The Wisconsin Badgers and the Oregon Ducks will meet in the 2012 Rose Bowl Game to duke it out on college football's most celebrated stage. The Badgers earned their second consecutive trip to Pasadena by defeating Michigan State in a 42-39 thriller in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
The Ducks, on the other hand, will play in "The Granddaddy of Them All" for the second time in three seasons after overcoming a feisty UCLA squad for the Pac-12 title, 49-31.
Where: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
When: Monday, January 2nd at 5:00 p.m. EST
Key Storyline: A Tale of Two (Identical) Teams
These two squads couldn't be more alike if they tried—both sport dynamic offensive backfields. The Badgers have Russell Wilson at quarterback and Montee Ball as his main support, with James White providing key relief. The Ducks have Darron Thomas throwing and handing the ball off to Heisman Trophy contender LaMichael James, senior stud Kenjon Barner and freshman phenom De'Anthony Thomas.
'Sconsin and Oregon can score with the best of 'em and make plays on defense when they need to, though that isn't exactly either team's forte when caught in a shootout.
Both have also demonstrated vulnerability when faced with big, physical defenses—the Badgers against Michigan State (the first time) and Ohio State, the Ducks against LSU.
Of course, that shouldn't be too much of an issue for these teams...seeing as how they'll be playing each other.
Top 25 Implications:
Neither team will have any legitimate claim to the top spot in the BCS, which is really all that matters at this point in the season. However, the winner figures to lay claim to a spot in the Top 5, while the loser will figure in somewhere on the fringes of the Top 10.
What They're Saying:
For Oregon, a third consecutive trip to the BCS shows just how far the program has come from its days as a doormat in the "old" Pac-10. The Ducks defensive coordinator was in Eugene during the lean years, coaching under Mike Bellotti, and reflected on the team's accomplishments with The Register-Guard:
Right now, I’m not thinking about anything else but the fact that we’ve won another Pac-10 championship. That’s three in a row...It’s a great feeling right now. I was here way back when we were lucky to get 12,000 in that stadium. So it’s neat to see where this thing has gone from where it was, and what we’ve got going now.
Wisconsin Player to Watch: QB Russell Wilson
In short, Russell Wilson is a rich man's Darron Thomas. He has a bigger, better and more accurate arm to go along with faster and shiftier feet as a runner outside of the pocket. The senior transfer from North Carolina State was a perfect fit for the Badgers offense from the get-go, vaulting to the front of the Heisman Trophy race before Wisconsin succumbed to two midseason losses.
Wilson doesn't always put up gaudy numbers, though he remains among the most efficient passers in all of college football and will showcase as much in The Granddaddy of Them All.
Oregon Player to Watch: RB LaMichael James
Darron and De'Anthony Thomas (not related) serve as quality diversions in Oregon's offense, but when it comes down to it, the Ducks are all about LaMichael James. The junior from Texarkana, Texas has been a mainstay in the Heisman conversation for two years running on account of his blinding speed and amazing agility between the hash marks. He was so good this season, in fact, that he nearly led the nation in rushing despite missing two games with a dislocated elbow.
The one big knock against James, though, is that he's performed poorly when the lights have shone brightest. He's been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing by Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, LSU in the Cowboys Classic and USC at Autzen Stadium earlier this season—all defeats for the Quack Attack.
As LaMichael James goes, so go the Ducks. That being the case, they'll need James to be at his best to avoid a three-game BCS losing streak.
Key Matchup: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland vs. Oregon's Backfield Threats
Chris Borland is the Badgers' best bet to slow down the Ducks' prolific offense and, in turn, make good on last year's Rose Bowl failure. The senior from Kettering, Ohio is the leader of Wisconsin's defense and finished the season with 126 tackles—the second-best total in the Big Ten. He'll have his hands full keeping tabs on James, Barner and the Thomases, but if he can hold any (or all) of them in check, the Badgers will have an excellent chance to keep conference bragging rights firmly in the Big Ten's corner.
On the Hot Seat:
Neither coach in this game is anywhere near the hot seat. Bret Bielema has taken the Badgers to back-to-back Rose Bowls while Chip Kelly has guided the Ducks to Pac-12 titles and trips to the BCS in each of his three seasons since taking over for Mike Bellotti in Eugene.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Wisconsin 35
Ultimately, the Ducks are too fast at every position and have too many dangerous weapons for the Badgers to contend with. Wisconsin's only hope is to turn this game into a tough, grind-it-out affair, which isn't what the team does best. Expect to see Oregon setting the pace, with 'Sconsin trying desperately to keep up all afternoon.