Two teams will represent the Pac 12 in BCS bowl games this season, and both of them will take place today. The first of which is The Grand Daddy of Them All: The Rose Bowl. This year, the University of Oregon Ducks will take on the Wisconsin Badgers.
Both of these teams are coming into this game with similar, but different circumstances. The Wisconsin Badgers return to the Rose Bowl for the second-consecutive year, after winning the Big 10 championship. They have been a force to reckon with in recent years, but haven’t produced any wins in the post-season. Similarly, the Oregon Ducks have been the hottest team on the west coast for the last three seasons, but when it comes to bowls, they haven’t tasted success. They lost last season in the National Championship to Auburn, and in the 2009-2010 Rose Bowl, they lost to Ohio State.
OHIO STATE. Who loses to them?!
The Ducks and Badgers also boast two blistering but very different offenses, which suggest that the points are going to stack up in this game. In one corner, we have The Blur, which relies on speed and elusiveness at the skill positions to get points on the board. The star of this system is LaMichael James, who averaged a national-best 149.6 yards on the ground en route to having 1646 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
And he did it with a dislocated elbow.
Supporting James are other running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas and quarterback Darron Thomas, who are just as effective and deadly in space. Thomas threw for 2,493 yards and 30 touchdowns with only six interceptions, while Barner had 909 yards and 11 TDs rushing. De’Anthony Thomas had 1,011 combined yards with 14 scores, led the team in receptions with 42 catches for 571 yards. He also averaged 27.7 yards while scoring twice on kickoff returns.
The Ducks aren’t particularly big at any position though, but they score fast and so often that they just wear defenses down. Even USC, who beat the Ducks this year to dash their national championship hopes, got a stung by the Oregon offense in the 4th quarter of the game, which scored three unanswered touchdowns. This season, the Ducks scored 35 TDs on drives of 70 yards or more that three minutes or last.
So yeah, these boys are speedy. But we knew that.
In the other corner, we have the Wisconsin Badgers, who are just as fast and significantly bigger than the Oregon Ducks. In fact, the Ducks haven’t faced a team as big as the Badgers, and that could significantly impede the Ducks’ ability to do what they do. Oregon’s D-line isn’t very imposing, and Wisconsin’s O-line—which we learned this season is taller and heavier than that of the Green Bay Packers—could easily render the Oregon’s counter-attack ineffective.
Leading there offensive attach is none other than Russell Wilson, the man who has dazzled college football fans all season. This was Wilson’s only season with Wisconsin after transferring from North Carolina State, and he seemed to come out of nowhere (to the average college football fan, I personally knew he was the most important recruit of the offseason) and went bananas for his team: he passed for 2879 yards, 31 TDs and only threw three picks all season. So yes, he is incredibly accurate and incredibly effective. Supporting him in Heisman trophy finalist, Monte Ball, who had 275 carries for 1759 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. With those stats, Ball led the FBS this season and came within one touchdown of Barry Sanders’ single season record of 39, a record that has held since his Oklahoma State days in 1988. The Badgers have a more traditional offense than the Ducks, opting to jam it down opponents’ throats with their power run game. The credit for Wisconsin’s offensive face lift in recent years goes to offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who has built Wisconsin into a high-scoring powerhouse since joining the program in 2005. The Badgers ranked fourth in the nation in scoring at 44.6 points per game — just behind third-place Oregon at 46.2 — after averaging 41.5 last season. After this season though, Chryst will leave the Badgers and take over as head coach at Pittsburgh, so we can expect his players want to go out with a win for him.
With so much firepower between these two schools, it’s no wonder that they are two of 12 teams since 1996 to score at least 80 touchdowns in one season. With 82 this year, the Ducks became the only team besides Oklahoma to do it twice.
So this game is going to come down to which teams’ running backs can get the job done; you might even call this game the Running Back bowl, because there’s no question that James, Barner, Thomas and Ball are going to shine.
But who will reign supreme?
As much as I don’t want to pick against the Pac 12—who currently only have one bowl win, coming from newcomers, Utah—I’m not convinced that the Ducks can get the upper hand on the Badgers. As we have seen time and time again with Oregon, if you give a team more than a week to prepare for the Ducks, The Blur is completely stoppable. Ohio State, Auburn, and LSU have all done it, and with the size that the Badgers have, it is likely that they will to. The Ducks are a very, very good team, but they have yet to prove that they can finish in games where it matters most.
One could say the same about the Badgers, who also haven’t won a meaningful post-season game, but that could very well change today.
This is the first time these teams will face each other in school history. Oregon is making its fifth Rose Bowl appearance, but has not won it since beating Penn in the third edition of the game, way the heck back in 1917. The Badgers, playing in the Rose Bowl for the eighth time in school history, won in 1999 and 2000 but lost to TCU last season.
Wisconsin will be able to redeem itself if (and only if) they’re able to hold on to the ball, which they’ve been pretty good at this year with Russell Wilson at the helm. If they aren’t able to utilize a ball control offense Oregon is going to get them into space and all of the “the Big 10 is too slow to be taken seriously” talk is going to fire up again. The Badgers don’t have the top end speed to keep up with Oregon in a track meet, which is why they’ll take the air out of the ball and let Montee do what got them to the dance.
This Rose Bowl is one you don’t want to miss, as both teams have a lot to prove about their staying ability as national powerhouses. So the Ducks and the Badgers are going to bring it, and they are going to fight until the very last whistle to bring home a victory to their respective schools.
But let me be the first to say that without USC, the Rose Bowl just isn’t the same.
Kick off is at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, with coverage on ESPN. Be sure to tune in to see who will emerge triumphant from this Pac 12/Big 10 clash of rising programs.