Rose Bowl 2012: Why Wisconsin vs. Oregon Will Be Best BCS Bowl Game
Featuring two of the most explosive offenses in college football, the Rose Bowl between the Wisconsin Badgers and Oregon Ducks is the best that the BCS has to offer.
In boxing, the old adage is that "styles make fights." The most compelling bouts aren't necessarily between the best fighters, but rather between those whose styles, whether similar or dissimilar, create the most interesting matchup.
That's what this Rose Bowl provides.
These two teams are adept at accomplishing the same thing: namely, running the football. Yet, they couldn't possibly go after this goal in more different ways.
Oregon spreads the defense from side to side, disguising the ball-carrier and play direction whenever possible. The Ducks' run game is fueled by visionary speedsters brought in from the West, the type of runners who'll find a hole that's barely there, then explode through it before the defense even realizes its weakness.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, is powered by hulking corn-fed linemen from the Midwest. The Badgers don't need to disguise much; they'd rather overpower the front line of the defense, then let their shifty downhill runners pick their way through the carnage.
It's a classic clash of speed versus power, perhaps best illustrated by the amount of time each defense spends on the field.
The grinding Badgers offense ranks 22nd in the nation in time of possession, pounding away on opposing defenses for nearly 32 minutes per game.
The quick-strike Ducks rank dead last, needing only 25 minutes of possession per game to eviscerate their opponents.
Offense, Offense, Offense!
Wisconsin and Oregon are two of the most prolific offenses in college football.
Both have found the end zone on no less than 80 occasions this season. The Badgers rank fifth in the FBS, averaging 44.6 points per game. The Ducks rank third, putting up 46.2 points per game.
Coming from the Big Ten and Pac-12, it's not as though these teams are just beating up on soft defenses.
Penn State ranks fifth in the nation in scoring defense. The Badgers hung 45 points on them.
Stanford leads the Pac-12 in total defense. The Ducks dropped 53 on them. On the road.
I don't intend to further discredit the perennially discredited defenses of Wisconsin and Oregon, but this game has the potential to make the record-setting Baylor/Washington Alamo Bowl look like Alabama/LSU.
Dominant Running Games
Oregon leads the nation in yards per carry, with a jaw-dropping 6.53. Wisconsin hammers out 5.48 per rush. That figure, while dwarfed by Oregon's otherworldly average, ranks eighth in the country.
These teams have taken "three yards and a cloud of dust" and turned it into "six yards and scorched turf." They are great on the ground, no matter who's carrying the ball, but let's not forget that these two squads feature the two best running backs in the country.
Oregon's LaMichael James leads the nation in yards per game, piling up a shade under 150 yards every time he takes the field. His combination of sight, speed and slipperiness is unmatched and allows him to average 7.41 yards per carry, even though he's carried the ball 222 times this season.
No other player strikes fear into the heart of opposing defenses quite like LaMichael James.
Wisconsin's Montee Ball doesn't have quite the explosion of James, but he does rip off a healthy 6.4 yards per rush. Over 275 carries, that's netted Ball FBS-best totals of 1,759 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Much like the ongoing NFL debate pitting Aaron Rodgers against Drew Brees, the James vs. Ball narrative is a match between efficiency and volume. On a per-touch basis, nobody is as dangerous as James, but over the span of an entire season, no back can match the numbers that Ball has amassed.
If the man standing behind him in the backfield wasn't challenging one of the most unreachable records in college football, Russell Wilson probably would have earned himself a trip to New York a couple of weeks ago.
If they weren't about to face off against each other, I imagine that Wilson might find an understanding friend in Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, the always forgotten triggerman for the Ducks' dominant offense.
Neither quarterback cracks the top 45 in the nation in terms of passing yards, but both are elite when it comes to passing efficiency.
Wilson leads the nation with a ridiculous efficiency rating of 191.6, besting Heisman finalists Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Thomas ranks 13th, with a rating of 155.19.
Both defenses will certainly enter this game with a focus aimed squarely at stopping the run, leaving Wilson and Thomas an opportunity to play big roles in the shootout in Pasadena.
Best Teams Not in the Title Game
Both teams have lost twice this season, but don't let the won-lost records fool you. The Badgers and Ducks are the elite of the elite.
Wisconsin lost on the road to Michigan State on a Hail Mary and on the road at Ohio State on a similar last-second prayer of a touchdown pass.
Oregon lost in its opening game to now top-ranked LSU at Cowboys Stadium and ran out of time to catch up to USC at home.
Four losses, not a bad one among them.
A couple of bounces go the other way, and these two teams could be playing a week later for the national title.
This game might only decide the Rose Bowl trophy, but based on the quality of play, the silver football atop that trophy might as well be crystal.
So, Who Wins?
It'll be an exciting, high-scoring game, but in the end, Oregon will win because of its pass rush.
The Ducks rank third in the nation in sacks, averaging 3.31 per game. Their ability to pressure Russell Wilson will deflate the Badgers' play-action pass game.
Wisconsin's offense is rooted in the run, but the Badgers excel at going over the top of the defense with play-action pass.
Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis give Wilson two deep threats on the outside, and the threat of the run, along with Wisconsin's massive offensive line, generally provides Wilson with plenty of time to throw. The combination of safeties cheating up against the run and receivers with time to make more than one move adds up to a deep passing game that's delivered 21 plays of 30 yards or more this season.
It's a fantastic tactical approach, but if Wilson gets pressured, it all falls apart. The receivers won't have time to get through all of their breaks and Wilson will be forced to get rid of the ball before he wants to. He's skilled at improvising when the play breaks down, but no Big Ten defense can match the collective team speed of Oregon.
Montee Ball will still run well, but without the deep passing game to stretch the Ducks defense, the Badgers won't reach their scoring average.
Nothing short of LSU's defense has been able to slow the Oregon offense, and a middle-of-the-pack Wisconsin offense doesn't look to be up to the task.
It'll be a shootout, and the Ducks will walk out with a win, 48-39.