PASADENA – Trying to figure out how a football game will go before it’s played is a difficult business. People who think they can figure it out so well that they bet on the outcome have my admiration.
I will try in this space to tell you what I expect from Oregon and Wisconsin Wednesday afternoon in the Rose Bowl, but will do so with the warning that if you are silly enough to make a bet based on my advice, you probably deserve to lose your money.
But that won’t stop me from giving you my opinion and telling you that I’m usually pretty good at this sort of thing.
I expect it to be a real battle in the trenches as two teams attempt to flex their muscles and prove their physicality. Wisconsin has been good at ball control, run defense and wearing down its opponents. Oregon is physical, has a balanced attack, solid defense and is capable of beating teams with the pass.
Two very good football teams.
First, a quick look at Wisconsin:
- The Badgers had four shutouts this season and rank 10th in the country in scoring defense, eighth in total defense and eighth in rushing defense.
- Wisconsin lost three games, but two of them were to Ohio State – one of the best teams in the country. You get better by playing, and even losing to, good teams.
- The Badgers have won five straight bowl games.
- Wisconsin’s running back Jonathan Taylor is a two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s premier running back. With 1,909 yards this season he’s the only runner in FBS history to top 1,900 yards three years in a row. With 91 yards he can become only the third player to rush for 2,000 yards in multiple seasons. This man is special.
And now a few tidbits about the Ducks:
- This is the 14th time in the last 15 seasons Oregon has made it to a bowl game. It is 14-18 in bowl games, all time, but has won its last two games at the Rose Bowl, including a 45-38 triumph over Wisconsin in 2012.
- The Ducks held six teams under 10 points this season, tied for the most in the country.
- Justin Herbert’s 95 touchdown passes are the most among active FBS players and sixth-most in Pac -12 history.
- Oregon is ninth in the country in scoring defense and 15th in the country in scoring offense.
So, what does it all mean?
I believe the Ducks are going to have their hands full. Taylor is going to get his yards and if Oregon stacks the line of scrimmage too much to stop him, the Badgers are quite capable of hitting play-action passes for big yardage.
If Oregon struggles with its running game, this game could end up being decided by the arm of Herbert – and his receivers, who haven’t always been dependable. But he will likely have to run for his life part of the game – the Badgers had a school-record 49 sacks this season. I do expect Herbert to throw the ball well in his final collegiate game and it could be the difference.
But the deciding factor in this one is likely going to be at the line of scrimmage. Oregon has been as physical as it has been in years. Wisconsin takes pride in its own brand of physicality.
Is “Pac-12 physical” the equal of “Big Ten physical”? If it is, the Ducks will win.
If not, this one goes the other way.
I have it 24-21, Wisconsin.