Stanford (11-2 overall; 9-1 in the Pac-12)
Stanford's success the last few seasons was chalked up by many observers to Luck, as in Andrew, now the star rookie quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. Stanford was supposed to take a step back in 2012 as it tried to replace the two-time Heisman runner-up. But someone forgot to tell Pac-12 Coach of the Year David Shaw, who guided his team to its first conference crown since 1999 and third straight season of 11 victories or more. The Stanford defense highlighted the effort, leading the nation in sacks (56) and tackles for loss (120). A slow start on offense probably prevented the Cardinal from going undefeated, but a late-season quarterback switch from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan made a huge difference as the redshirt freshman displayed Luck-like ability in leading Stanford to five straight wins to close out the year, including a huge upset of Oregon in Eugene. The last time Stanford was in the Rose Bowl, it was a finesse team matched up against a physical Wisconsin team led by Ron Dayne. This time, the Cardinal look to have the physical edge as they hope to win their first Rose Bowl since 1972.
At their best: Faced with the formidable task of knocking off the No. 1 Oregon Ducks in Eugene, Stanford came through with a 17-14 overtime victory. Tailback Stepfan Taylor rushed for 161 yards while Hogan threw for 211 and one score. The Cardinal defense held Oregon to nearly 37 points below its average and limited All-America tailback Kenjon Barner to just 66 yards. It was sweet revenge for Stanford, which had been crushed by the Ducks the previous two seasons.
At their worst: If not for a horrible performance in a 17-13 loss to Washington in game four, the Cardinal might have a compelling case to be in the BCS title game. Nunes struggled mightily against the Huskies, completing 17 of 37 for 170 yards while Taylor was stifled to the tune of 75 yards. The Cardinal did not score an offensive touchdown. Still, Stanford held a 13-3 lead late into the third quarter before Washington running back Bishop Sankey burst free for a 61-yard touchdown. A Keith-Price-to-Kasen-Williams 35-yard touchdown pass with 4:53 to play gave the Huskies the win.
Headliner: Stanford's linebacker group in its 3-4 attack is one of the best in college football. Seniors Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas (an All-American) combined for 33.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks, while Shayne Skov led the team with 72 tackles. This is a tough, deep, physical group that can run and pursue sideline to sideline.
Wisconsin (8-5 overall; 5-4 in Big Ten)
The Badgers were supposed to be in Pasadena for this Rose Bowl, but not with five losses in tow and without head coach Bret Bielema. Picked by many before the year as national title contenders, Wisconsin lost four games in the Big Ten and made it to the conference title game only because the two teams ahead of it in the division -- Ohio State and Penn State -- were ineligible for postseason play. Unlike Stanford, the Badgers had a rough time replacing their star quarterback from 2011. Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien reminded no one of Russell Wilson in the early going. This led to Bielema giving freshman Joel Stave a shot, and he was solid before breaking his collarbone in late October. Senior Curt Phillips then took over. He'll start the Rose Bowl, but word is Stave could be available. But it really shouldn't matter who plays at quarterback since the Badgers will lean heavily on their power running game. All-American running back Montee Ball rebounded from a slow start to rush for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns, setting the NCAA career touchdown mark in the process. In a late twist, Bielema fled Madison for Arkansas in December. Former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez will serve as the head man for the Badgers against Stanford. He was 3-0 in Rose Bowls in his era, so maybe he'll be the good luck charm for Wisky against the Cardinal.
At their best: Accused of backing into the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin showed it belonged as it lowered the hammer on Nebraska 70-31. The Badgers rushed for 539 yards and had 640 total yards on just 60 plays. Ball's 202 yards and three touchdowns set the tone, but backups James White (109 yards, four scores) and Melvin Gordon (216 yards, one score) also ran wild. When the Wisconsin running game is clicking at that level, the Badgers are almost impossible to beat.
At their worst: An opening game struggle against Northern Iowa should've been a warning sign. A week later, the Badgers fell to Oregon State in Corvallis 10-7 as Ball was held to just 61 yards and kept out of the end zone for the first time in 22 games. The Beavers held Wisconsin to just 207 total yards, 35 on the ground.
Headliner: Montee Ball is the star of this team. He finished fourth in the Heisman vote in 2011 and was one of the favorites heading into 2012. A slow start put an end to his Heisman hopes, but he rebounded toward the end and leaves Madison as one of the all-time great Badgers. His 82 touchdowns is the all-time FBS record.
What: The Rose Bowl
When: 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, ESPN
Where: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Weird: Wisconsin is the first team with five losses to play in a Rose Bowl.
Line: Stanford -3.5
Prediction: Wisconsin is tough and physical and features a downhill running game, but Stanford has one of the best front sevens in college football and is perfectly suited to contain the Badger attack. On the other hand, the Cardinal offense has been much better since Hogan took over. His arm strength, accuracy and mobility is the perfect complement to the Taylor-led ground game. Look for Stanford to stymie Ball on its way to its first Rose Bowl championship in 40 years.
Stanford 27, Wisconsin 9