The 2013 version of “The Granddaddy of Them All” matches the Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers (8-5) against the Pac 12 champion Stanford Cardinal (11-2). Wisconsin is appearing in their third straight Rose Bowl only because of the bowl bans placed on Ohio State and Penn State. In their first season after the departure of Andrew Luck, Stanford did something that Luck’s teams weren’t able to do: win the Pac 12 championship and play in the Rose Bowl.
How They Got Here
Despite destroying Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game, Wisconsin finished third in the Leaders Division behind an undefeated Ohio State squad and a resilient bunch of… Nittany Lions. However, due to NCAA sanctions, the Badgers are in the Rose Bowl for a third straight year and hoping that the third time is the charm for them (they lost close games to TCU in 2011 and Oregon in 2012). Although the Badgers come into the Rose Bowl with a very average 8-5 record, they did lose four games by only three points and they lost to Ohio State by only seven points in overtime.
Led by a punishing ground game and a stout defense, Stanford, like Wisconsin, is appearing in their third straight BCS bowl game (they beat Virginia Tech in the 2011 Orange Bowl and lost to Oklahoma State in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl). Stanford’s only losses on the year were at Washington and at Notre Dame by a combined 11 points. The Cardinal’s season was highlighted by an overtime win in Eugene to knock Oregon off their path to the national championship game. Stanford beat UCLA in the Pac 12 championship game.
Wisconsin run offense vs. Stanford run defense
It’s no secret that the strength of Wisconsin’s offense in their running game. Record-setting running back and 2012 Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball anchors the talented trio of Badger running backs, along with James White and Melvin Gordon. And just like all other great running backs, these three have a great offensive line to block for them. Wisconsin’s offensive lines are year in and year out one of the best in the nation. On the flip side, Stanford comes to Pasadena with the third best run defense in the FBS, allowing only 87.7 rushing yards per game. Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner, Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy are key defenders in the Cardinal’s front seven that will try to limit the potent Badger ground attack. In their upset win over Oregon, Stanford’s defense held All-American running back Kenjon Barner to only 66 rushing yards and no touchdowns. Even though it would be hard to keep someone like Ball in check like that, Stanford’s defense is more than capable of influencing the game with their formidable front seven.
Quarterback play: Curt Phillips vs. Kevin Hogan
Last year, Wisconsin and Stanford had two of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, respectively. This year Wisconsin started the season with Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien under center. After O’Brien struggled they turned to Joel Stave, who broke his collarbone on October 27. Then it was Curt Phillips’ turn and he’s had the job since. For Stanford, they started the season with Josh Nunes as the signal caller. Despite going 7-2, he struggled and was benched in favor of Kevin Hogan. Hogan led the Cardinal to four straight wins over ranked opponents leading up to the Rose Bowl, including the big upset against Oregon and the Pac 12 championship. Both of these quarterbacks are used to handing the ball off for the most part. But in a game like this one, each quarterback will need to make critical throws and some point. They’ve both proven that they could do that, but this is the biggest stage that each one has (and probably will ever have) been on in their collegiate careers.
Wisconsin pass defense vs. Stanford TE Zach Ertz
One of the worst matchups for a defense in today’s day and age of football is a big, fast and athletic tight end. Stanford’s Zach Ertz will give Wisconsin that matchup problem. At 6’6”, 252 lbs., Ertz is widely considered the best tight end in the country, even though Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert won the John Mackey Award for best tight end. Ertz has 66 catches for 837 yards and six touchdowns on the year and is far and beyond Stanford’s go-to receiving option. Wisconsin’s linebackers and defensive backs will surely have trouble defending Ertz throughout the game. However, Wisconsin’s dynamic linebacker duo of Chris Borland and Mike Taylor could use their physicality to try to stymie and frustrate Ertz. Look for Ertz to be targeted a lot, especially on third downs.
Unlike last year’s Rose Bowl that had a lot of spread offense and big plays, this one should be different. Expect lots of ground and pound and hard-nosed defense from both teams. The occasional big passing play will happen and it will be a big key for whoever can execute it more often. Stanford obviously had a better regular season in an overall better conference. However, Wisconsin is battle tested and most of their players have already lost twice in the Rose Bowl. They have been doubted and criticized a lot this year and they’re hungry for a Rose Bowl title. Plus, they have Barry Alvarez back on the sideline due to Bret Bielema’s abrupt departure to Arkansas. It’s worth noting, Alvarez is 3-0 in Rose Bowls with the Badgers.
Score: Wisconsin 28 Stanford 24