2012 ROSE BOWL
Wisconsin Badgers (11-2)
Oregon Ducks (11-2)
Mitchell: Montee Ball had a great season that led to him being invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, and Oregon will have their hands full stopping the Badgers running back. But, the key player for Wisconsin is QB Russell Wilson. The senior QB who transferred from NC State had a terrific 2011 campaign, and Wisconsin’s success should be attributed to his performance as much as Ball’s. He threw for 2879 yards, completed close to 73% of his passes, and tossed 31 touchdown passes to just 3 interceptions. Oregon ranked just 85th in the nation against the pass this season, so Wilson should find some holes in the Ducks secondary. His performance will also take some of the pressure off of Montee Ball because you can be sure that Oregon is going to key on him.
For Oregon, it’s RB LaMichael James in what will be his final college game before jumping to the NFL a year early. Oregon lost two games this season, and in both, James was held in check. In the season opening 40-27 loss to LSU, James was held to just 54 rushing yards on 18 carries. In a loss later in the season to USC in Eugene, James finished with just 78 yards rushing on 20 carries. Despite missing two games, James had an incredible junior season for the Ducks, and they are going to need a big game from their star tailback in Pasadena.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
Bigalke: We all know that these two teams are bound to churn up some yardage on the ground. And given the weak secondary of Oregon (85th nationally in pass defense), it is almost certain that Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson will be able to find open receivers. The key battle will be one that pits the third-best passing defense in the country against a competent yet underrated passer. Wisconsin, led by Shelton Johnson and Antonio Fenelus, has been allowing opponents to rack up just 155 aerial yards a game. Oregon’s passing attack, which lost several key receivers from last year’s BCS Championship team, is secondary to the rushing of James, Barner and the rest of the loaded Ducks backfield. Yet, while Oregon gains less than 220 passing yards a game, they are 12th nationally in passing efficiency. Whichever team wins this battle of deceptive strengths is going to gain the upper hand in the Rose Bowl.
Strobl: Hidden yards are the X-factor in a game that features two prolific offenses like these. Oregon’s firepower is well-known and has been demonstrated all year, even in the Ducks’ loss to USC. The UO offense can score in bunches and score quickly, both through the air and on the ground. Wisconsin is a bit more methodical but isn’t far behind in terms of the damage that it can do. When the Badgers are on their game, they’re a balanced team with a powerful offensive line that controls the line of the scrimmage. Both defenses, though overlooked, have done reasonably well this year. But these stop units are about to face harsh tests and both are likely to surrender their share of yards and points.
When it comes to these juggernauts, the difference in the final score could very well be due to which team does a better job with things like special teams yards, field position, and penalties. Self-inflicted wounds can change a game quickly; penalties like offensive holding, pass interference, and personal fouls can kill an offensive drive or give the opposition new life. Kick and punt returns can give these two talented quarterbacks short fields to work with…as if the defenses won’t have enough to worry about.
The team that does a better job at finding these hidden yards will have the easier road to victory in what should be a fantastic matchup.
Mitchell: This is one of the bowl games I’ve been most looking forward to. The power of Wisconsin against the speed of Oregon. The Ducks are appearing in their third consecutive BCS Bowl game as they look to right the wrong of their previous two failures in Pasadena and Glendale Wisconsin was here just a year ago as the little guys in TCU shocked the Badgers to finish undefeated. This should be a fantastic contest between the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, but I think it will be the speed of Oregon, led by their tremendous trio of running backs, that ultimately prevail in Pasadena. PICK: Oregon 38, Wisconsin 34
Bigalke: This is the toughest game of bowl season for me to predict. Being born into a household whose sports-fan loyalties were always pointed toward Wisconsin, my first fanaticism was toward the Badgers. But having worked at the University of Oregon for five years, I have an affinity that direction as well. So I’ll be happy — and equally sad — no matter how the game turns out. Oregon has a great blueprint from their past two games against Stanford for how to combat the kind of game Wisconsin will bring to Pasadena. Wisconsin showed last year against TCU that a smaller, swifter defense can neutralize their brand of football. Look for Darron Thomas to use this platform to vault his name into early 2012 Heisman consideration. PICK: Oregon 31, Wisconsin 30
Strobl: Each team has its strength here. Oregon is a flashy, quick-strike offense that is never out of a game regardless of the score. Wisconsin is power football, with one of the nation’s top o-lines and a ground game that can wear down defensive fronts. While the Badgers could well have a more diverse array of weaponry, beating a team like Oregon takes a unique combination of physicality, mental toughness, and even a little luck. In bowl games, momentum is so critical, and when the Ducks start rolling, they can sap a defense’s will. PICK: Oregon 37, Wisconsin 30