Monday, January 2, 2012
Kelly, Ducks trying to win the 'big one'
By Ted Miller
PASADENA, Calif. -- Sometimes storylines become so redundant that they feel like cliches. Reporters get just as bored with them as coaches and players do. But redundancy itself implies that something has been there and is there again and hasn't yet gone away.
For Oregon and coach Chip Kelly, a victory against Wisconsin would put to rest questions about their ability to win big games.
When Oregon coach Chip Kelly and the Ducks were asked about what it would "mean" to win a BCS bowl game after losing two in a row, they mostly swatted the question aside. Kelly, for one, repeatedly insisted he's not a believer in legacies.
"We've always been a forward-thinking operation," Kelly said. "I find it humorous when people talk about 19-, 20-, 21-year old kids and what they're legacy is going to be. They're just kids."
Well, not really. Teams that win Rose Bowls become a part of history. Teams and players that win Rose Bowls are remembered. They become the connective tissue of the fan experience, such when a single 25-year-old fan here today 15 years from now will tell his 10-year-old son how he was there when LaMichael James rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin.
No legacy? Balderdash. And as forward-looking as Kelly wants to be, his counterpart Bret Bielema, whose Badgers lost here a year ago, knows that losing the last game of the season on a big and storied stage is something that's doesn't make it easy to avert a backwards glance.
"This is the feeling you'll have in your mouth for the next seven to eight months until we get ready for our opener a year from now," he said.
Winning a Rose Bowl is a gift that keeps on giving. And losing one is a wound that festers. All the forward-thinking in the world won't change that.
So we have a game that both teams want to win even more because both ended their 2010 seasons with such a wound.
Another redundancy: This is a classic Rose Bowl cliche: Big Ten power vs. Pac-12 flash. Oregon is fast. Wisconsin is huge. And both teams are extremely good at what they do.
"It's almost scary how balanced they are," Kelly said. "When you play most teams, you want them to play left-handed, and let's take away their strength. But they have strengths in both facets."
Still, both teams are going to focus on stopping the run first. If one team has consistent success running the ball, it's likely going to win. But it's also possible the defense will step up -- see last year's national title game between the Ducks and Auburn -- and make things difficult for the offenses. It's possible big plays in the passing game will provide a critical difference.
Will the Ducks, a good pass-rushing team, be able to disrupt the timing of the mobile and extremely efficient Russell Wilson, who has been sacked 23 times this sea? Will the Badgers be able to handle dumps to James and De'Anthony Thomas in space?
Those are the Xs and Os questions.
But the ultimate question is this: Which team walks away knowing it won't have to deal with "Can't win the big one" questions next year?