The Wisconsin Badgers seized a golden opportunity in the Big Ten championship game by clobbering their way to a Rose Bowl showdown with the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal on January 1.
In a clash that promises to have plenty of hard hits and intrigue, this apparent mismatch should be one of the most entertaining games the BCS—and maybe even the entire college football postseason—has to offer. Of course, the Cardinal have faced a much tougher schedule throughout the 2012 season, and have several advantages that should key them to victory.
What makes this one tough to predict is the sudden explosion the Badgers had after a season filled with heartbreaking losses in big games and the volatility of their head coaching situation. Bret Bielema took the job at the University of Arkansas, so he isn't around for the bowl game.
Bielema's predecessor and current athletics director, Barry Alvarez, will coach the Badgers in Pasadena. As a 2010 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, there is no doubt that Alvarez will give Wisconsin a great chance to win.
Something is going to have to give on either side, with the key matchup being the Badgers' rushing offense against the Cardinal's stout defense. Stanford ranks third in the nation against the run (h/t NCAA.com), giving up under 88 yards per game on less than three yards per carry.
That's not half-bad, and is certainly backed up by results against quality competition.
The Cardinal's signature road win over Oregon late in the season—when the Ducks were ranked No. 2 in the nation—saw them hold Chip Kelly's explosive, up-tempo offense to just 14 points. The epic Pac-12 battle even went to overtime.
Wisconsin did run for a ridiculous 539 yards and eight touchdowns in the blowout triumph against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but won't fare nearly as well this time around. The running back battle will be fun to watch, though. All-American Montee Ball should still have a productive day, and senior Cardinal RB Stepfan Taylor has been key to his team's success.
At the game's most important position, Stanford has the slight advantage with QB Kevin Hogan. Since the redshirt freshman was inserted into the starting lineup, the Cardinal haven't lost.
Hogan has completed nearly 73 percent of his passes and eight touchdowns to just three interceptions since taking the reins. His deceptive athleticism also gives the Cardinal an added dimension on offense.
According to Brian Bennett of ESPN.com, though, the Badgers may have their own impressive frosh back under center in Joel Stave. That would provide Wisconsin with a better option than Curt Phillips, but wouldn't be enough to get them over the hump.
With more experience coming through in the clutch down the stretch of Stanford's season and an undefeated record, Hogan still gives the Cardinal the edge.
For those old-fashioned football fans who love to see smash mouth, ground-and-pound football, this matchup won't disappoint. Although both teams have faced as much adversity as any in the country this year, David Shaw's team will kick off 2013 with a Rose Bowl win in a low-scoring affair.
Prediction: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 17