Rose Bowl preview: Wisconsin vs. Stanford

If you like tough, physical, smash-mouth football, you’ll love this game. Wisconsin and Stanford are mirrors of each other in many ways. The Badgers are in the Rose Bowl for a third season in a row. The last Big Ten team to pull off that feat was Michigan after the 1976-78 seasons.

Sunday at 7 p.m. ET Watch the one-hour “BTN Football Report: Bowl Preview” on BTN TV and BTN2Go as our analysts look at the five New Year’s Day bowl games involving Big Ten teams.

But it’s time to win one, as Wisconsin has lost to TCU and Oregon each of the past two seasons.

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Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Pasadena, Calif.: Wisconsin (8-5) vs. Stanford (11-2)

Player on the spot: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, a two-time consensus All-American and Doak Walker Award winner. The guy has come on strong down the stretch, carrying the Badgers to a third Rose Bowl in succession. He will need to have a big game if Wisconsin wants to win. And it will help if the Badgers can pass to create room for Ball.

Wisconsin 2012 Leaders
Passing Yards: J. Stave 1104
Passing TDs: J. Stave 6
Rushing Yards: M. Ball 1730
Rushing TDs: M. Ball 21
Receiving Yards: J. Abbrederis 793
Receiving TDs: J. Abbrederis 5
Interceptions: D. Smith 4

Top individual matchup: Wisconsin offensive line vs. Stanford front seven. The Badger front struggled early on, which resulted in the line coach getting fired after the second game. There also were some key injuries. But led by tackle Ricky Wagner, the group has developed nicely. Good, because players like linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas, and end Ben Gardner, will be tough to handle along the Cardinal front seven.

Top unit matchup: Wisconsin defensive line vs. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, a physical back and a three-time 1,000-yard rusher. And he will be even more deadly if quarterback Kevin Hogan is hooking up with star tight end Zach Ertz. Much like Wisconsin, this is a tough, physical Cardinal team that likes to pound the rock. The Badgers must hold strong up front with one of the deepest defensive lines in the Big Ten anchored by tackle Beau Allen.
Fast fact: Wisconsin is the first five-loss team in the Rose Bowl. Ever. The Badgers finished 4-4 in league play, coming in third in the Leaders Division behind Ohio State and Penn State.

Three reasons for optimism:

1. This team may be motivated to show Bret Bielema he made a bad decision to abandon ship and take the Arkansas job. And a motivated team is a good team. Don’t you think the Badgers would love to show Bielema—who was 0-2 in Pasadena–they can win a Rose Bowl without him? Sure they do.

2. 70-31. That, of course, is the score of Wisconsin’s Big Ten title game win over Nebraska, which got trampled for 539 yards rushing by the Badgers. That was just what the doctor ordered for a Badger team that had lost two in a row and three of four coming into the Big Ten championship game.

3. Defense. The Badgers never get enough credit for how well they play D. This unit is No. 3 in the Big Ten (320.9 ypg). The linebacking duo of Mike Taylor and Chris Borland is among the best in the nation. And the line is loaded with talent and depth, paced by mammoth tackle Beau Allen.

Stanford 2012 Leaders
Passing Yards: J. Nunes 1643
Passing TDs: J. Nunes 10
Rushing Yards: S. Taylor 1442
Rushing TDs: S. Taylor 12
Receiving Yards: Z. Ertz 837
Receiving TDs: Z. Ertz 6
Interceptions: E. Reynolds 6

Three reasons to worry:

1. What if this is a close game? The Badgers have struggled under such circumstances. Wisconsin’s five losses have come by a combined 19 points. And three were in overtime.

2. Stanford is on a roll. This is the Cardinal’s third BCS bowl in a row, playing in the Orange, then Fiesta and now Rose for the first time since the 1999 season when they lost to Wisconsin. This also is Stanford’s school-record fourth bowl trip in succession with David Shaw keeping the program humming after Jim Harbaugh left.

3. Defense. The Cardinal’s is good. Stanford paces the nation in tackles for loss and sacks and is third vs. the run. This is a strong group with underrated athletic ability that is led by linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas, along with defensive back Ed Reynolds. Up front, Henry Armstrong and Ben Gardner lead the way. It will be a challenge for whomever quarterbacks the Badgers: Joel Stave, who broke a collarbone in late October but may be back, or Curt Phillips, who started the past four games and figures to get the nod vs. Stanford.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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