Rose Bowl Initial Look: Stanford-Wisconsin

Headed back to sunny Pasadena

Wisconsin drubbed Nebraska 70-31 in Saturday's Big Ten championship, becoming the first 8-5 team to ever qualify for a BCS bowl game. The Badgers will be Stanford's opponent in the January 1 Rose Bowl, setting up a rematch of the Cardinal's last New Year's visit to Pasadena.

That time capped off the 1999 season, and it featured a 200-yard outburst from bruising Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who led the Badgers to a 17-9 comeback victory over Stanford. The Farm Boys led 9-3 at halftime, but Dayne proved to be a one-man wrecking crew down the stretch. He surpassed the 7,000-yard career rushing mark during that game, an absurd number considering the fact that the current Stanford recordholder, the accomplished Stepfan Taylor, is hovering nearly 3,000 yards shy of that entering his final collegiate game.

Dayne's eligibility has since expired. Instead of featuring the NCAA's all-time leading rusher, Wisconsin is now armed with its all-time touchdown leader, the more svelte Montee Ball. Although the Badgers may seem vulnerable given their suspect record, it's important to note that their five losses have all come either by three points or in overtime. Though Bret Bielema's boys have struggled in close games, they significantly outgained undefeated Ohio State just two weeks ago (360-236). It took the Buckeyes a special teams touchdown and overtime to survive against the Badgers.

That set up Saturday's humiliation of the the 12th-ranked Cornhuskers in which Wisconsin flashed notable running creativity and exploded for 640 yards of total offense -- 539 of which came on the ground. The Badgers featured a pair of 200-yard rushers (Ball and Melvin Gordan) in addition to 100-yard man James White. Their starting quarterback Curt Phillips passed only eight times.

The stage is set for a match-up of starkly opposing forces, as Stanford's second-ranked rushing defense will look to bounce back from a rough outing against UCLA and control the Badgers' ground juggernaut. Wisconsin will certainly study Bruins' film to see exactly how Jim Mora was able to expose the Farm Boys, but the Cardinal will also have extra time to prepare schematically. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, after all, now has an entire month to continue developing in practice.

In a reversal from 2000, Stanford -- the higher-ranked team -- will wear its home red uniforms, while Wisconsin will don the road whites on New Year's Day. This time around, the Cardinal will enter the game as the elite team to beat. That's a departure from the previous meeting, when the Badgers finished the season in the top five.

At first look, it's apparent that Wisconsin's play has been deficient in the same situations that Stanford's has been great: close games. That suggests that the Cardinal have an edge despite the fact the Badgers' size and physicality is likely to make them competitive for a full 60 minutes. In the end, though, Stanford has a whole lot more to lose than a five-loss team playing with house money.

Bielema's squad -- narrow losers to TCU and Oregon at the past two Rose Bowls -- is familiar with college football's most iconic postseason dual, while Stanford is the newcomer. That being said, post-Hogan switch, the Cardinal remain the hottest team in college football. It all translates into a game that will likely be closer than a simple look at win-loss record indicates.

First Look Prediction: Stanford 24, Wisconsin 20


David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.


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