Pac-12: Chris Borland

We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Arizona State

Sacramento State, Sept. 5
  • Coach: Marshall Sperbeck (30-37), seventh year
  • 2012 record: 6-5, 4-4 Big Sky
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Ezekiel Graham is the top offensive threat, rushing for 861 yards and five touchdowns last season. Not huge numbers, but he also makes his mark as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 40 balls for 406 yards and two touchdowns last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Todd Davis has led the Hornets in tackles the past couple of seasons and there's little reason to think he won't again. He posted 103 tackles last year -- including an impressive 13.5 for a loss.
  • The skinny: Not to worry. It's just an FCS team, right? Well, considering the Hornets have beaten Pac-12 teams in back-to-back years, that should at least perk the ears of ASU up a little bit. They topped Oregon State 29-28 in overtime in 2011 and then a year later beat Colorado, 30-28, on a walk-off field goal by a walk-on kicker. The chance of an upset isn't likely. But the history suggests enough to not sleepwalk through this game.
Wisconsin, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Gary Andersen, first year
  • Returning starters: eight offense, six defense
  • 2012 record: 8-6, 4-4 Big Ten
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis headlines a pretty deep wide receiving corps. A first-team All Big Ten selection last year, he caught 49 balls for 837 yards and five touchdowns. The former walk-on QB is tops among all active FBS players with an average of 16.7 yards per catch. He's also a dangerous punt returner.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Chris Borland needs 144 tackles this season to become Wisconsin's all-time leader. He's forced 14 career fumbles -- the most in school history and most among active NCAA players.
  • The skinny: Andersen was a hot name among potential Pac-12 coaching vacancies, but last year's WAC coach of the year instead ended up in the land of cheese. Last year the Badgers became the third Big Ten team to play in three consecutive Rose Bowls -- though they lost all three, including to Stanford last season and Oregon in 2011-2012. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig also has strong ties to the Pac-12, having worked at Cal, Utah and Oregon.
Notre Dame, Oct. 5 (In Arlington, Texas)
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1 Independent
  • Offensive headliner: Skill position players are more fun to talk about, but left tackle Zack Martin will be starting for the fourth straight year and he's a captain. Watching him against ASU's defensive front will be a great game within the game.
  • Defensive headliner: Take your pick between defensive end Stephon Tuitt or noseguard Louis Nix. Both are elite playmakers and present a defensive front that rivals the talent and athleticism of ASU's.
  • The skinny: The last time we saw Notre Dame, it was getting run up and down the field by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. But before that, the Irish were perfect -- including wins over Stanford and USC. Though they tiptoed through quite a few rain drops along the way -- and haven't had the quietest of offseasons -- this should be a game of national interest. Both teams will have already played tough games (ASU: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC; Notre Dame: at Michigan, Oklahoma) but a potential meeting of Top-25 teams on a neutral site will draw plenty of intrigue.
Thoughts: No, I don't think Sacramento State will make it three in a row. ASU should out-distance and out-muscle the FCS squad fairly early. But the rest of the nonconference slate will get the Sun Devils some national attention. The Wisconsin game is intriguing. But because what the Sun Devils bring to the table -- that's a very winnable game. Notre Dame is the really interesting one. Not only because of the little bit of nastiness that's built up between the programs in recent weeks, but because it's on a neutral site and it comes after three straight games against Wisconsin, at Stanford and home to USC. That's a brutal gauntlet that could either propel ASU into the national spotlight or leave them scrambling to pick up the pieces. A 3-0 record is very possible. Going 2-1 is probable and 1-2 is the worst-case scenario (we're not even putting 0-3 on the table).

Wisconsin keys for the Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:14
AM ET
Three keys for Wisconsin in today's Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio:

1. Open it up: Wisconsin is Wisconsin, so of course the Badgers are going to do everything they can to run the ball. But even their offensive line is going to have trouble simply lining up and ramming the ball down Stanford's throat. The Cardinal are one of the most physical, fundamentally sound teams in the country and had the third-best run defense in the FBS. Wisconsin does not want to get into third-and-long situations in this game, because that's when Stanford -- which led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss -- can really wreak havoc. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada drew up a dynamic, diverse game plan for the Big Ten championship game and will need to do so again to keep the Cardinal guessing. Is there anything left in the playbook after that Nebraska game? "There's always more left," Canada said last week. "We can draw up plays for days and days." It's quite likely that quarterback Curt Phillips will have to make more plays and probably will have to throw more than the eight pass attempts he had against the Huskers. And Joel Stave, now healthy, could factor in as well. Wisconsin's bread and butter remains the running game, with Montee Ball, James White and X factor Melvin Gordon. But the Badgers will likely need more than that to solve the Stanford defense.

2. Stop Stepfan: Stanford's offense is more than just running back Stepfan Taylor. The emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback late in the season made the Cardinal more multidimensional, and you have to always watch out for their tight ends, especially Zach Ertz. But Taylor is still the engine that drives the offense, and Wisconsin would much rather see Hogan throw the ball around than deal with Stanford's powerful running game all day. The good news: The Badgers were very good against the run this year as well, ranking 22nd in the nation in stopping the rush. They are stout in the middle of the defensive line, though star linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland will have their hands full with those tight ends. Wisconsin also does a good job of making opponents earn every yard down the field; in Big Ten play, opponents had only four total plays of 30 or more yards versus Chris Ash's defense. In Stanford's two losses, Taylor averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, more than a yard below his average. If the Badgers can make him work that hard for yards today, they will have a great chance.

3. Finish: Wisconsin knows all about coming up a play short in the Rose Bowl. A failed two-point conversion made the difference in a 21-19 loss to TCU two years ago, while last year's 45-38 setback against Oregon ended with Russell Wilson begging for another second on the Ducks' 25. But the Badgers don't even have to remember that far back to know close-game heartache. Of course, they lost four games by exactly three points, five by a total of 19 points and three in overtime. They probably would have lost every meaningful close game had Utah State made an easy field goal. It's highly unlikely that Wisconsin will blow out Stanford like it did against Nebraska, so any victory will probably have to include finishing off a close game for the first time since September. It doesn't help that the team's kicking game has been pretty bad; the Badgers were a Big Ten-worst 10-of-18 on field goals this year, and Kyle French missed key tries in the overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State to end the regular season. But here is why Wisconsin fans have hope that a close game might finally go their way in Pasadena: Barry Alvarez will be making the late-game decisions.

Pregame: Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:00
AM ET
Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

Who to watch: The running backs. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball -- the Doak Walker award winner -- and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor -- a three-time 1,000-yard rusher -- are two of the best in the game. Both are the engines that make their respective machines go. Each team will work furiously to establish a running game. So while you are watching two of the elite running backs in the country, keep an eye on the lines as well -- because how each team’s big boys do will go a long way toward determining how the running backs do.

What to watch: For sure, the fourth quarter. These two teams have combined to play six overtime games, Stanford has had to overcome ties or deficits six times in the fourth quarter, and Wisconsin has lost all five of its games by a combined 19 points (four field goals and a touchdown). If this game is a microcosm of these teams’ seasons, then there should be high drama up until the final play.

Why to watch: Aside from the fact that it’s the Granddaddy, this game is oozing with subplots. You have Barry Alvarez making his return to coaching -- although for just one game. You have Stanford playing in its third consecutive BCS bowl game (Wisconsin as well, for that matter) even after the departure of Andrew Luck and a midseason quarterback change from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan. You have a Wisconsin team that some say backed into the Rose Bowl, and you have mirror teams with nearly identical philosophies.

Predictions: In case you missed it Tuesday morning, you can see the predictions from Pac-12 bloggers Kevin Gemmell and Ted Miller here. This is what the Big Ten bloggers are thinking.

Pac-12 bowl primer: Rose Bowl

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
11:00
AM ET
This week we'll be taking a snapshot look at all of the bowl games including Pac-12 teams.

ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY VIZIO

Wisconsin (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. No. 6 Stanford (11-2, 8-1)

Where: Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl

When: Tue. Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN

About Stanford: The Pac-12 champs are riding a seven-game winning streak. It's been a whacky year, for sure, on The Farm (and on the road for that matter, see: Dame, Notre). The Cardinal scored marquee wins over No. 2 USC, No. 11 Oregon State and No. 16 (and 17) UCLA in consecutive weeks. But the crown jewel came when they went to Eugene and knocked off the No. 2 Ducks. The defense has been outstanding against the run and the secondary has done a solid job of avoiding big plays and creating turnovers. Stepfan Taylor is one of the most complete running backs in the country and a late-season swaparoo to Kevin Hogan at quarterback has helped stabilize the offense.

About Wisconsin: Don't let the five losses fool you -- the Badgers were competitive in all five defeats. Four of the five came by a field goal (two of them in overtime) and a third overtime game was lost by a touchdown to Ohio State. So while the Cardinal have been very good this year at winning the close ones, the Badgers haven't been as fortunate. However, pasting No. 12 Nebraska 70-31 in the conference championship and advancing to a third straight Rose Bowl makes up for a lot of close losses.

Key players, Stanford: It starts with Taylor, Stanford's all-time leading rusher, but it doesn't end with him. As Hogan matures into the role of starter, his understanding of the offense has expanded. And he has a great mismatch target in All-American tight end Zach Ertz. Defensively, the sum of Stanford's front seven is as good as there is in the nation. But first-team, all-conference safety Ed Reynolds has really been a difference-maker this season with six interceptions -- half of which have been returned for touchdowns.

Key players, Wisconsin: Like Stanford, it starts with the run for Wisconsin. And the Badgers also have one of the best backs in the country in Montee Ball -- this year's Doak Walker Award winner. He's one of just three running backs in the country to rush for at least 1,700 yards and he's reached the end zone 21 times on the ground. The linebacking duo of Mike Taylor and Chris Borland have combined for more than 200 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.

Did you know: Wisconsin is making its fifth Rose Bowl appearance in the BCS era, matching USC for most appearances since 1998 ... Coach-turned-athletic director-turned-coach Barry Alvarez has an 8-3 record in bowl games ... Alvarez is just the second person to ever coach in the Rose Bowl after being inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame (Rick Neuheisel is the other) ... This is the first time in Stanford history the program is going to four straight bowl games ... Wisconsin, Stanford and Oregon are the only teams in the country that have gone to BCS bowls the past three seasons ... Stanford is 5-6-1 all time in Rose Bowls, including a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin in its previous appearance.

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