But nobody could have predicted the ten-touchdown onslaught that ensued. The wild nature of the conference championship game was emblematic of a very unpredictable season and makes predicting the outcome of the Rose Bowl a challenge. But here are five keys to watch:
1, The Badger Barge vs. Stanford's 3-4 Defense
Will a more mobile and fluid defensive formation be a significant counter to the Wisconsin jumbo set? Will speed on the outside limit Melvin Gordon's effectiveness, so deadly to Nebraska, on fly sweeps? There seems no doubt that out-going offensive coordinator Matt Canada will have a wide open playbook, with lots of looks out of the Barge formation and perhaps a few other wrinkles from a jumbo package. Our prediction: the Badgers offensive line has been quick enough to get to the edge and should be able to do it again, even against a 3-4. A notable reminder: one of the last 3-4 defenses that the Badgers went up against was Rich Rodriquez' 2010 Michigan squad. Wisconsin ran to an almost effortless 48-28 victory in Ann Arbor that day. If UW guards can get blocks at the second level, running backs Montee Ball, James White and Gordon will prove too much for Stanford's secondary, despite the Cardinal's high ranking on run defense.
2, Badgers linebackers vs. Kevin Hogan (running)
Stanford starting QB Kevin Hogan is a redshirt freshman who had notable success in coming off the bench and starting for the Cardinal against highly regarded teams in the final four games of the season (Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA twice), but he has yet to face linebackers of the quality of Wisconsin trio senior weakside linebacker Mike Taylor, junior middle linebacker Chris Borland and junior strong side linebacker Ethan Armstrong. Hogan frequently made big plays by running the ball; he'll find that much more difficult – and perhaps dangerous – in the Rose Bowl.
3, Badgers Defensive line vs. Stepfan Taylor
Taylor, Stanford's star tailback, ran for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, but his average yards per carry was 4.8 (good but not great). For comparison UW's Ball averaged 5.2, White 6.7 and Gordon 10,8. If UW's adequate (but not great) defensive line can have a stellar game containing Taylor, Stanford will have a very long day. BadgerNation sees Taylor gaining yardage without hitting the long gainers.
4, The Badgers Secondary vs. Kevin Hogan (passing)
Hogan has completed an eye-popping 72.9 percent of his passes but his passes gained only 7.32 yards per attempt. For comparison, Joel Stave averaged 9.36 and Curt Phillips average 7.03. Both the rushing yards and passing yards per play indicate Stanford likes to grind out drives. Can the increasingly efficient Badgers secondary of Shelton Johnson, Dezmen Southward, Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie rattle the freshman?
5, The Emperor Strikes Back
Will the return of Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez prove a distraction or a focal point for this Badger team? All indications are that the UW team has followed Alvarez's direction to take care of business and is prepared to "finish." On the flipside is Stanford's rather poor record in bowl games, having gone 1-4 since 2000. If history is any indicator, UW will have better used the time to prepare. The emotional roller coaster for this Badgers team has reached its final turn. The most recent effort against Nebraska indicates that this is an improving team, one that has proven remarkably resilient.
Stanford faces the most physical team it has played all year. Rather than the expected outside running yardage it will be Montee Ball's runs between the tackles that will be successful against the Cardinal defense. Hogan and Taylor will move the ball for Stanford, but in the end the Badgers win an emotional, and convincing, game 35-21.
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