The #10 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) head into their second consecutive clash in the Rose Bowl, looking for their first win in the storied bowl game since winning back-to-back games in 1999 and 2000. Against a tough #5 Oregon Ducks (10-2, 6-2 Pac-12) team that hasn’t won the grand-daddy of them all since 1917, this afternoon’s showdown will without a doubt be one of the most exciting bowl games of the 2011-12 bowl season, with plenty of offense on display between two of the nation’s top-scoring offenses.
For the Wisconsin Badgers, a shot at the national title seemed like destiny this season, especially with one of the nation’s top running backs paired up with one of the most accurate passers in the country, and one of the stingiest defenses in the land to boot. However, that vision never fully came to light, as the Badgers dropped back-to-back games in heart-breaking fashion on two desperation moment passes by Michigan State and then Ohio State. Though the Badgers were able to get redemption against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game to earn a berth to the Rose Bowl, it has to be hard for Wisconsin to avoid thinking what might have been if just two critical passes that beat them managed to fall uncaught. BCS title aside, though, the Rose Bowl is a pretty nice consolation prize for the Badgers this year, and they certainly won’t lack for a challenge facing the Oregon Ducks and their 3rd-ranked offensive attack. For Wisconsin on offense, it’s all fun and games with Montee Ball and Russell Wilson at the helm of the Badgers’ 4th-ranked scoring group, as the Badgers lead running back has put on one of the most dominating seasons in NCAA history, racking up 1759 yards and 32 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards/carry, and Wilson managed an impressive %72.5 completion rate with 31 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. However, one area the Badgers must improve on tonight in order to have success is their pass-blocking, which will face a challenge against an Oregon defensive front that pulls in 3.3 sacks per game and has great speed. While the Badgers are stacked up front with huge linemen, they have been susceptible to quick blitzes around the perimeter. Getting the ground game going from the very beginning of today’s game is crucial, as with Montee Ball sledding well behind one of the biggest offensive fronts in the country, Oregon will have to show some respect on defense, which in turn will leave Russell Wilson free to start picking apart the Ducks secondary with precision strikes down field.
On the Oregon Ducks side of the football, it all starts with running back LaMichael James, who turned in another stellar campaign this season amassing 1646 yards on just 222 carries (7.4 yards/carry), with 17 touchdowns. However, it’s not just James doing all the damage on the ground for Oregon, as the Ducks carry a 6.5 yard team average on the ground, getting plenty of contribution from back-ups Kenjon Barner (145 carries, 909 yards, 11 TDs) and De’Anthony Thomas (53 carries, 440 yards, 5 TDs). Speed is important for the Ducks as they face a Badgers team that is very strong, but not exceptionally quick. Utilizing a wide range of options in the backfield will certainly keep the Badgers guessing, and it will be interesting to see how Oregon’s fast-paced offense affects the bigger, stronger, but less-agile Wisconsin defensive group. With so much attention likely to be hedged on keeping LaMichael James in check, it will also be important for Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas to come out and have a good game tonight. While Oregon is not known for being a passing team, the fact that Thomas has racked up 30 touchdowns via the air says otherwise. The Ducks love to set up the pass after hammering away with the run, and Thomas has done exceptionally well down the stretch at keeping the passing game efficient with short throws, and hurting defenses in the red zone. Throwing just 1 pick in his last 5 games (12:1 TD to INT ratio over that spell), it will be key for Thomas to continue his stable, confident play into today’s game, and keep the Ducks driving for as long as possible. While Oregon is one of the fastest scoring teams in the country, they’d do well in this game to try and slow their game down just a little bit, if only to prevent Wisconsin’s pounding ground game from holding onto the ball and eating up tons of clock under their possession.
On the defensive side of the football, this should be a very intriguing match-up, one that very well could favor the Wisconsin Badgers who are limiting opponents to just 17 points per contest. While Oregon has played decently on defense, allowing 23.6 points per game, they have shown vulnerability against high-powered, well balanced offenses, as is indicative by their losses to #1 LSU and USC this year. Two very different scenarios occurred in those two games that Oregon will want to avoid playing out against Wisconsin today. First, Oregon must win the turnover battle to stay in the hunt. While they beat LSU in total yardage, they lost the turnover margin by 4:1, which can’t happen against opportunistic, top-ranked opponents. The Badgers are very protective of the football, giving up just 8 turnovers on the season, so it’s essential that Oregon either generate some takeaways, or avoid giving up the ball themselves. Secondly, the Ducks need to be much better against the pass, and avoid giving up huge yardage like they did to Matt Barkley and USC (who went for 323 yards and 4 TDs against them). While Wisconsin is going to run and run first, just like Oregon will, Russell Wilson will be a huge factor in this game if Oregon can’t keep up with good coverage. Finding a way to limit the success of Wilson will start with an effective pass rush, which Oregon coach Chip Kelly should be dialing up frequently against a slower but bigger offensive front. For Wisconsin, it’s all about stopping the run and keeping pace. Oregon doesn’t have the manpower to prevail on the pass alone, so approaching this game with an eye for clogging running lanes and getting into the backfield and stopping LaMichael James is very important. The Ducks will likely stick with a fast-paced offense, which seeks to wear out the bigger Wisconsin defensive side, so getting a few 3-and-outs would definitely help Wisconsin to stay fit for a full 4 quarters, and avoid running out of gas near the finish line.
Rose Bowl Betting Lines for #10 Wisconsin vs. #5 Oregon at TopBet Sportsbook
For this classic bowl game in Pasadena featuring two exciting scoring offenses, there’s little doubt that we can see plenty of offense, with two of the nation’s most talented rushers leading the charge towards the endzone. Playing on the West Coast, Oregon gets a slight advantage heading into today’s Rose Bowl with -195 odds on the money line at Top Bet Sportsbook, while Wisconsin comes in as +165 underdogs. For me personally, I don’t get how this stacks up for the Badgers being an underdog, as Oregon has yet to prove they can win a BCS bowl, losing 2 straight over the past two years. While Wisconsin comes into this game off a tough loss to TCU last year on the same stage, they travel very well, have a history of playing well in BCS games, and has a more balanced offense to work against an Oregon defense that isn’t at the same level as Wisconsin’s is, despite its speed. For the spread, Wisconsin is a +4.5 point underdog, giving a little room for underdog pickers to work with here, and for Oregon pickers, the -4.5 points could be a tough challenge as this game is likely to be back and forth towards the final whistle. Lastly on the Over/Under, a lofty 72.5 points would appear at first glance to be somewhat high, before realizing we have the 3rd and 4th ranked scoring offenses in the country doing battle. Though defensively these two teams are reasonably sound, in a big game that sees quick drives downfield, expect the over total points to be a good pick as both squads could be set to score upwards of 40 points today.
Our Pick to Win:
This is as expected another tough pick in this year’s College Bowl season as the two teams, while having different approaches, are very well matched in their coaching, conditioning and talent levels. Oregon on the one hand is a great pick because of their speed, and ability to move the ball down field at lightning speed. Wisconsin is a good pick banking on their balanced offense, solid defense, and ability to pound the ball on the ground all day long behind one of the largest offensive lines in the country. However, as we have to make a prediction for this year’s Rose Bowl, I’m siding with Wisconsin to win, based on their ability to protect the ball, and the likelihood that they’ll be able to maintain possession for longer stretches of time, limiting the amount of damage the Oregon offense can do. Russell Wilson looks to give the Badgers an advantage in today’s match-up as well, as the two teams are quite equal in production on the ground, but Wilson is without a doubt a more pure-passing quarterback than Darron Thomas is. Wisconsin wins tonight in a back-and-forth game that should make for one of the best bowl games of the year, by a score of 41-35.