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Rose Bowl Preview: Wisconsin vs. Stanford

The 8-5 unranked Wisconsin Badgers will take on 11-2 No. 6-ranked Stanford in the 99th edition of the Rose Bowl on January 1. Even after star players like Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener left for the NFL (not to mention head coach Jim Harbaugh), Stanford will be heading to its third straight BCS Bowl. Their season, much like Wisconsin’s is nearly every year, has been fueled by a power running game and stifling, fundamental defensive play.

“We’ve talked about how we admire how each other plays,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “This is probably going to be the first team for the both of us that’s almost like a mirror image. I think our guys are going to see things they go against in training camp. There’s going to be a little bit of a chess match as we go into this thing, but it’s going to be exciting to see something familiar on film.”

Stanford’s defense has truly been something special in 2012. The Cardinal lead the nation in tackles for loss and sacks, and rank third in the nation in rushing defense. They put up those numbers in the Pac-12, a conference that contains the likes of Matt Barkley and Chip Kelly’s crazy spread attack.

“This has been our goal all along, throughout the year, through our highs and lows,” Shaw said. “I think we’re going to have an exciting game. I think you’re going to hear a lot of mutual respect. I think we admire how each other plays.”

Wisconsin, on the other hand, has struggled this season, limping into the Rose Bowl with five losses – the first team ever to do so. However, this is their third straight year appearing in the game, and despite head coach Bret Bielema bolting for Arkansas, the Badgers feel they have a better chance to win against a team like Stanford that plays a similar style to their own.

“We played our way into it with a win this week, and we’re very excited to return to Pasadena and have the opportunity to play against a great opponent,” former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said before he left the program for the SEC. “It’s a matchup I knew our kids were instantly excited about in the locker room.” Wisconsin Athletic Director and former head coach Barry Alvarez will take over head coaching duties for the Rose Bowl.

Both of these teams are built on their tough running game. Stanford has one of the most underrated running backs in the country in Stefan Taylor while Wisconsin has Montee Ball, the recent Doak Walker Award winner for the best running back in the nation. This season, Ball set the all-time NCAA touchdown record with 79 scores. “It really means a lot to us to head back to the Rose Bowl,” Ball said. “It proved to everyone we could stay focused. For myself, I cherish this one a little more than the others.”

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford’s equally hard-charging running back, was equally sensational this season, rushing for 1442 yards and 12 touchdowns on 302 carries, good for a 4.8 yard per rush average.

The early line on this game has Stanford favored by 6.5 points, and that seems like a fair estimation of the Cardinal. Both teams play such fundamentally sound football that you know this one won’t be a runaway blowout, unlike last year’s Bowl between Wisconsin and Oregon. I like Stanford to thoroughly muffle Wisconsin here. Take the Cardinal at -6.5.

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