Two seemingly equal teams collide in the Rose Bowl, but one is a 6 point underdog
Flying over the mountains of Angeles National Forest into LAX, it might be easy to miss the Rose Bowl stadium from above as the forest quickly turns to cityscape. As the plane turns for the airport, the Hollywood sign looms high on the mountain as the aircraft touches down over Beverly Hills to the runway.
It's not El Paso or Birmingham.
For a college age athlete, the first time in the City of Angels can be exciting.
"Guys are not going to be in the ohhs and ahhs of L.A. It was kind of like a wow factor, we were shocked by being there" said Wisconsin's Aaron Henry in an interview.
"One thing we can do is learn from what we didn't do last year. We will learn from that experience, being out in California and being wide-eyed and bush tailed, and have a more business-like approach" said defensive leader Patrick Butrym.
TCU skipped Christmas last season to fly out to California early in an effort to practice and focus, which says a lot coming from a Christian school.
It paid off, because TCU's defense was likely the only team in the land capable of holding Wisconsin under 20 points.
But this time, the business is with Wisconsin.
Forget about the shock factor of the glitzy Los Angeles hotels, ritzy Rodeo Drive and colorful allure of Disneyland.
This season, the Rose Bowl will be the first thing Wisconsin's football players will be looking at and admiring from the window of their team plane.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is a smart guy and vows to have his team more focused and prepared this time around, and the players are on the same page.
Besides, the Wisconsin seniors have been in this position before.
After losing the Champs Sports Bowl in 2008 to Florida State, the Badgers ended up in the same bowl in 2009, but this time they defeated Miami as a 3.5-point underdog.
For this year's Rose Bowl, Oregon opened up as a 6.5-point favorite over the Badgers, and the point spread has moved down to six points. It is as low as 5.5 or even five in some places, but as far as I'm concerned, it's hard to make a strong case for why either team is a touchdown better.
Oregon has the speed on offense but Wisconsin has the size. Both teams average over 44 points a game. Both teams also have two close losses, but keep in mind the Badgers are two Hail Marys from possibly being undefeated.
After Michigan State threw up a prayer to the end zone and converted the touchdown on the last play of regulation of a tie game one week, Ohio State's Braxton Miller, who had completed six passes the entire game, threw a 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the game the following week. A 29-26 deficit instantly turned into a four-point win.
Oregon's speed on offense, especially at the outside with their confusing sweep plays, often causes problems for opposing defenses and their no-huddle tempo compounds the threat. But Auburn proved last season that it's possible to hold the unit in check with time to prepare.
In 2009, Oregon scored at least 40 points on seven occasions and no less than 30 points all season after their opening loss at Boise. However, Ohio State, a five-point underdog in the 2010 Rose Bowl, held them to 17 points and just 260 yards of offense.
The Badgers have the edge on defense, at least on paper, as the unit allowed 89 yards less per game than Oregon's unit. Wisconsin's defense, which is often overlooked, is ranked eighth in the country.
Wisconsin isn't the only team with the motivation, as Oregon will be eager to avenge the loss to Auburn in last season's national championship game. But one of these teams is getting the points, and that's Wisconsin in a game that really could be a pick-em.
Besides, star running back Montee Ball didn't lose 20 pounds for nothing, and Russell Wilson would love to put a storybook ending to his decision to transfer from North Carolina State. Ball, who was reasonably held in check in last year's Rose Bowl after his 40-yard run from scrimmage on the game's first play, is just as powerful but faster this time around.
What will be the outcome of this game?
And he won't be facing TCU's defense either, which was ranked No. 1 last season (Oregon's is ranked 60th this season).
Stealing a line from David Lee Roth in my article The 2010 Rose Bowl and the Case for TCU over Wisconsin, last season I said those "midwest farmers' daughters" would have to wait another year for Wisconsin to bring home the roses because TCU would be delivering them to the cowgirls of Texas.
Perhaps the year will be worth the wait up in Madison.
Take Wisconsin to cover 6 points