STANFORD COACH DAVID SHAW CALLED THE MATCHUP BETWEEN his team and Wisconsin an instance in which each team would play its "mirror image." Former Badgers coach Bret Bielema seconded that idea just before ending his seven-year Wisconsin tenure by accepting the Arkansas coaching job on Dec. 4—pointing out that the two programs are particularly alike on defense: "Because of the type of kids that we recruit and the type of players that we bring into our programs, we'll be very similar on that side of the ball."
So that is your 99th Rose Bowl: two teams who play similar styles, with similar strengths, slamming into each another in Pasadena. Of course, just because teams are similar doesn't mean they're of the same caliber.
Stanford was No. 6 in the final BCS standings; Wisconsin was unranked. Stanford lost twice, one of those at No. 1 Notre Dame in overtime. Wisconsin fell to Oregon State and then Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State in a year in which the Big Ten was nobody's idea of a power conference. The Badgers only reached the Big Ten title game because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible. Not that that has dampened Wisconsin's enthusiasm.
"There's no venue prettier in all of sports than the Rose Bowl," said athletic director Barry Alvarez, upon announcing he would coach the team in place of Bielema on Jan. 1. Alvarez is 3--0 in trips to the Rose Bowl as a coach. "I love the atmosphere," he said. "I'll enjoy every second of it."
Each team leans on a top running back (Stepfan Taylor for Stanford, Montee Ball for Wisconsin) and a stout D. Each school had to find a replacement for a star quarterback who went to the NFL (Andrew Luck for Stanford, Russell Wilson for Wisconsin), and their first choices didn't pan out. Stanford redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan didn't start until the 10th game, at Oregon State, but he won that game and three more over ranked foes. Wisconsin fifth-year senior Curt Phillips opened the season as the third-stringer, but Danny O'Brien struggled and Joel Stave got injured. Phillips also got his first start in the 10th game, and he went 2--2 at the helm.
"[Hogan is] a young kid, but he's one of those guys that steps in the huddle and acts like he's been there for years," Shaw said. "He doesn't get rattled. He's been hit. He's made mistakes. He's done the wrong thing at times, and it never affects the next play."
Stanford has played in three straight BCS bowls, and this is Wisconsin's third trip to Pasadena in as many years, so both teams are familiar with the big stage. But the Badgers haven't fared well. They lost in the 2010 Rose Bowl to TCU 21--19 and fell 45--38 to Oregon last year, and they are underdogs to the Cardinal in part because Stanford has been considerably better at closing out games. Said Shaw, "We have a [knack for] finding a way to win the game, finding a way to finish games very smartly, in a tough mind-set."
Can the Badgers do that similarly on Jan. 1? They'll need to if they hope to pull off an upset.
The Final Score