Wisconsin enters its Rose Bowl matchup with Stanford as the underdog. In some cases, that would be a good thing because it would lower expectations. In a game between two high-profile programs, however, the Badgers can't avoid the hype.
The Rose Bowl is a perfect example of how an extended layoff can impact a game. Wisconsin would have probably loved to play Stanford three weeks ago, shortly after their dominant victory over Nebraska to earn the Big Ten title.
One month later, it's hard to imagine any momentum remains from that 70-31 drubbing of the Cornhuskers. So, the Badgers will have to rely on a good game plan and a comprehensive team effort to emerge with the marquee victory.
As always, it starts with star running back Montee Ball. The dynamic senior rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns to pace the offense for the second straight season. Amazingly, those numbers are actually a drop-off from last season.
The Badgers want to open the game up, just like they did against the Cornhuskers. That starts with establishing the ground game, which means Ball should receive a heavy workload in the first quarter to wear down the Cardinal defense.
It won't be easy to move the ball on the ground. Stanford ranked first in the Pac-12 against the run, giving up less than 88 yards per game. So even though success may be contained to four yards and a cloud of dust, the Badgers must stick with the run.
Once Ball gets things rolling, the field should open up for the passing game. Curt Phillips will draw the start under center for Wisconsin and Joel Stave could see some action as well now that he's recovered from a collarbone injury.
The Badgers don't have to dominate through the air, but they will need some big plays from the passing game, especially on third down. That's why it's so important to get the running game going, so Phillips gets huge passing lanes to utilize.
On defense, Wisconsin must focus on making sure Stepfan Taylor doesn't break off any game-changing plays. The Cardinal workhorse is going to get his fair share of yards, but if the Badgers can avoid the explosive plays, they'll be in good shape.
The other playmaker they have to contain is Zach Ertz. The 6'6'' tight end is a huge threat in the red zone, and the Wisconsin linebackers are going to need help to stop him. It's going to take a collective effort.
If the Badgers can accomplish all of those key tasks, they will defy the odds and walk away with the Rose Bowl trophy.