The 106th edition of the Rose Bowl Game features two of the nation's best defensive teams
In the 2019 season, Oregon's thrived with a new approach. Mario Cristobal, a member of the Nick Saban coaching tree, implemented a physical brand of football reminiscent of the style that has long been the signature of the SEC. The Ducks finished the regular season ranked No. 9 in the nation in points allowed and No. 11 in rushing defense.
Oregon's outstanding defense is complemented by a powerful and balanced offense, featuring one of the best offensive lines in the country. As a new decade begins, the script in Eugene's completely flipped from when Chip Kelly and Co. ushered in the 2010s.
As for Wisconsin, the Badgers in 2011 featured one of the best ball carriers in the nation on offense in Montee Ball, popped opponents in the mouth on both lines of scrimmage, and dominated defensively.
Almost a decade later... well, some things in football don't need to change.
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: Oregon (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (10-3)
Kickoff: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl Stadium (Pasadena, Calif.)
Spread: Wisconsin -2.5
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Wisconsin football has been a veritable assembly line of hard-running, productive backs. From Ron Dayne to P.J. Hill, Montee Ball and James White to Melvin Gordon, the Badgers have had some of the very best in the past two decades -- and Jonathan Taylor is arguably the best of the lot.
Taylor needs just 91 yards in the Rose Bowl to reach 2,000, which would make him just the second player in college football history to rush for 2,000-plus in back-to-back seasons. Troy Davis of Iowa State was the first.
Oregon counters with a run defense that ranked 11th nationally in the regular season.
"They're very versatile. They do a great job of playing with their hands and playing with their leverage," Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz told reporters on Friday. "They're pretty stout too. They're pretty big guys, very comparable to some Big Ten teams that we have [played]."
The Ducks need defensive tackle Jordon Scott to plug rushing lanes up front, while four-year starting linebacker Troy Dye leads the run pursuit. Emerging standout freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who had a breakout performance in the Pac-12 Championship Game, sets the tone for Oregon's pass rush.
Badgers quarterback Jack Coan has been outstanding at limiting mistakes, throwing just four interceptions all season. The Ducks will need a tenacious pass rush to contain Wisconsin's complementary passing threat; in losses, Coan was sacked a total of nine times.
When Oregon Has the Ball
Fourth-year starting quarterback Justin Herbert made good on his preseason aspiration of leading Oregon back to the top of the Pac-12. Herbert did his part with a 66.7 completion percentage, 32 touchdown passes against just five interceptions, and his steady presence behind center.
The Oregon offense is multifaceted, relying on a variety of ball carriers to shoulder the rushing load. CJ Verdell is coming off an outstanding showing in the Pac-12 Championship Game, where he posted more than 200 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. The Ducks can also go to Travis Dye and Cyrus Habibi-Likio on goal-line and short-yardage situations. Oregon will even use Herbert as a ball carrier, a wrinkle it threw at Utah early to keep the Utes off-balance.
Paving the way for all of them is an offensive line with five experienced players. That line will be central in determining the Rose Bowl. The Ducks blockers must contain an outstanding Wisconsin defense, featuring sack machines Zack Baun and Chris Orr.
The two linebackers combined for 24 sacks, while Jack Sanborn added another 5.5. Sanborn also intercepted two passes.
Expect some hard-hitting, sometimes grinding football in this edition of the Rose Bowl Game, but not necessarily a throwback to old-time scores. While both Oregon and Wisconsin defend as well almost any team elsewhere in college football, both have enough playmakers on offense to spring enough big plays to shake things up. Verdell's breakout showing against Utah is a great example, as is Wisconsin's games scoring at least 37 points to close the regular season.
Taylor is one of the greatest backs in college football history, and has a prime opportunity to put a final stamp on the game in the Granddaddy of 'Em All. How Oregon handles him could dictate this contest. The Ducks need to come out gunning for big plays early and hit on a few, as they did in the Pac-12 Championship Game win over Utah.
Prediction: Oregon 28, Wisconsin 27
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.