one he returned 75 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Graham Gano averaged 48.2 yards on five punts and had three downed inside the Badgers 5 to earn game MVP.
P.J. Hill ran for 140 yards on 15 carries for the Badgers (7-6), but quarterback Dustin Sherer completed only 4 of 9 for 55 yards through the first three quarters. His fumble early in the fourth quarter was returned 51 yards for a score by Watson to put FSU up 35-6.
"I was disappointed in everything out there," Sherer said. "I didn't make the plays we needed. They made it tough on us early with the punts, but we really kind of shot ourselves in the foot and allowed them to do that."
It was an ugly finish to a disappointing season for Wisconsin, which was ranked as high as No. 8 early and was expected to contend in the Big Ten.
Ponder completed 18 of 31 passes for 199 yards.
Hill broke runs of 46 and 43 yards, both setting up Philip Welch field goals. But he fumbled deep in FSU territory late in the third quarter and Nicholson recovered to end the threat.
Florida State, playing in its NCAA-leading 27th straight bowl game, improved Bowden's career bowl record to 21-10-1.
"I plan on coming back next year," said Bowden, who has 382 career victories, one behind Penn State's Joe Paterno for the major-college record. "This makes it exciting to coach."
Antone Smith scored on a 6-yard run off right tackle to put the Seminoles up 21-6 in the third quarter and make the power-running Badgers have to go to the pass to catch up.
Gano, the Lou Groza Award winner as the nation's best kicker, placed three first-quarter punts inside the 4, including two inside the 1.
The Seminoles couldn't turn that field position edge into points, though.
"What if he didn't kick them out?" Bowden said. "Those would have been touchdowns. This guy (Gano) kept us in it."
FLORIDA ST. 42, WISCONSIN 13Wisconsin0337—13Florida St.0141414—42Second Quarter FSU—Nicholson 75 fumble return (Gano kick), 12:33. Wis—FG Welch 31, 4:46. FSU—G.Carr 15 pass from Ponder (Gano kick), :07.
Third Quarter Wis—FG Welch 41, 12:01. FSU—A.Smith 6 run (Gano kick), 4:11. FSU—C.Jones 14 run (Gano kick), :18.
Fourth Quarter FSU—Watson 51 fumble return (Gano kick), 14:28. FSU—Piurowski 10 pass from Ponder (Gano kick), 11:04. Wis—Theus 20 pass from Sherer (Welch kick), 4:06. A—52,692. WisFSUFirst downs1623Rushes-yards38-20138-134Passing132276Comp-Att-Int9-16-023-37-0Return Yards329Punts-Avg.6-44.35-48.2Fumbles-Lost3-30-0Penalties-Yards2-257-85Time of Possession24:5235:08INDIVIDUAL STATISTICSRUSHING—Wisconsin, Hill 15-140, Clay 11-39, Anderson 1-19, Sherer 7-9, Pressley 1-2, Brown 1-(minus 1), Team 1-(minus 2), Gilreath 1-(minus 5). Florida St., C.Jones 4-55, A.Smith 16-39, Ponder 9-19, Givens 1-8, Weatherford 1-6, Thomas 3-4, Sims 2-3, Bradham 1-2, Reed 1-(minus 2).
PASSING—Wisconsin, Sherer 9-16-0-132. Florida St., Ponder 18-31-0-199, Weatherford 5-6-0-77.
RECEIVING—Wisconsin, Graham 3-62, Toon 2-27, Anderson 2-18, Theus 1-20, Gilreath 1-5. Florida St., G.Carr 8-78, Reed 5-24, Wade 2-41, Givens 2-33, Piurowski 2-32, Surrency 1-25, Fortson 1-20, A.Smith 1-18, Easterling 1-5.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun