Preview: The 99th Rose Bowl game
It took 13 long years but Stanford finally has returned to the granddaddy of them all in Pasadena. Riding one of the longest winning streaks in the country, the Cardinal are one of the hottest college football teams in the second half of the season and are led by veteran running back Stepfan Taylor as well as fresh faces like quarterback Kevin Hogan.
This is Stanford's third straight BCS bowl game, but their first time staying on the West Coast for the one game they've wanted to play in all along: the 99th edition of the Rose Bowl. Searching for their first win in the game since 1972, it should be a terrific scene with the San Gabriel mountains in the background on New Year's Day.
Who: Wisconsin (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. Stanford (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12)
What: The Rose Bowl game presented by Vizio
What Vizio is: One of the top producers of consumer electronics
When: Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2:10 p.m. PT
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
Where to watch: ESPN with Brent Musburger (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Heather Cox (sideline) and Tom Rinaldi (sideline)
Where to listen: ESPN Radio (KIDD 630 AM in the Bay Area), Stanford's flagship radio station KNBR 1050 AM (in the Bay Area) and SIRIUS/XM satellite radio (Channel 91)
All-time record: Wisconsin leads 4-0-1
Last meeting: Jan. 1, 2000 (Wisconsin won, 17-9, in the Rose Bow)
Stanford: 173.31 ypg (49th in NCAA) Wisconsin: 237.77 ypg (12th)
Stanford: 203.46 ypg (92nd) Wisconsin: 162.62 ypg (111th)
Stanford: 28.46 ppg (66th) Wisconsin: 30.77 ppg (51st)
Stanford: 87.69 ypg (3rd) Wisconsin: 126.46 ypg (22nd)
Stanford: 17.46 ppg (13th) Wisconsin: 19.08 ppg (19th)
How they got here
The post-Andrew Luck era on The Farm got off to a slow start, beating Bay Area foe (and eventual bowl-bound team) San Jose State, 20-17, in a game that didn't quite have everybody clicking on all cylinders. Things picked up a bit more the next week as they rolled over Duke, 50-13, setting up a big conference opener against USC. The Cardinal once again proved to be a thorn in the side of the Trojans, upsetting the then-top ranked team from Southern California, 21-14, with a bruising defensive effort. The effort propelled Stanford into the top 10 in the polls, but it was a short-lived stay, as the team was upset the next game when they played in Seattle on a Thursday night and saw Washington make just enough plays to win.
A wild shootout awaited when Stanford returned home, with the defense providing several stops late in the game against Arizona to help force overtime in an eventual 54-48 win. A tough, historic matchup awaited as the team traveled to South Bend to take on Notre Dame in a game that also went to overtime and ended in controversy when Stepfan Taylor was, apparently, stopped short of the goal line for the winning score.
Stanford rebounded quite nicely, however, the tough loss to the Irish marking the turnaround point in the season. A 21-3 win in the Big Game over rival Cal was the first time redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan began to see his playing time increase. The Cardinal added a home win over Washington State the next week. Things really started to get going against Colorado, however, as Hogan was the spark that led to a 48-0 shutout win in Boulder. The team narrowly topped a very good Oregon State team the next week before traveling up to Eugene to face No. 1 Oregon. The Cardinal defense shut down the running lanes and contained quarterback Marcus Mariota to force overtime before kicker Jordan Williamson booted the winner in a 17-14 upset that essentially gave the team the North Division title and a berth in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game.
The Cardinal headed to Los Angeles and topped UCLA, 35-17, to win the right to host the title game and face the Bruins again six days later. It was a much closer result than the first time, however, as Stanford needed a last-minute defensive stand to contain UCLA, 27-24, and send the team back to Pasadena.
[Related video: Former Cardinal Rose Bowl champ praises Hogan]
It was an up-and-down road to the Roses for the Badgers as they became the first team ever with five losses to reach the fabled bowl game. The season started off on rocky ground with a 26-21 win over Northern Iowa in the opener. Wisconsin then traveled to Corvallis to face Oregon State, which resulted in a sloppy 10-7 loss to the Beavers. The team returned home and squeaked out a narrow 16-14 win over Utah State (and coach Gary Andersen, who now coaches the Badgers) when a last-second field goal was missed. A win over UTEP led into a three-point loss at Nebraska to open Big Ten play.
Wisconsin got back on the right track with additional conference wins over Illinois and Purdue before falling in overtime to Michigan State by a field goal. The offense looked completely different the next week as they put up 62 points on Indiana to send them to the Big Ten Championship game in early November. Two narrow overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State followed before the team headed to Indianapolis for the title game. There they had just about everything go right, rolling to a 70-31 win, which sent the Badgers to their third straight Rose Bowl.
Many people expected a big drop-off for the team once Jim Harbaugh left to coach the San Francisco 49ers, but David Shaw has proven to be the right man for the job, posting a 22-4 record over the past two seasons and leading the program to unprecedented success. A former Cardinal player, Shaw's father was a coach on The Farm and there's perhaps nobody else who understands what special place Stanford is to coach at. Shaw made the right move at the right time to change quarterbacks and it's paid off in the form of a seven-game win streak.
[Related video: Rose Bowl sidelines to host a Shaw family reunion]
Across the sidelines is a man who needs little introduction at the Rose Bowl in Barry Alvarez. Already in the Hall of Fame, he was lured by the Wisconsin players out of his athletic director chair to coach the team after Bret Bielema took a job at Arkansas. Sporting a 3-0 record in the game, Alvarez is a reason why the Badgers are all about running the ball behind a big offensive line and playing sound defense, things he instilled during his tenure in Madison that ended seven years ago.
Running back Stepfan Taylor – The all-time leading rusher at Stanford, Taylor has been a model of consistency running the ball. A workhorse who doesn't mind carrying the ball 20 times every game, he's a complete back that will stay on the field all three downs because of his versatility.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan – The young starter is making just his fifth start, but is one of the main reasons why Stanford is in a position to win the historic bowl game. A poised passer, Hogan's mobility is what has given the offense an extra dimension and jump-started the team.
Safety Ed Reynolds – The secondary figured to be one of the weak spots on the defense coming into the year, but the ball-hawking Reynolds has proved that isn't the case. Already with three pick-sixes under his belt and all-conference honors, it's not a good idea to throw in his direction.
Running back Montee Ball – There's not much that needs to be said about the Doak Walker Award winner and the NCAA's all-time touchdown king. His season wasn't quite what it was a year ago, but he's one of the best backs in the country and a threat to score every time.
Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis – Ranked sixth on the list of active FBS receivers with an average of 16.7 yards per catch, he's the top receiving threat for the Badgers.
Linebacker Mike Taylor – He's recorded more tackles than any other FBS player over the past two seasons and will be the man looking to shut down Stanford's ground game.
- Kevin Hogan is 4-0 as a starter and beat a ranked opponent each time.
- David Shaw is the first Stanford coach to win 11 games in each of his first two seasons - the Cardinal have hit the 11-win mark three years in a row for the first time in school history (a feat that could be matched by just three other teams).
- Five of Stanford's past 19 games have gone into overtime.
- Wisconsin is 46-4 in its last 50 games when holding an opponent under 20 points.
- Montee Ball needs 150 yards to match Ron Dayne's Rose Bowl record of 446 yards. He has averaged 148 yards his past two Rose Bowls.
Keys to the game
For Stanford overall:
"We're two similar teams that like to run the football and play great defense," David Shaw said. "Just about every game we play comes down to the last possession late in the fourth quarter. So our minds are geared up for that and we know it's going to be a heck of a football game."
For Wisconsin overall:
"We just play for one another," said Montee Ball. "That's what our team is all about. Nobody complains about getting the ball. Whenever you do get the ball, you have to take advantage of your opportunities. That is the best way to make it work."
On Wisconsin's defense:
"I think in a lot of ways their defense is a lot like ours," Cardinal offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "They're physical. They're tough. They take the bend-but-don't-break approach."
"It's a physical defense that's well coached," Stepfan Taylor said. "We've got to be ready to play."
On Wisconsin's offense:
"Montee Ball is probably as good a back as I've seen on tape," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "I truly believe that this team is catching fire at the right time. They're good up front and they've gotten better. As we saw in the Nebraska game, you don't put up that many points by accident."
"It's going to be a physical football game and it starts off with the offensive lineman," running back James White said. "They have a great defensive line, we have a great offensive line. So it will be a physical game and a great battle between us."
"When we do throw the ball, which isn't a lot, you have to make sure you come down with the ball if they decide to throw the ball to you," said Jared Abbrederis. "We're also involved in the running game, too, so we've got to do our best as wide receivers to block downfield and help create those long runs."
On Stanford's offense:
"The offensive line, fullbacks, quarterbacks, receivers, they're all doing their job, and team-first type players make this offense work," Taylor said. "I wouldn't want to be running behind any other line. They're physical, tough, smart and athletic."
"Our approach never changes," Hamilton said. "We want to control the line of scrimmage. We've got to be able to run the football and that will open up our passing game."
On Stanford's defense against Wisconsin's offense:
"Stop the run. Stop the run. And watch play action," Mason said. "We have to prepare for everything. We know full well that we just need to do our job. If we do that, we'll be okay."