Third time's a charm: after losing to TCU and Oregon, this will be Wisconsin's best shot
Like a kid on Christmas Eve, Barry Alvarez's current state of anxiety seemingly matched the intensity of the wait leading up to the Rose Bowl.
"I can't sleep" says the 65-year-old athletic director and interim coach. "Regardless of what time I go to bed, I wake up at four and can't go back."
And like a kid on Christmas Day, Alvarez's comments on coaching Wisconsin in the upcoming Rose Bowl summed up the passion that likely keeps him up at night.
"That's like the greatest gift anybody could give me, a chance to coach in another Rose Bowl. It's always been special to me. I love it. There's no other feeling" said Alvarez.
After guiding Wisconsin to its third straight Rose Bowl berth with a convincing 70-31 win over Nebraska, coach Bret Bielema was offered the head coaching job at Arkansas. He took it immediately, leaving the players without a head coach for the Rose Bowl.
Like TCU's football team in 2011 when several Horned Frogs asked coach Gary Patterson if they could fly out to Pasadena early for the holidays to prepare for the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, it was Wisconsin's seniors who reached out to Barry Alvarez and asked if he would coach them in the Rose Bowl against Stanford.
Alvarez graciously accepted the request.
And for senior star running backs Montee Ball and James White, after losing their first two Rose Bowls, it's only fitting that the legendary coach will be on the sidelines to help prevent them from going out with three straight Rose Bowl losses hanging around their heads forever.
After playing Andy Dalton and TCU, which was arguably the best college football team in 2010, and a fearful Oregon offense from last season, this will be Wisconsin's best chance to win out of the three matchups.
The Badgers will be coming into the Rose Bowl as an underdog for the third straight time. In 2011 they were about a 2.5 point underdog against TCU. And like last season against Oregon, Wisconsin will be coming into Pasadena as a 6.5 point underdog (point spreads courtesy of dannysheridan.com).
Barry Alvarez is no stranger to being an underdog when it comes to postseason play.
The Badgers, with Alvarez as head coach, won their first Rose Bowl as an underdog following the 2003 season.
That only set the tone.
Alvarez and Wisconsin defeated UCLA as a nine point underdog in the 1999 Rose Bowl before defeating Colorado as a touchdown underdog in their bowl game following the 2002 season. Following the 2004 season, the Badgers covered the point spread again as a seven-point underdog in their bowl game against Georgia. Then, Alvarez concluded his coaching stint with a win over Auburn as a 10-point underdog in the 2006 Capital One Bowl.
On paper, Wisconsin has the statistical edge in the game, as its offense is ranked 62nd in the country in total yards, 23 spots above Stanford.
On defense, the Badgers surrendered 321 yards per game and are ranked 13th, eight spots above Stanford.
For Stanford, the key to this game might be their run defense, which is ranked third in the country. The Badgers had trouble moving the ball against Michigan State which ranked eighth against the run in 2012.
Stanford—not known for a high-octane offense—will likely struggle to score against the underrated Badgers defense, which is led by senior linebacker Mike Taylor and junior Chris Borland. The Badgers defense kept them in each and every game when their offense had trouble scoring.
As for Wisconsin's offense, they might have gotten the steam train rolling at just the right time.
Using jet sweeps and wildcat formations with their power running game, the Badgers racked up 640 yards of offense and gained nearly 11 yards per carry, which is sure to make Stanford's job in the film room a bit more tedious in the days leading up to January first.
Stats aside, perhaps the greatest disparity between these two teams is overall record, as Stanford comes in at 11-2 while Wisconsin is 8-5. But keep in mind that the Badgers had already clinched a spot in the Big Ten conference championship game prior to their games with Ohio State and Penn State, and both of those games resulted in close overtime losses.
Compare that to Stanford, which played a UCLA team that didn't really need to win its final regular season game. A Bruins win would have had them playing Oregon for the conference championship instead of a seemingly much more desirable rematch with Stanford.
On the other hand, Stanford was inches away from forcing a second overtime at Notre Dame when running back Stepfan Taylor was stopped just short of the goal line. And the Cardinal also lost a close game at UCLA.
But no team lost more close games than Wisconsin this season.
As a matter of fact, the Badgers have gone 36 straight games without a loss of more than a touchdown!
This season, Wisconsin got its first loss at Oregon State by just a field goal, and had a chance to tie the game if an onside kick attempt, which appeared to have been recovered by the Badgers, hadn't grazed the arm of their kicker just prior to going 10 yards.
Three weeks later at Nebraska, Montee Ball was stopped on a fourth-and-one at midfield, and the Huskers escaped with a three-point win.
After three straight wins, the early season trend continued when Michigan State got a touchdown in overtime after a Wisconsin field goal, handing the Badgers their third loss by a field goal in nine games. Then the Badgers dropped the pair of overtime games to close out the regular season.
What will be the outcome of this game?
Wisconsin is the first ever five-loss team to play in the Rose Bowl. But that statistic will pale in comparison once Wisconsin is crowned the champion in its third chance in as many years in what should be a close game.
In my article The 2011 Rose Bowl and the Case For TCU over Wisconsin, I concluded by saying it would be Andy Dalton and TCU bringing home the roses for the pretty cowgirls of Fort Worth.
This season, as David Lee Roth once put it, look for those "Midwest farmer's daughters" back in Madison to be the ones getting the roses after a three-year wait.
Take Wisconsin to cover 6.5 points
Follow Mark all next season at www.TheFallMiracle.com