ORLANDO — The Florida State Seminoles approached Saturday afternoon's matchup with Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl as if it were their final exam.
It was their last, best chance to show where they are as a program and, most important, where they can go.
Give them a passing grade.
The Seminoles played about as complete a game as they had all season in their 42-13 win before a partisan FSU crowd of 52,692 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
They forced turnovers that they converted into touchdowns. They moved the ball through the air and on the ground most of the day without turning it over behind solid play from quarterback Christian Ponder. And kicker/punter Graham Gano was named MVP.
"It gets everybody feeling good," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "The defense saw enough to be encouraged for next year. The offense saw enough to be encouraged for next year; I think we see a quarterback that can take us back to glory land. We're going to miss this guy (Gano), but the special teams, most of those guys are coming back. It's encouraging going into spring training with a win."
The Seminoles (9-4) not only haven't won this many games since going 9-3 in 2004, they're coming off successive 7-6 seasons. And they have a shot to re-enter the Associated Press Top 25.
FSU, which finished in the Top 5 for 14 straight seasons from 1987 to 2000, hadn't cracked the final Top 25 since it was No. 22 after the 2005 season.
"The final tells you more about what you are as a team and what direction you're going, and I like all the things we did," offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said.
And how the Seminoles did them.
The Badgers (7-6) weren't as dominating as they had been in recent years, but they did feature a bruising style of play.
While junior running back P.J. Hill had a couple of big runs (46 and 43 yards and finished with 140), the Badgers often had a long field with which to work thanks to Gano's right leg, and quarterback Dustin Sherer couldn't make plays with his arm.
He lateraled a ball out to his far right that FSU senior defensive end Neefy Moffett deflected and senior linebacker Derek Nicholson picked up and returned 75 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
Ponder hooked up with senior Greg Carr on a SportsCenter-type play for a 15-yard score with seven seconds left in the half.
The 6-foot-6 Carr reached out for a one-handed catch, corralling a ball that seemed a bit high and getting his feet down for his 29th career touchdown, tying him with former FSU star E.G. Green for second in school history and fourth all time in the ACC.
"That was all him. That was a heck of a catch," said Ponder, who was 18-of-31 for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
"When I saw it, I was just telling myself, 'Do everything you can to get it,' " Carr said. "At that point in time, I was kind of down on myself because I had dropped a big play. I told him, 'If you come back to me, I promise I won't let you down.' "
The Badgers opened the second half with a field goal, but the Seminoles responded with four consecutive touchdowns — runs by senior tailback Antone Smith and freshman tailback Ty Jones (Middleton High), a 51-yard fumble return by linebacker Dekoda Watson and then a touchdown catch, the first of his career, by junior tight end Caz Piurowski (Land O'Lakes).
"It looked like an old Florida State football team," Bowden said, "not that we're there yet, but we looked like we used to look."