-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)
Wisconsin (11-2, 6-2) vs. Oregon (11-2, 8-1)
Date: Jan. 2 at 5:10 p.m. ET
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
When the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions square-off in the 98th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All, there should be no shortage of pyrotechnics. The Oregon Ducks, who topped UCLA with ease in the Pac-12 title game, will play in its third consecutive BCS Bowl. Chip Kelly’s squad is still looking for its first BCS bowl win, however, after getting handled along the line of scrimmage by both Ohio State and Auburn in its last two postseason trips.
Wisconsin outlasted Michigan State in the Midwest’s version of the rematch in the inaugural Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. The second edition was just as entertaining as the first, as the 42-39 come from behind victory sent the Badgers to their second straight Rose Bowl. They, too, lost a BCS bowl last season as the TCU Horned Frogs claimed the 2011 Rose Bowl championship 21-19.
Wisconsin holds the lead in the all-time series between the two squads 3-1 with wins coming in 1977, 1978 and 2000. Oregon won the last match-up in 2001 when current Badgers’ athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Ducks’ A.D. Mike Bellotti split a home-and-home.
WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL:
Most offensive coordinators can’t even dream about designing an offense around the Oregon Ducks skill position players. Former Doak Walker Award winner LaMichael James led the nation in rushing yards per game for the second straight season. Backup Kenjon Barner posted 1,041 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. Freshman DeAnthony Thomas rolled-up 1,934 all-purpose yards and scored 16 total touchdowns in three different ways.
And it is quarterback Darron Thomas’, who threw 30 touchdown passes for the second straight season, responsibility to distribute the football accordingly. A knee injury and some ineffective play slowed Thomas’ season at the midway point, but the second-year starter has rallied and played his best football of late. He has accounted for eight touchdowns and 571 yards of total offense over the last two games.
The speed of the Oregon offense will challenge the Wisconsin front seven that is led by all-league linebackers Mike Taylor (137 tackles) and Chris Borland (131 tackles). Stopping the run has proven to be key in the last two non-conference losses for Oregon. LSU held Oregon to 95 yards on 28 attempts earlier this season and Auburn controlled the Ducks’ line to the tune of 75 yards rushing on 32 carries.
The last Wisconsin loss came because the Badgers could not stop the ground attack. Boom Herron rushed for 160 yards and freshman quarterback Braxton Miller torched UW for 99 yards and two big touchdowns. Stopping the four-headed rushing attack of the Ducks will be a tall order for Big Red.
WHEN WISCONSIN HAS THE BALL:
Wisconsin brings one of the nation’s most balanced attacks in to Pasadena. Quarterback Russell Wilson has a chance to finish with the most efficient passing season in NCAA history (191.60) and is only the fourth Big Ten quarterback to ever throw 30 touchdown passes in a single season. He has thrown a touchdown pass in an NCAA record 37-straight games. He will look to dependable targerts Nick Toon, Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen.
Make no mistake, however, the Badgers are still a ground and pound football team. The Big Ten’s top rushing attack was led by record-setting Heisman finalist Montee Ball. The do-everything tailback led the nation in rushing at 1,759 yards and is one touchdown away from breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season NCAA touchdown mark of 39. He has scored 17 times since the loss to the Buckeyes on Halloween weekend. His 17.5 points per game easily led the nation. Back-up James White added 683 yards and six scores of his own.
The key to defeating Oregon not only involves slowing their fast-paced rushing attack but controlling the ball on offense. The Ducks have allowed an average of 195 yards rushing and 47.8 attempts per game in their last five losses. Wisconsin will use a physical offensive line in an effort to control the line of scrimmage. The last two teams Oregon faced with this M.O., LSU and Auburn, ran for 429 yards and three touchdowns.
Heading into the Big Ten title game, Abbrederis was leading the nation in punt returns. His 16.1-yard average instead finished third nationally giving the Badgers a great threat in the return game. Punter Brad Nortman averaged a Big Ten third-best 42.1 yards per punt but Bret Bielema’s special teams have had trouble blocking for him — and whomever is attempting field goals.
The Ducks are even better on special teams. Oregon finished No. 2 nationally in net punting (41.7 ypp) and De. Thomas led the Pac-12 in kickoff returns. His remarkable speed makes him one of the most dynamic return men in the country.
While the return game should be exciting for both teams in a positive way, the field goal attempts could bring a much different type of excitement to the table. The Ducks’ kicker Alejandro Maldonado has made 71-of-72 extra points but has yet to attempt a field goal since missing against USC — and costing Oregon an unbeaten Pac-12 season. Wisconsin’s Kyle French and Phillip Welch have shared place-kicking duties this fall with Welch finishing the season as the starter. He made only four field goals all season.
This game will feature two of the most dynamic, complete and exciting offense in all of college football. What makes this match-up that much more exciting is the dichotomy of styles. The Ducks will spread it out, speed up the tempo and rip off huge chunks of yards with big-play threats like James and De. Thomas. Wisconsin will line-up and physically impose their will upon opposing front sevens before hitting the secondary with picture-perfect play-action fakes and bootlegs. Whoever has the ball last wins.
Oregon 41, Wisconsin 38