On the surface, Stanford and Wisconsin appear to be mirror images of each other. But the teams traveled vastly different paths to reach the Rose Bowl this season.
The 99th version of the game known as the “Granddaddy of Them All” will feature two smash-mouth offenses, two of college football’s best running backs and a pair of quarterbacks who started the season as third stringers. But the programs colliding at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on New Year’s Day are arriving from opposite directions.
The No. 8 Cardinal (11-2) earned their Rose Bowl berth by knocking off four straight ranked opponents, including No. 1 Oregon on Nov. 17. The Badgers (8-5), on the other hand, squeaked in the back door. They landed a spot in the Big Ten Conference championship game despite a 4-4 conference record because Ohio State and Penn State are both on probation.
But coach David Shaw said the Badgers shouldn’t be taken lightly. They lost five games by a combined 19 points and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl by beating No. 23 Nebraska 70-31 on Dec. 1.
“What I saw [against Nebraska] was a team that was confident, a team who knew who it was, a team that played extremely well and has some guys that can make plays in all three phases,” he said.
Like Stanford, Wisconsin prefers to run the ball. They picked up 539 yards on the ground against the Cornhuskers, but duplicating the performance against the nation’s third-best run-stopping defense will be challenging.
If anyone can bust out, though, it’s Badgers tailback Montee Ball, who holds the FBS record for most career touchdowns (82). Wisconsin’s ground attack could also benefit from the absence of Stanford nose tackle Terrence Stephens, who is ineligible because of a secondary NCAA violation.
If the teams are forced to turn to the air, they’ll be relying on a pair of quarterbacks who have combined to start only eight games.
Kevin Hogan is a redshirt freshman who emerged as the starter by earning more and more snaps until he proved to be capable of orchestrating Stanford’s complicated pro-style offense in a 48-0 win over Colorado on Nov. 3. The team remains undefeated under Hogan’s guidance.
On the opposite sideline, Curt Phillips will be making his fifth and final start. Phillips, a redshirt senior, started the year third on the Badgers’ depth chart after missing two full seasons to undergo three surgeries on his right knee.
But he won the job after Danny O’Brien was benched and Joel Stave broke his collarbone. Phillips threw only eight passes against Nebraska and will certainly be asked to do more if the Cardinal slows down Ball.
The most intriguing matchup might be the duel on the sidelines between Shaw and coach Barry Alvarez. The legendary Badgers coach is back at the helm for one game after Bret Bielema split for Arkansas two weeks after the Big Ten championship.
“I think Barry is awesome,” Shaw said. “I’ll say it flat out. I had to grab him at Disneyland and take a picture with him.”