Courtesy of a defender running into a punter, and some cheating by Reggie Bush a few years ago, the Oregon Ducks will face off against the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2012 Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio, kicking off on January 2nd in Pasadena, California.
The storyline in this Rose Bowl is not only far different from any previous Rose Bowl, it is also far more compelling. The two high caliber offenses are both deserving of this berth, yet college football fans may have easily seen a Michigan State vs. USC Rose Bowl. Don’t forget the shot of redemption for these two storied programs that have both gone to Pasadena in the past two years, losing their respective games: Oregon to Ohio State in 2010 and Wisconsin to TCU in 2011.
But while Oregon and Wisconsin each celebrate their respective Pac-12 and Big-10 championship titles with roses clenched between their teeth, the fans need to remember that this victory only matches the expectations set for them in September. Now they need to win in the post-season.
Wisconsin needs to prove that last year’s Rose Bowl defeat was a fluke, while keeping in mind that Michigan State was only four points away from taking this opportunity from them.
For coach Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks, this one is a little more personal.
The Oregon Ducks have not won a Rose Bowl in 95 years—the last time they won was 1917 when, as the first Pacific Coast Conference team to go to the Rose Bowl, they shut out Penn 14-0. They have only made four Rose Bowl appearances since then, losing each game. More than anything, this program––which features the most prolific offense Oregon has seen in a while––needs postseason success. Chip Kelly needs a January win.
But Kelly said it best: “You’re not going to get some team you can roll 50 on.”
The fact of the matter is that Wisconsin is a team that prides itself on toughness, especially in their starting lines. For Oregon, controlling the battle up front is crucial if they want to have any chance of winning the Granddaddy, and after turning the ball over four times against a 6-7 UCLA team that USC shut out 50-0 the week before, the Ducks cannot allow turnovers to kill them.
Oregon will need to tighten its fundamentals. Their defense will need to be assertive at the line of scrimmage and not give running back Montee Ball, who ran for four touchdowns against Michigan State, any space to run. Similarly, Wisconsin’s defensive line will look to slow LaMichael James and prevent him from getting in the open field. Duck cornerbacks need to make big defensive plays if Oregon forces Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson to throw. Kelly understands that his team needs to make an example of the powerful yet traditional Badgers team, and for Oregon to win and make a statement, his quick tempo offense must get into rhythm swiftly.
For two programs with outstanding running backs, the real question of the Rose Bowl is whose system of play can impose more will on the other. Can Wisconsin bully Oregon’s offensive and defensive lines––like Auburn did in last year’s BCS National Championship––while controlling the clock and the pace of the game? If they lose the battle up front, can Wisconsin play from behind and find the receivers in red and white, exposing Oregon’s inexperienced freshman cornerbacks the same way USC did?
Right now, USC is crying foul that Oregon won the Pac-12 championship for the third consecutive time while allowing a mediocre UCLA offense to put up 31 more points than USC allowed. Oregon must win big in the Rose Bowl to silence USC and all the other critics of Kelly’s system: those who believe that any team with more than a week to prepare can shut down his quick strike offense. And LaMichael James, a Doak Walker award winner and the nation’s leading rusher, must make a big statement in Pasadena.
Although most of the Ducks players who lost the Rose Bowl to Ohio State two years ago have graduated, many remember the bitterness of that loss, as well as the bitterness of losing the National Championship to Auburn last year, and they are determined to win the third time around.
Said Oregon guard Mark Asper, “Unfortunately we’ve come up a little short the last two years, but I have to say that’s added fuel to the fire and focus for this contest.”
Oregon senior tight end David Paulson added, “We haven’t won [the Rose Bowl] here in awhile and we’d like to be the ones to change that.”
With two of the strongest offenses in college football, this exciting and unique matchup is sure to be a high scoring game.
My prediction: Oregon 39, Wisconsin 31