NCF Nation: 2012-rose-bowl-preview

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin

January, 1, 2012
The Granddaddy looks like a heck of a matchup between high-powered teams that do things very differently but equally effectively.

WHO TO WATCH: LaMichael James. He's had a brilliant career and is likely off to the NFL after this last hurrah, but the one thing lacking on his résumé is a big-time performance in a big-time nonconference game. Against Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Auburn in last year's national championship game and LSU in the 2011 season opener, he never rushed for more than 70 yards and averaged a combined 3.8 yards per carry. Most believe, however, that the Badgers' front seven and run defense as a whole are weaker than those of any of those aforementioned teams. James needs 122 yards rushing to pass former Oregon State running back Ken Simonton and move into second place on the conference's career rushing list. If he gets that, expect the Ducks' chances to go up considerably. Another thing: Despite not being much of a factor running the ball, James was a key receiver against Auburn and LSU, catching 10 passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns in those games. So watch for James getting short dumps in space to give him a chance to do his thing.

WHAT TO WATCH: Wisconsin's offense does everything well. For real. It is balanced and efficient and almost never turns the ball over. The Badgers' one issue: pass-blocking. They have given up 1.77 sacks per game this season, which ranks 73rd in the nation. Oregon ranks third in the nation with 3.3 sacks per game. The Badgers' passing game is based on effective play-action. So the first task is slowing down the Badgers' running game and getting them into third-and-long and obvious passing downs. If that happens, the Ducks likely will open up an exotic bag of Nick Aliotti blitzes and stunts, using their superior speed to keep the huge Badgers offensive line off-balance. But if the Badgers' running game is chewing up yards and leaving them with third-and-short, the value of an effective pass rush is muted significantly.

WHY WATCH: Because this feels like it's going to be a great game, for one. It's a true clash of styles: Wisconsin's power versus Oregon's speed. It's a traditional Rose Bowl between top-10 teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. And there will be plenty of star power on the field from James to Badgers running back Montee Ball to Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson. Finally, both teams are smarting because they've previously fallen short in BCS bowl games. The Badgers lost to TCU here last year. The Ducks have lost two BCS bowls in a row. Both are hungry to end talk that they "can't win the big one."

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Oregon 30. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Oregon will win. In the Big Ten championship game, a middling Michigan State team was able to make the Badgers' defense look slow on the perimeter. That's something that surely raised an eyebrow from Chip Kelly. This is not LSU's defense, or even Auburn's or Ohio State's. But Wisconsin's offense is the problem. It's power running, sure, but Wilson gives it an elite passing game. Expect a number of momentum shifts, but with the Badgers eventually grinding out a victory late in the fourth quarter. And, yes, a lot of this prediction is about the Ducks' needing to prove they can win one of these games. The Pac-12 blog is still smarting about picking the Ducks to win the national title game against Auburn -- and feeling an unusually high degree of certainty about it.

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon

January, 1, 2012
The Granddaddy looks like a classic in the making, with two explosive offenses going head to head in Pasadena. Both Wisconsin and Oregon are hungry for a BCS victory, too, after some recent failure. Here's a preview of what to expect on Monday from the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO:

WHO TO WATCH: Wisconsin's Montee Ball. The junior running back needs just one touchdown to tie and two to break the FBS single-season record, as his 38 scores are one behind Barry Sanders' mark. Ball doesn't usually stop at one trip to the end zone, as he has scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season and at least three touchdowns in each of his past five games. The running game in general will be enormous for the Badgers. Not only does that trigger everything they do offensively, but the more they can grind the clock by keeping the ball on the ground, the longer they can prevent Oregon's offense from taking the field. Ball and the Ducks' LaMichael James are two of the best backs in the NCAA, so the head-to-head matchup will be a fun one to track.

WHAT TO WATCH: Which defense can come up with stops? Both teams are known for their offenses but have better defenses -- statistically speaking, at the very least -- than they get credit for. Still, the clash of styles could make it difficult for either side to slow the other down, as Wisconsin's power running game could eat up Oregon's undersized defense, while the Ducks' flash-forward no-huddle spread could leave the Badgers gasping for and grasping at air. For Wisconsin, a huge key will be tackling in open space, something at which linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland usually excel. There might not be many punts or three-and-outs in this game, but if either defense can string together some stops, that could be enough to swing momentum.

WHY TO WATCH: You've got two top-10 teams, two offenses that average more than 44 points per game, two wildly contrasting styles, stars like Ball, Russell Wilson, James and Darron Thomas, splashy uniforms and the beauty and pageantry that is the Rose Bowl. If you need more reasons to watch, you must not like college football.

PREDICTION: Oregon 35, Wisconsin 30. No outcome would be all that surprising in this matchup. Wisconsin should succeed in running the ball with Ball, but the Badgers will have trouble slowing Oregon's roll. It’s going to be a thriller, but the Ducks will be more efficient on offense and clinch the game in the fourth quarter.