Ball's eyes didn't light up. He expects to that every game.
"It's the reason why I came back – to lead this team," said Ball.
For the third straight year, Ball's running has helped lead Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, and this year's 99th edition between the Badgers and Cardinal brings a different feel than last year. Instead of spread offenses with blazing speed, Pasadena will experience two tough, physical teams in a matchup that Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez calls, "two teams playing football."
"They have a system much like ours, and they're physical on both sides of the ball," said Alvarez, who credits current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for instilling the program's toughness. "They're disciplined. They're coached well. So it will be a great challenge for us, but I think it's a good matchup. I think it's a great bowl matchup."
In promises to be a better matchup than Wisconsin's last game. In the Badgers' 70-31 victory over Nebraska in the conference title game, Ball, along with Melvin Gordon and James White, had huge holes to run through courtesy of its offensive line. The Badgers rushed for 539 yards and eight rushing touchdowns by the end of the rout.
"It's going to be different this game," said Ball. "They are a stronger defense. They play the game to the fullest and play the game hard."
"They are disciplined and they are going to play through the whole whistle," added White. "They are physical and it's going to be a great challenge for us."
The challenges from the 3-4 Cardinal defense come in a variety of ways:
- Stanford owns the top scoring defense in the Pac- 12 and 14th best in the country, allowing 17.46 points per game. In 10 of 13 games this season, Stanford has held opponents to 20 or fewer points, and only four opponents have scored against the Cardinal in the fourth quarter or overtime this year (none since Oct.27).
- The Cardinal ranks first in the nation in both tackles for loss (9.23 average, 120 total) and sacks (4.31 average, 56 total) this season. - Despite giving up 170 rushing yards to UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, Stanford's rushing defense is ranked third in the nation, allowing 87.69 yards per game and 2.84 yards per carry.
The Cardinal's results are more impressive considering Stanford has played four games this year against Doak Walker Award finalists or consensus All- American running backs. Ball will be number five.
"They have a good front seven, their defensive backs are solid, their safeties make a lot of plays and a couple of guys have taken interceptions to the house," said junior receiver Jared Abbrederis, referring to the team's five interception returns for touchdowns this season. "Not only can they turn you over, they can move the ball pretty well."
Wisconsin did get a break before leaving for Los Angeles, as Stanford declared 305-pound senior defensive lineman Terrence Stephens ineligible for Tuesday's game. Although he has only 10 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble this season, Stephens is credited for taking on double teams to open up space for the linebackers to make plays.
"I love my team and the work we've all put in to get to this point," Stephens wrote on Twitter. "My situation is irrelevant. Go to the Rose Bowl and cheer on a great team."