Kickoff: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. (grass)
Spread: Stanford by 6.5
Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 64
Watchability: The Badgers will be playing in their third-consecutive Rose Bowl against arguably the hottest team in the country. The Cardinal heads to Pasadena on a seven-game winning streak, including a 17-14 victory over then No. 2 Oregon, demonstrating Stanford's suffocating defense. Not much has happened at Wisconsin since the Badgers throttled Nebraska 70-31 in the conference championship game on Dec. 1. Their former coach, Bret Bielema, stunned the college football world when he departed for Arkansas; AD Barry Alvarez, who transformed the program into a Big Ten power in the late 90s and led the team to three previous Rose Bowl wins, announced he would coach the game and the Badgers replaced Bielema with Gary Andersen of Utah State, the WAC coach of the year. But aside from that, same old Badgers.
Shining stars: Stanford -- The Cardinal rely on RB Stepfan Taylor almost as much as the Badgers utilize their formidable rushing attack. Taylor rushed for 1,442 yards and was equally as dangerous slipping out of the backfield into the flat on receiving routes. The second-team all-Pac-12 pick also had 38 catches for 270 yards and two touchdowns. Don't be surprised if Taylor gets 30-plus carries as he did when Stanford played Oregon and Arizona, the two highest-scoring offenses it faced this year. Wisconsin -- RBs Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon give the Badgers almost an endless supply of running options. Against Nebraska (96th ranked rush defense), the trio amassed 527 yards and eight touchdowns. The Badgers shouldn't come anywhere near those numbers against Stanford's 3-4 defense, which prides itself on containing the run. The Cardinal has held five teams under 50 yards rushing and has held more teams to negative rushing totals (2) than they've allowed 200-yard rushing games (1).
Who could steal the show: Stanford -- Stanford's LBs Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy were first-team all-Pac 12 picks after combining for 33.5 tackles for loss, including 17.5 sacks. Those two, along with DL Ben Gardner (14.5 TFL) and Henry Anderson (12) were integral to a unit that led the country in sacks (56) and was third in rush defense (87.6 ypg). Wisconsin starting QB Curt Phillips hasn't thrown much, but should he attempt to stretch the field, he'll need to be aware of S Ed Reynolds, who has six interceptions, returning three for scores. Wisconsin -- Although Wisconsin is known for its offensive prowess, its defense has been more consistent. The Badgers have allowed 19.1 points per game, the 19th fewest in the country, and their rush defense is ranked 21st in the nation. Star LB Chris Borland returned from injury and had 13 tackles in the conference championship, and he and LB Mike Taylor have combined for 215 tackles.
Magic number for Stanford: 4. As in the number of starts redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan, the Cardinals' starter for the Rose Bowl, has to his name. He's won all four games -- all against ranked opponents -- and led the team to fourth-quarter comeback wins in three of the four games. He's completed 71.5 percent of his passes and provides a dual-threat option that former starter Josh Nunes didn't.
Magic number for Wisconsin: 1. The Badgers are the first five-loss team to play in the Rose Bowl. The five losses were by a combined 19 points and three came in overtime. Barry Alvarez is 3-0 in Rose Bowls and is 8-3 all-time in bowl games. The last time he won the Rose Bowl was in 1999, when the Badgers beat Stanford 17-9.
Three keys to a Stanford win:
- Find Ertz: TE Zach Ertz has been Stanford's best reciever. His 66 catches is more than double the next-best receiver and at 6-foot-6 he can tower over Wisconsin's linebackers and safeties in the redzone. If Hogan sets the precedent early with Ertz, it should ease the pressure against Stanford's running game, helping Taylor scratch out some more yards.
- Suffocate Badger run game: Stanford did it against Oregon (40 carries for 198 yards), it bottled up UCLA's running game in the first meeting (33 carries for 73 yards), and held the Irish to 150 yards on 44 carries. If Stanford's LBs can swarm to the ball carrier as well as they have all season, it will force Wisconsin into a pass-first offense that it's unaccustomed to playing.
- Keep Hogan mobile: The freshman's mobility is precisely why coach David Shaw made the switch. His ability to scramble (209 yards on 48 attempts) keeps defenses honest and opens an array of read-options for him and Taylor. Wisconsin hasn't done particularly well against dual-threat QBs this year. It nearly lost to Utah State's spread offense, and Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez ran for almost 250 yards in two games against the Badgers.
Three keys to a Wisconsin win:
- Build play-action: The Badgers' offense is no secret, regardless of who's calling the plays. They're going to run straight at Stanford, even though its front seven has demonstrated its excellence at defending the run. This is why Wisconsin needs to build the play-action and get receivers Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen involved. Both can help stretch Stanford's defense to open holes for the three-headed rushing attack.
- Trust Phillips: The fifth-year senior who began the season as the third-string quarterback, fought back from three knee surgeries and finally started his first game with three games left in the regular season and the division title in doubt. Although the play calling was rather conservative, especially with the abundance of running backs, Phillips showed glimpses of what once made him a highly recruited dual-threat QB. Alvarez needs to slacken the reins on Phillips and let him throw the ball against Stanford's 83rd-ranked pass defense (251 ypg).
- Motivation: Not many coaches have the gall to leave a team that's earned three straight Rose Bowl trips, but that's what Bielema did when he went to Arkansas. Part of the reason Bielema left was because he thought he had a better chance to win a championship coming out of the SEC. Senior leaders Taylor and Phillips requested that Alvarez coach the team in the wake of Bielema's departure, and now they all have an added incentive to win in Pasadena.