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Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

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

About the Cardinal: Not enough has been made of the remarkable job David Shaw has done with Stanford. Last year, Shaw's first after taking over for Jim Harbaugh, could have been chalked up to Andrew Luck's greatness. But with Luck off to the NFL, leading the Indianapolis Colts from the worst record in the NFL to the playoffs, Stanford hasn't missed a beat. And it wasn't just Luck who left - Stanford players accounted for four of the first 42 picks in last April's draft. Yet, if Stanford would have knocked off Notre Dame on Oct. 13 - and it took the Irish to overtime and were the victim of a controversial call on the final play - the Cardinal might be playing Alabama for the national title. Shaw proved he has the confidence to make a big move, going to freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan with four games left in the regular season even though Stanford was winning games. Hogan led the team to a Pac-12 title.

[Also: Boise State will remain in the Mountain West Conference]

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About the Badgers: The Barry Alvarez story is tremendous. The three-time Rose Bowl winning coach and Badgers athletic director was asked by Wisconsin's senior captains to come back and coach this game after Bret Bielema left to Arkansas. Alvarez accepted the challenge. This has been a weird transition period for the Badgers, who lost six assistant coaches as they looked for a new head coach. Wisconsin's focus for this game might be a question mark, but it is coming off a fantastic outing in the Big Ten Championship Game. Unleashing a tricked-up offense that it hadn't shown during an uneven regular season, Wisconsin rushed for 539 yards and scored 70 points in the rout. Outstanding running back Montee Ball will be finishing his college career at the Rose Bowl, but he isn't a one-man show. Melvin Gordon had 216 yards in the Big Ten title game against Nebraska, and James White rushed for 108. They'll need to run the ball well because quarterback Curt Phillips, who took over for injured Joel Stave during the season, is more of a game manager than a playmaker.

Key number: 5
Wisconsin has represented the Big Ten in five of the last 15 Rose Bowls, including the last three. That's a remarkable run for a program that used to be among the worst in college football and hadn't won a Rose Bowl until the 1993 season. Of course, Wisconsin has lost the Rose Bowl each of the last two years. Five also represents the amount of losses Wisconsin has - it is the first five-loss team to make it to the Rose Bowl.

The breakdown: Stanford clearly had the better regular season, but Wisconsin's last game is intriguing. Was it a team that finally found its rhythm against Nebraska, and was holding back after clinching a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game so early, or did it simply catch Nebraska by surprise, something that won't happen to Stanford? Unlike last year, when Russell Wilson was under center, Wisconsin is back to being mostly one-dimensional. That is fine with Stanford, which had the third-ranked rushing defense in FBS.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Stanford 24, Wisconsin 14

While Alvarez's return is a great story, it doesn't mask that for most of the season Wisconsin wasn't a very good team and was the third-best in its division. The Badgers are the first five-loss team in the Rose Bowl. If Wisconsin can't run the ball on Stanford's defense, which allowed 2.8 yards per carry its first 13 games this season, it will be a long afternoon against a stellar Cardinal team.

Graham Watson: Stanford 35, Wisconsin 20
Wisconsin's win over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game to make the Rose Bowl is a nice Cinderella story, but that ends here. Stanford is a better team with a solid rushing defense that will force the Badgers to pass the ball. And nothing good happens when Wisconsin passes the ball. Once Stanford limits Montee Ball, Wisconsin will have no recourse.

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