Breaking down historic Rose Bowl
For the first time in the BCS era, a non-AQ team is playing for the Rose Bowl
Wisconsin boasts a fierce rushing trio, but TCU is known for its rush defense
The ground games and defenses get the headlines, but don't overlook the QBs
No. 3 TCU (12-0) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (11-1)
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The freshly painted end zones will glisten, the sun will set over the San Gabriel Mountains in the second half and nearly 94,000 spectators -- divided in sections of red and purple -- will watch the 97th installment of the Granddaddy of Them All. But this year's Rose Bowl takes on a modern twist: For the first time in the 13 years of the BCS era, a non-AQ team (TCU) will play in Pasadena. The Rose Bowl last hosted a team from outside the current major conferences in 1936 (SMU). Wisconsin represents the traditional Big Ten side of the ledger and will be making its first Rose Bowl appearance in 11 seasons.
And oh by the way, the Horned Frogs and Badgers finished the regular season ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in the AP poll.
1. Three yards and a cloud of dust. Actually, in Wisconsin's case, it's 5.5 yards per carry on average. Behind one of the nation's most dominant offensive lines (led by Outland winner Gabe Carimi at left tackle and first team All-Big Ten guard John Moffitt), the Badgers run the ball mercilessly with a trio of talented tailbacks: speedster James White (1,029 yards, 14 touchdowns), bruiser John Clay (936 yards, 13 TDs) and the versatile Montee Ball (864 yards, 17 TDs). Clay, who missed most of the last three games with a knee injury, should be back at full strength. Even without him, the Badgers gashed Indiana (83-20), Michigan (48-28) and Northwestern (70-23) for a combined 1,024 rushing yards -- but none of those teams ranked higher than 82nd in the country in rushing defense.
Enter TCU, which annually boasts one of the nation's stingiest rush defenses and checks in at No. 3 this year with 89.2 rush yards allowed per game. Gary Patterson's 4-2-5 scheme emphasizes speed over brawn and employs a stable of veterans like Thorpe Award finalist Tejay Johnson and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Tank Carder. It's an uncommon clash of contrasts, as Wisconsin generally faces more traditional defenses in the Big Ten and TCU more commonly faces variants of the spread offense in the Mountain West. "I don't think we've faced anything quite like Wisconsin," said Patterson. "...We've always been known as a team that had a lot of speed on defense. We'll have to play this game with leverage, and we'll have to tackle well."
2. Don't forget about the quarterbacks. TCU's Andy Dalton has garnered national recognition the past two seasons, but never managed to crack the conversation about the sport's truly elite signal-callers. Yet it's hard to argue with a guy who's 35-3 over his last three seasons, ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency (66.2 percent completions to go with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions) and, in a Nov. 6 rout of then sixth-ranked Utah, went 21-of-26 for 355 yards and three scores. Running back Ed Wesley is a steady performer, but Dalton and receivers Josh Boyce, Jeremy Kerley and Jimmy Young make this Frogs' offense more explosive than in years past.
In terms of national attention, though, Dalton is Peyton Manning compared to Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, who very quietly earned second team All-Big Ten honors from league coaches and sits one spot above Dalton at No. 4 on the national efficiency charts. (He's completed 74.3 percent of his throws for 2,300 yards.) With defenses so focused on slowing Wisconsin's rushing attack, Tolzien often fakes a handoff only to find guys like tight end Lance Kendricks streaking unnoticed down the center of the field.
3. Lights, camera, action. Forget Boise State-Oklahoma or Utah-Alabama. While those games both marked monumental milestones for the nation's non-BCS programs, they involved underdogs who went into their bowls largely unheralded. After a year of often heated debate over the credentials of Boise and TCU, the Horned Frogs will go into this one under a heavy dose of scrutiny. No non-AQ team has ever finished the regular season so high in the polls. They're slight Vegas favorites over an 11-1 Big Ten champion, and they're playing in what is the most highly watched non-championship bowl game every single year.
This is largely relevant because of last season. When TCU finally got its moment in the spotlight in last year's Fiesta Bowl against Boise State after 10 years of under-the-radar success under Patterson ... it didn't play very well. Dalton, who had thrown five interceptions all season, threw three in the bowl game. His receivers dropped passes. The Broncos held the Frogs to just one third-down conversion in a 17-10 loss. TCU looked particularly out of sorts at the start of the game. "I think nerves had something to do with it," Dalton said afterward. No pressure, Andy. It's just the Rose Bowl.
While the Big Ten unabashedly treasures its century-old relationship with the Rose Bowl, the venue hasn't exactly been kind to the league. Big Ten teams are 30-33 in the game and 31-36 in the stadium.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Wisconsin: DE J.J. Watt* -- The former tight end transfer from Central Michigan is in the midst of a sensational campaign that has NFL scouts beaming. Watt brought his tight end athleticism to the defensive side of the ball and uses his 6-foot-6 frame to dominate the opposition. He projects as either a conventional defensive end or two-gap lineman in a 3-4 system. Watt is considering his options for 2011, but could be selected much higher than many are predicting if he opts for the NFL. Grade: First-round prospect.
TCU: OL Marcus Cannon -- Cannon is highly considered in the scouting community and a lineman with starting potential in the NFL. He's a wide-bodied college tackle many project to guard at the next level. His battle against J.J. Watt in the Rose Bowl will be closely evaluated by scouts. Grade: Third-round prospect.
While Wisconsin was indisputably dominant near the end of the season, it proved mortal on plenty of occasions, losing to Michigan State (34-24) while barely edging Arizona State (20-19) and Iowa (31-30). While it seems unlikely the Frogs will shut down the Badgers' offense, they're certainly not going to get bowled over. No one's done such in two years. If TCU can contain Wisconsin pass-rush extraordinaire J.J. Watt, Dalton -- free of nerves this time -- could have a big day.
The Pick: TCU 28, Wisconsin 23