Rose Bowl 2013: 10 Wisconsin Starters Better Than Stanford Counterparts
The sixth-ranked Stanford Cardinal and the 8-5 Wisconsin Badgers playing each other in the Rose Bowl—it looks like quite a mismatch on paper.
Fortunately, that's not how football games are decided. The winner will be determined on the field in Pasadena on New Year's Day, and Wisconsin will try to prove why a five-loss team without a permanent head coach deserves to play in the Rose Bowl.
It's not going to be easy, but even though Stanford is only a few plays away from an undefeated season, Wisconsin holds an advantage at several different positions.
Here are 10 Wisconsin starters that are better than their Stanford counterparts.
RB — Montee Ball
Some may consider this a no-brainer, but for a majority of this season, it was difficult to argue Montee Ball's case against Stanford's Stepfan Taylor.
Eventually, the offensive line began to jell, and Ball showed he was over his tumultuous offseason, showing his regular burst and vision as he kicked his season into high gear.
Despite his touchdown numbers being down from a year ago, Ball's numbers are still nothing to scoff at. Ball averaged 5.2 yards per carry and ran for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns. Taylor's numbers don't quite match up with those of Ball's—the fellow senior put up 4.8 a rush, 1,442 yards and 12 TDs.
Ball also had to go up against three top-25 rushing defenses, whereas Taylor faced two in the top 25. The level Ball is playing at coupled with his jaw dropping performance down the stretch helped to bump him past his running back counterpart.
WR — Jared Abbrederis
There is no question that Jared Abbrederis is Wisconsin's No. 1 receiver, and he is also undoubtedly better than Stanford's top wideout, Drew Terrell.
In Terrell's defense, a lot of the Cardinal's aerial attack runs through their tight ends, and the heavy reliance on Abbrederis early in the season helped to pad his stats. He doubled the next closest receiver on the roster, compiling 793 yards and five touchdowns while Terrell only reached 443 yards on the season.
Once teams began to figure out that Abbrederis was Wisconsin's only legitimate threat in the passing game, his numbers declined, but his presence on the field alone helps the Badger offense, as his big-play ability down field stretches opposing defenses.
Heck, he even showed he could throw the football as well when he hit quarterback Curt Phillips with a 27-yard pass in the Big Ten Championship Game. He also gets the call in the running game with an end-around every now and then and has had an impact in the return game.
The man can do it all.
CB — Devin Smith
Arguably the most valuable member of the Wisconsin secondary, cornerback Devin Smith had half of the Badgers' eight interceptions on the season and was the team's sixth-leading tackler after starting all 13 games.
His complement, Stanford's Terrence Brown, only picked off one pass and broke up nine passes while failing to record a sack. In comparison, Smith managed to break up 12 passes and bring down the quarterback once.
Smith proved there was more to his game than the occasional big play as a leader of a top 25 pass defense, and while the Cardinal may have more interceptions than the Badgers, they allow over 55 more yards a game through the air.
After a sketchy start to the season, Smith limited the blown coverages and helped stabilize a now solid secondary in Madison.
LT — Rick Wagner
When left tackle Rick Wagner went down with a sprained MCL against Purdue on Oct. 13, the Wisconsin run game suffered as a result.
Wagner, who was projected to be a first round pick in the 2013 NFL draft by some prior to the season, was the best returning offensive lineman for Wisconsin, and maybe for the Big Ten, as he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by coaches and the media.
While the Badgers rushed the ball relatively well against the hapless Minnesota Golden Gophers, their run game was completely shut down against Michigan State as Wagner watched helplessly on the sideline.
After managing a measly 19 yards against the Spartans, Wagner returned, and Wisconsin averaged 6.89 yards per carry over its last four games with Wagner back in the lineup.
And with Wagner largely responsible for protecting the quarterback's blind side, the Badgers allowed seven sacks in his two-game absence. In the 11 games Wagner played in, the quarterback was sacked just 1.82 times a game.
ILB — Chris Borland
This is where things get tricky, as Stanford runs a 3-4 defense while Wisconsin's base defense is a 4-3. Chris Borland is the lone middle linebacker for the Badgers, while both A.J. Tarpley and Shayne Skov man the inside for the Cardinal.
Both Tarpley and Skov are exceptional players. Stanford's linebacking corps as a whole is praised as one of the best in the country, and rightfully so, as the Cardinal feature a top-three run defense.
But whether you want to compare Borland to Tarpley or Skov, it doesn't matter—Borland is better.
Despite missing two games due to a hamstring injury and playing through a knee injury early in the season, Borland amassed more tackles (95) than both Stanford MLBs and just as many sacks (4.5) as the two combined.
Wisconsin lost both games in which Borland was absent, and he is a player who deserves more recognition for the contributions he makes and for his pain tolerance. If the Badgers' games against Ohio State and Penn State had postseason implications, we may very well have seen Borland give it a go.
C — Travis Frederick
Aside from Wagner, Travis Frederick is the only returning starter on the offensive line from last season, and he has helped anchor what is a vastly improved unit from day one.
Frederick replaced the departing Peter Konz at center and had to shift over from the guard position. He has been the rock in the middle of Wisconsin's offensive line, playing in all 13 games, and as the man who calls out blocking schemes and blitzing linebackers, plenty falls on Frederick's plate each game.
Last season, Frederick was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore, and based on how well the offensive line has played as of late, he has carried that play over and is possibly the top center in the conference.
While Frederick was only an honorable mention selection this season by the coaches, he was a first-team performer according to the media.
RB — James White
Behind Stepfan Taylor, the Cardinal don't have much at running back. The same cannot be said for the Badgers.
Not only does James White blow Stanford backup running back Anthony Wilkerson out of the water, but he also gives Stepfan Taylor a run for his money because of his explosiveness and ability to carry the Badgers with Montee Ball out of the game.
White ran for 802 yards in limited action behind Ball, who Wisconsin was pushing to get the all-time FBS touchdown record as well as consideration for the Heisman Trophy. The junior tailback also averaged 6.7 yards per carry and found paydirt 12 times, the same amount as Taylor.
Even though White wasn't an every down back, he gave defenses some unique looks by taking some direct snaps and being split out wide, and the offense shouldn't miss a beat when he takes over the starting gig next season after Ball enters the NFL draft.
Look for White, and even White's backup Melvin Gordon, to play a key role in the Rose Bowl.
DT — Beau Allen
Once again, the 3-4/4-3 defense dilemma comes into effect when talking about the defense line, most notably the defensive tackle position, but Beau Allen has been one of the most underrated members of the Wisconsin defense all season.
The Badgers do a lot of rotating at defensive end, but Allen is a continuous force in the middle of the line, plugging the middle and taking up space to help give his teammates a better chance at making a play.
Even though Allen isn't known as much of a pass-rusher, his push up front helped create 2.5 sacks, which beats up Stanford defensive tackle David Parry. Allen also had more total tackles and tackles for a loss than his counterpart.
For his efforts this season, Allen was awarded with an honorable mention selection among All-Big Ten defensive linemen.
OLB — Mike Taylor
Speaking of under-appreciated players on the Badger defense, Mike Taylor didn't even make the semifinalist list for the Bednarik Award despite being one of the nation's leading tacklers when the selections were made.
Taylor far and away led Wisconsin in tackling, compiling 120 on the season, including 15 for a loss and three sacks while remaining a thorn in the side of opposing offenses all season. As the second-leading tackler in the Big Ten, Taylor was a first-team Big Ten selection by the media.
Stanford boasts two extremely talented outside linebackers itself, Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy. Because the 3-4 defense features more blitzing from outside linebackers, Thomas and Murphy combined for 17.5 sacks, but Taylor still managed to record more tackles in the backfield than Thomas and far more tackles than both Stanford OLBs.
Even in Borland's absence this season, Wisconsin was able to remain strong on defense, and a lot of that has to do with Taylor's leadership and incredible nose for the football.
CB — Marcus Cromartie
This might come as a surprise to some Wisconsin fans, but when compared to Stanford's No. 2 corner, Marcus Cromartie matches up pretty well with his counterpart.
Cro had a lasting impact on the Big Ten Championship Game with his interception he returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, and even though it was his only interception of the season, that's one more than Stanford's Alex Carter.
The senior corner also broke up more passes and recorded more tackles than Carter on his way to an Big Ten honorable mention for his role on a stellar pass defense. Ability and experience gives Antonio Cromartie's cousin the nod in this debate.