64F Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Oregon and Wisconsin have been no strangers to BCS appearances in recent years, but both are seeking that elusive victory in the national spotlight.
Featuring contrasting yet ruthlessly proficient offenses, the Ducks and Badgers meet in the Rose Bowl on Monday at Pasadena, Calif.
The sixth-ranked Ducks (11-2), who lost the 2011 BCS title game to Auburn in Pasadena, won the Pac-12 championship game to earn their third straight BCS appearance. Oregon, which opened the season with a loss to then-No. 4 LSU, had its hopes for a second straight title game appearance dashed with a 38-35 defeat to Southern California on Nov. 19.
Ducks coach Chip Kelly is stressing this team does not need a win as redemption for the setbacks to Auburn or to Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
"We don't look to what transpired in the past to be motivation of where we go in the future," he said. "I think every year each team is different, and there are a lot of players that played on our '09 team against a good Ohio State team that aren't here any longer. We lost 23 or 24 seniors from last year's team that played in the national championship, so I think every year's different."
Wisconsin (11-2) is back in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year after winning the Big Ten title. The Badgers, whose failed 2-point conversion in January allowed undefeated TCU to win 21-19, regrouped from devastating final-minute losses to Michigan State and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks in October and avenged the loss to the Spartans in the conference championship game.
"We played the Rose Bowl a year ago, but the 2011 season is its own journey within itself," said coach Bret Bielema, echoing Kelly's sentiments. "For us to lose the two games that we did and to battle back over the last four weeks of the season and to win the way we did against Michigan State is a journey in itself."
Oregon and Wisconsin are two of 12 teams since the start of 1996 to score at least 80 TDs in a season. With 82 this year, the Ducks joined Oklahoma as the only teams among that dozen to accomplish the feat twice.
Using an up-tempo offense that relies on speed at the skill positions to wear out defenses, the Ducks scored 35 touchdowns on drives of 70 or more yards that consumed less than three minutes.
"Their offense is very unique in what they do and the speed in what they play in, so it will be a challenge," Bielema said. "Their normal no-huddle is a very fast paced up-tempo, then they have another extremely quick one in which they catch defenses offsides, it's a very difficult situation.
"They will do what most no-huddle teams do, adjust to your look, audibilize at the line of scrimmage and make another play."
Running back LaMichael James is the focal point of Oregon's offense. He averaged an FBS-best 149.6 yards on the ground while rushing for 1,646 yards - good for fourth in the country - despite missing two games with a dislocated elbow.
The junior is the school's all-time rushing leader and is 77 yards shy of 5,000. He's also trying to put aside speculation about forgoing his senior year to enter the NFL draft.
"There's nothing going on," James said. "I haven't discussed that with my family, and I'm not thinking about it right now. I don't want to make a decision or announcement. I owe to it my teammates, fans and coaches to think about them right now."
After James, quarterback Darron Thomas and running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas need to be difference-makers for Oregon to win. Darron Thomas threw for 2,493 yards and 30 touchdowns with only six interceptions in 316 attempts, while Barner had 909 yards and 11 TDs rushing.
De'Anthony Thomas had 1,011 combined yards with 14 scores and was the team's leading receiver with 42 catches for 571 yards. He also averaged 27.7 yards while scoring twice on kickoff returns.
Wisconsin features a more traditional approach with Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball as its featured back behind a massive, road-grading offensive line - 30 touchdown drives took at least eight plays. The Badgers, though, will be playing their final game with the architect of that offense on the sidelines.
Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who has built Wisconsin into a high-scoring powerhouse since joining the program in 2005, has been hired as Pittsburgh's coach to replace Todd Graham. The Badgers ranked fourth in the nation in scoring at 44.6 points per game - just behind third-place Oregon at 46.2 - after averaging 41.5 last season.
Chryst will stay with Wisconsin through the Rose Bowl, saying that decision was a "no brainer."
"You want to finish out with your guys," he said.
Ball led the FBS with 1,759 rushing yards and 38 total TDs, leaving him within reach of Barry Sanders' single-season record of 39 set with Oklahoma State in 1988. Sanders had five TDs in the Holiday Bowl, but the NCAA did not count those towards his record at the time.
The Badgers also have a standout quarterback in Russell Wilson, whose lone season after transferring from North Carolina State would be fondly remembered in Madison with a win. He completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 2,879 yards and 31 touchdowns with four INTs in 284 attempts, keeping defenses honest instead of stacking the box versus Ball.
"They've got a lot of weapons, not just that big, strong offensive line," Kelly said. "I'm a big fan of Russell at North Carolina State, and then what he did in his only year at Wisconsin. You're probably going against the best quarterback-running back combination in college football."
Both teams manhandled Oregon State, their lone common opponent. The Badgers rolled to a 35-0 victory in September while the Ducks closed their regular season with a 49-21 romp in the "Civil War."
Oregon is making its fifth Rose Bowl appearance, but has not won since beating Penn in the third edition of the game in 1917. The Badgers, making the trip to Pasadena for the eighth time, won in 1999 and 2000 before falling to TCU last season.