Try as he might, linebacker Chris Borland can't explain why Wisconsin keeps losing bowl games.
The 19th-ranked Badgers are headed into another offseason on a losing note, even though there are plenty of positives to draw from coach Gary Andersen's first season in Madison.
"I'd like to send the seniors out a better way but I can't put my finger on exactly what we need to do better other than execute generally," said Borland after Wisconsin's 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.
Wisconsin had previously lost three straight Rose Bowls.
Borland, the heart of the team, is done with the Badgers (9-4) and figures to move on to a career in the NFL. But there's talent returning to Camp Randall Stadium, starting with 1,600-yard rusher Melvin Gordon. The third-year sophomore is returning after briefly contemplating whether to enter the NFL draft.
Gordon formed a dynamic backfield duo with senior James White (1,444 yards). Together, their combined 3,053 yards set an FBS record. They were also the first teammates in FBS history to rush for at least 1,400 yards in the same season.
Next year, talented freshman Corey Clement figures to be Gordon's main partner in the backfield. Another big-play threat, Clement finished with 67 carries for 547 yards and seven touchdowns, mainly earlier in the season.
Most of the offensive line is expected to return. The biggest improvement on offense will need to come at quarterback, where sophomore Joel Stave was maddeningly inconsistent in his first full year as the starter.
Teams stacked the line late in the regular season, forcing Wisconsin to throw. Penn State used that strategy to success Nov. 30 to hand the Badgers their worst loss of the season, 31-24.
Andersen knows the offense must develop a more consistent passing game. Stave was 9 of 13 for 80 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against the Gamecocks before departing with a shoulder injury. Backup Curt Phillips then threw two interceptions.
"If we had all the answers, we would have done it differently and thrown the ball better all year long, but we have to if we're going to take the next step as a program," Andersen said. "I know that, and that's all that's involved, from the offensive line all the way to me, and everybody in between.
Across the line of scrimmage, the Badgers will lose a lot experience next year, including senior linebackers Borland, Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly, along with linemen including Beau Allen and Pat Muldoon. Safety Dezmen Southward is also one of the seniors who went without a bowl victory in their careers.
To their credit, the defense adapted well to the 3-4 scheme instituted by Andersen. And coaches made it a point to rotate many players in and out of the lineup, giving non-starters more playing time than the typical backup.
Sophomore Michael Caputo emerged as a potential leader next season after performing well in a safety/linebacker-hybrid role that developed during 2013. Freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton showed promising speed and coverage skills as a starter, while linebacker Marcus Trotter played well for Borland when the senior was forced out for nearly two games with a hamstring injury.
Up front, nose guard Warren Herring had four sacks, another backup whose playing time in the rotation should benefit him in 2014.
Notes: Junior Kenzel Doe's 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the first such score by a Badgers in a bowl game ... Junior LB Derek Landisch forced his first career fumble, on South Carolina's first possession of the second half.