Commentary: Who Wins The Rose Bowl?
By Jeff Robbins Channel 3000 Staff Writer
If you?re lucky, one realization that may have come to you upon putting away all of your holiday presents is that you have too much stuff.
Even small stuff can become overwhelming: Something as simple as a new spatula or new pizza wheel can prevent that overstuffed kitchen gadget drawer from closing.
Even stuff that doesn?t take up any physical space can be mentally exhausting, as anyone who has explored the seemingly limitless Netflix or Hulu Plus viewing options on their new XBox, Wii, or 3DS can attest. (But you have to love that so much of the early ?80s Saturday Night Lives are now just a click away ? Where have you been my entire adult life, Mary Gross?)
Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. And nowhere is that more true than with college bowl games.
Fortunately, the days of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and Belk Bowl are largely behind us and college football fans can concentrate on the most intriguing and compelling of the 35(!) postseason games.
Of course, few if any of the games are as anticipated as this year?s Rose Bowl, featuring the Wisconsin Badgers making their second straight appearance in the ?Granddaddy of Them All,? versus the Oregon Ducks, who last played in Pasadena just two years ago.
Both Wisconsin and Oregon are hoping for a better outcome this time around: The Badgers lost to TCU last year 21-19, while the Ducks were bested by Ohio State in 2010 by a final score of 26-17.
Which team will stop its Rose Bowl losing streak at one? Let?s break it down:
Rushing offense: Fans of smash mouth football should find a lot to love about this matchup, as Wisconsin and Oregon pound the rock better than practically every other school in the country. The Badgers boast the nation?s touchdown and yardage leader among running backs in Montee Ball, while Oregon?s LaMichael James (who missed two games due to injury) led the nation in yards per game and yards per carry. Both teams also have the luxury of having backups on their rosters that would be most schools? No. 1 guys: But while James White has had arguably a disappointing sophomore season, junior Kenjon Barner?s contributions to the Ducks have continued to increase as he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in 2011. And only Oregon has the threat of a three-headed backfield as the multi-faceted freshman De?Anthony Thomas added another 440 yards on the ground with a whopping 8.3 yards per carry. Advantage: Oregon.
Passing offense: You don?t become the third-most potent offense in the nation with an incompetent quarterback, but Oregon?s Darron Thomas has come under some scrutiny this year, even being benched for freshman Bryan Bennett in an October game against Washington State. Despite that, Thomas?s credentials are strong, becoming the first quarterback in Ducks history to throw 30 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. But he?s no Russell Wilson, who, if it wasn?t for Aaron Rodgers, would be the most popular person in America?s Dairyland with his 72.5 completion percentage and 191.6 QB rating. And while Thomas has a number of talented wide receivers, none of them have the athleticism of Wisconsin?s Nick Toon — looking for a big finish to his Badgers career ? and Jared Abbrederis. Advantage: Wisconsin.
Passing defense: The one eye-popping statistic here relates to Oregon?s pass rush: This season they registered a whopping 43 sacks, tied with Texas A&M for first in the country. But when quarterbacks get time, they have success throwing on the Ducks, who give up an average of 243.5 yards a game through the air, among the most allowed in the Pac-12. More bad news for Oregon is that injured senior cornerback Anthony Gildon is likely to miss Monday?s game, which will leave Toon and Abbrederis matched up with a trio of freshmen. Conversely, Wisconsin?s pass defense ranked among the ten best in the nation in 2011, as the Badgers’ secondary gave up just 155 yards a game. Some would argue that the Pac-12 is a more aerial conference and that Wisconsin benefited by not facing some of the best QBs in the conference, such as Michigan?s Denard Robinson, Northwestern?s Dan Persa, and Iowa?s James Vandenberg. While that?s all true, and it?s also true that the Badgers (twice) struggled mightily against Kirk Cousins of Michigan State, a judgment still has to be made based on the evidence displayed on the field. Advantage: Wisconsin.
Rushing defense: With both the Ducks and Badgers featuring such potent rushing attacks, the most intriguing question going into Monday?s Rose Bowl could revolve around which team will prove more capable of slowing down the other?s running backs. The problem is, with both teams involved in so many blowout victories, their defensive numbers can be misleading because the teams they faced were often forced to abandon the run early on. Having said that, in the few close games both teams played, it does appear that Wisconsin was more generous against the run, allowing a whopping 268 yards against Ohio State and 190 yards to the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship, both above-average rushing totals for the opponent in question. Likewise, compared to their 215-yard season average, Oregon “held” LSU to 175 rushing yards, while the Ducks also kept USC and UCLA below their respective 162- and 190-yard season rushing average. Advantage: Oregon.
Kicking: Oregon?s Alejandro Maldonado has been brutal this season, missing nearly half of his field goal attempts since taking over for the injured Rob Beard. And while neither punter was used terribly often, both Oregon?s Jackson Rice (45.8 average yards per punt) and Wisconsin?s Brad Nortman (42.1 average yards per punt) were terrific during the year, with Rice a finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the nation?s top punter. But if the game comes down to the foot of Maldonado, Oregon fans have a right to be very nervous. Advantage: Wisconsin.
Intangibles: Oregon has not fared well in bowl games, either recent or historically: The Ducks own a 9-15 all-time postseason record, while current head coach Chip Kelly is 0-2. And the team hasn?t won the Rose Bowl since 1917. That?s five years before Betty White was born. Wisconsin has fared better in the postseason, going 11-11 in bowl games with current head coach Bret Bielema 2-3 in his first five years. And while Bielema?s contract with the Badgers extends through the 2015 season, Monday?s Rose Bowl will be the last game for Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who will become the head coach at Pittsburgh in the fall. The Madison native is leaving Wisconsin on good terms; going out on a high note will be important for him, Bielema, and his players. Advantage: Wisconsin.
Prediction: With two of the four highest-scoring teams in the nation, it?s tempting to say that this year?s Rose Bowl will be among the highest-scoring in history. Tempting, but not irresistibly so. Final score: Wisconsin 31, Oregon 28.