Wisconsin vs. TCU in Rose Bowl: 5 Badgers Who Must Step Up To Win
As probably the most anticipated bowl game of the year (other than the BCS National Championship), all eyes will be on Pasadena on New Year's Day.
The game features two of the nation's most dynamic teams in the Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers and the undefeated, Mountain West champion Texan Christian Horned Frogs.
Early odds-makers have TCU as slight favorites over the Badgers, but many Big Ten fans would beg to differ. Either way, the 2011 Rose Bowl is shaping up to be one of the most exciting—and important—games of the year.
For Wisconsin, the Big Ten reputation is on the line. If the Badgers can defeat the Frogs, not only will they earn their first Rose Bowl title in more than a decade, but they'll also quiet all the folks who believe that mid-major teams should get a crack at the BCS.
For TCU, a win here would establish their program as a national power and would put the BCS into chaos when it comes to the qualifications of mid-major conferences.
So, from a Wisconsin point of view, here are five Badgers who will need to step up if Sconnie hopes to earn their fourth Rose Bowl title in program history.
Scott Tolzien, Quarterback
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While the three-headed rushing attack of John Clay, Montee Ball and James White will get all the media attention prior to the game, quarterback Scott Tolzien is the key to Wisconsin's offense.
If Tolzien turns the ball over (which is rare), the Badgers could have a rough day against a stingy TCU defense. The Frogs have possibly the best "D" in the nation and turnovers could spell doom for Wisconsin's potent offense.
But, if Wisconsin can get the running game going, the play-action pass will be wide open for Tolzien. Although they'll probably get decent numbers, don't expect the Badger rushing offense to go for 300 yards against the Frogs defense.
Wisconsin will need to be able to throw the ball, meaning Tolzien will have to be on his game.
Lance Kendricks, Tight End
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Undoubtedly, Tolzien's favorite target this year has been tight end Lance Kendricks. Combining overwhelming size and tremendous speed, Kendricks is virtually uncoverable when healthy.
He will be Tolzien's first option on almost every passing play and therefore will need to get open against TCU's staunch defense.
If Kendricks can have a similar game to the one he did against Miami in last year's Champs Sports Bowl, the Badger offense could roll.
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It's a pretty simple concept, but if Wisconsin's offensive line struggles, the Badgers have no chance against TCU. None.
Wisconsin needs to run the ball to be successful. The line controls that. Scott Tolzien needs time in the pocket to throw the ball. The line controls that as well.
See a pattern?
Now, the Badgers arguably have the best O-line in the country, but they'll still need to step up against a TCU defense that gives up only 11 points a game.
J.J. Watt, Defensive End
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While Wisconsin's defense has faced a number of good quarterbacks this year, they may be up against their toughest challenge yet in TCU's Andy Dalton.
This year, Dalton has thrown for over 2,600 yards, 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions on 66 percent passing. If he gets time, he can light a defense up.
Now, Wisconsin doesn't have an All-America caliber defense, but they do have an All-America caliber defensive end: J.J. Watt.
Watt has been harassing quarterbacks all year long and will need to keep it going if the Badgers hope to hold the Frogs offense below their 43 points-a-game average.
If Watt can pressure Dalton, Wisconsin's "D" should be okay. If not...expect a shootout.
Jay Valai, Safety
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As the captain of the secondary, Jay Valai will be responsible for making sure Dalton and company don't pass up and down the field against the Badgers.
Yes, getting pressure on Dalton is key. But, Valai, free-safety Aaron Henry and cornerbacks Antonio Fenelus and Niles Brinkley will need to hold up their end of the bargain as well.
Although they've played fairly well this year, Wisconsin's pass defense is prone to giving up yards in large, large chunks.
Now, no one expects the Badger defense to shut down the Frogs. But, Wisconsin does need to limit them if they don't want this to turn into a "last-team-with-the-ball" type of game.
Prediction: Wisconsin 37, TCU 28