No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin: Rose Bowl preview and picks against the spread

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No. 6 Oregon (11-2) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3)

Location: Pasadena, Calif. | When: Jan. 1 (5:00 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: Wisconsin -2.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Oregon: Oregon opened the season with a heartbreaking neutral-site loss to Auburn before beginning its demolition of Pac-12 competition. The Ducks would win their next nine games, allowing seven points or fewer in six of those games. Oregon was ranked No. 6 in the nation and seemed to be on a collision course for a Pac-12 title game appearance against Utah that would decide a CFP berth. Instead, Oregon was shockingly upset on the road at Arizona State. The Ducks rebounded, beating Oregon State in the season finale before capturing the Pac-12 title by beating the Utes, but they finished outside the top four and ended up in the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin won its first six games to open the season, outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 255-29. The Badgers were ranked No. 6 at that point, but laid an egg on the road at Illinois. A brutal 38-7 road loss at Ohio State followed, causing the Badgers to play catch-up to get back in the Big Ten West race. From there, the Badgers beat Iowa, Nebraska and Purdue to set up a game against Minnesota with the division on the line. Behind a big performance from QB Jack Coan, the Badgers emerged with a 38-17 victory to clinch a rematch with Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. UW shocked the Buckeyes by jumping out to a 21-7 halftime lead, but couldn’t hold on to the lead and eventually lost 34-21. Still, the effort was enough to put the Badgers in the Rose Bowl ahead of Penn State.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

It’s the Rose Bowl! Why wouldn’t you watch? This could be one of the most evenly-matched games of bowl season. Oregon looked like it could be a College Football Playoff caliber team until the upset at Arizona State and are coming off an excellent performance in the Pac-12 title game. The Ducks have a projected first-round pick in Justin Herbert at quarterback to go with a defense that allowed only 15.7 points per game, a figure that ranks eighth nationally. On the other side, Wisconsin was playing at a really high level late in the year by dominating Minnesota and almost upsetting Ohio State. This will also likely be the last time you get to watch prolific Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor play in college.

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor has 6,080 rushing yards in three seasons in Madison. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor has 6,080 rushing yards in three seasons in Madison. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Oregon DL Kayvon Thibodeaux: Oregon is stout in the trenches with All-American tackle Penei Sewell on offense and stud freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux on defense. Thibodeaux, a native of Los Angeles, was a massive recruiting win for Mario Cristobal and he certainly lived up to his five-star billing throughout his first season in Eugene. Thibodeaux leads the Ducks with 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks on the year and has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. 

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor: Assuming he will declare for the NFL draft after this game, Jonathan Taylor will go down in the record books as one of the most productive college running backs of all-time. Taylor enters this game with 6,080 rushing yards in three seasons in Madison. Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards as a freshman, 2,194 yards as a sophomore and has 1,909 yards this year as a junior. This year, he has a career-high 21 rushing TDs to go with five receiving TDs. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Wisconsin LB Zack Baun: The Badgers have three players who could fall in the second-round range: RB Jonathan Taylor, C Tyler Biadasz and Baun. Although Baun might be the third to be drafted in this group, he has a matchup in this one that could crank up the boilers on his simmering draft stock. Baun has been a revelation as the fifth-year senior is a converted high-school QB who has shown some good all-around feel as a pass rusher and run stopper, as well as in coverage. Facing Oregon LT Penei Sewell, a possible top-five pick in 2021 and maybe the best tackle in college football, will be an exceptional test.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Oregon: Oregon is back in the national conversation after a four-year stretch where it went a combined 29-22, including an 18-17 mark in Pac-12 play. That includes going 9-4 last year in Cristobal’s first season as head coach. To win the Rose Bowl to get to 12 wins after already winning the Pac-12 title would be a tremendous accomplishment in Cristobal’s second season. 

Wisconsin: With a win, Wisconsin can reach the 11-win mark for the fourth time in the last six seasons, including three of four seasons under Paul Chryst. Wisconsin has won its bowl game the last five seasons, but is 3-6 all-time in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers last won the Rose Bowl in 1999 but lost in 2010, 2011 and 2012. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Oregon +2.5

Sam Cooper: Wisconsin -2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Oregon +2.5

Pete Thamel: Oregon +2.5

Dan Wetzel: Oregon +2.5

Sean Sullivan: Oregon +2.5

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