The 98th Rose Bowl on January 2, 2012 in Pasadena, California, between No.6 Oregon and No.9 Wisconsin put up a unique challenge for both coaching staffs as they prepare for offenses that are foreign to their league and a contrast in styles. It is still nonetheless impressive to either side.
"Number one (Wisconsin) has a great scheme that they really understand how to attack you," Kelly said. "They'll make you pay for not being sound defensively. If you want to gang up and stop the running attack with Montee Ball, they put the ball in Russell (Wilson's) hands. Usually when you play a team you are hoping they are one dimensional to make it easy for you.
"You follow scores throughout the year and it just seems like a pinball number when you are watching Wisconsin games."
The feeling is mutual for Wisconsin considering the Ducks have been putting opponents on tilt under Kelly, who has led the Ducks to three BCS bowls and a 33-6 record in his three seasons as head coach.
Oregon (11-2, 8-1 Pac 12) is third in the nation in points per game, averaging 46.2 points per contest. In 7 of the 11 Ducks victories, Kelly's fast-paced squad scored 45 or more points, and has relied on the running game of junior LaMichael James, who set a league record with three straight 1,500-yard seasons.
Ducks are 2-2 this season against the AP Top 25, dropping a 13-point decision to LSU in the season opener in Dallas and a 3-point home loss to USC, ending Oregon's 21-game win streak at Autzen Stadium. Even though the loss to the Trojans ended any outside hopes at back-to-back national title appearances, Oregon trounced UCLA at home in the Pac 12 championship game to earn the conference's BCS automatic bid.
After being questioned leading up to last year's Rose Bowl on how Wisconsin was going to match the speed of TCU's defense, the questions this season have taken a complete 180 with a focus on how the Badgers can simulate Oregon's offensive speed.
"Tremendous talent, fast paced and the great thing about the bowl game matchup is the direct opposites of offensive philosophies," said Bielema. "Obviously Oregon likes to score at a rapid rate and we like to hold the ball and score using the most amount of time. It's a unique situation that we're excited about to play in."
Wisconsin (11-2, 6-2 Big Ten) is fourth in the nation in points per game, averaging 44.6 points. In 7 of the 11 Badgers victories, Bielema's methodical squad scored 45 or more points, and has relied on the running game of the junior Ball, who was named the conference's most valuable player after breaking the league touchdown record and is one away from tying the NCAA record of Barry Sanders (39 in 1988).
Wisconsin won a 42-39 thriller over No.15 Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game to earn a second trip to Southern California.
Bielema couldn't compare any team in the Big Ten to what Oregon runs, calling it a unique offensive system that is, ‘a very big challenge for us.' Kelly compares Wisconsin to league members Stanford and USC, but said those pro-style teams don't have a running back like Ball.
"It's actually really fun to watch," Kelly said of UW's offense. "I will say that Russell Wilson is the best receiving quarterback in the country. I think between Wilson and Ball, they have a lot of options.
"I've been a huge fan of Russell when he was at N.C. State and obviously watching what he did in his only year at Wisconsin, I think you are playing against arguably the best quarterback-running back combination in college football."
Oregon will making its sixth appearance in the Rose Bowl and looking for its second win while Wisconsin will be looking for its fourth win in its eighth appearance. Oregon lost the Rose Bowl to Ohio State in 2009 and Wisconsin lost, 21-19, last year to TCU, but neither coach put stock in using those losses as motivation.
"The 2011 season is its own journey," said Bielema. "To lose the two games that we did and to battle ourselves back the last four weeks of the season and to win the way we did against Michigan State is a journey within itself. For us to be rewarded with the opportunity to play Oregon and everything they stand for is truly special."
The other special occurrence this year is the traditional Big Ten-Pac 12 matchup. Kelly grew up watching the Rose Bowl between the Pac 10 and the Big Ten while Bielema played in the 1991 game when he was with the University of Iowa played Washington.
In the 15 years of the BCS conference, the traditional matchup has been preserved nine times, including five of the last six years.
"I think it means a lot in the landscape of college football now with all the expansion," Kelly said. "I am a little bit more of a traditionalist. Wisconsin is a staple in that conference … and that's the way it should be. That's one of the neat things we can look at is the traditional matchup."
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