You could call this the Big Ten Conference Championship Game II. Nearly everything Stanford does would fit perfectly into that typically muscle-bound, blue-collar grind of a league. Tough linemen, hard-charging running backs. Really, is there any difference whatsoever between Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor? Times staff writer Chris Foster examines the Rose Bowl game’s matchups and story lines:
This will be an encore performance for Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez.
Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic director, came out of storage for this game after coach Bret Bielema left the Badgers to take over at Arkansas.
Wisconsin’s seniors badgered Alvarez to come back, and he accepted.
Many Wisconsin fans might consider it an upgrade. Alvarez has a record of 3-0 in Rose Bowls as Wisconsin’s coach — one of them a 17-9 win over Stanford in 2000. Bielema was 0-2, losing a year ago and in the 2011 game.
The Badgers seem to be enjoying the change in leadership.
“One thing is just the way Coach Alvarez talks to us, his swagger that he brings to practices, before his speeches and during his speeches and all that stuff,” Ball said. “We all are most definitely looking forward to his pregame speech. We hear he does a great job with that.”
Players called Bielema “Coach.” They call Alvarez “The Godfather.”
Said Alvarez: “I take that as a compliment, but the Godfather was Italian. I’m Spanish.”
OK, so make it El Padrino.
Neither team is going with the quarterback who was the starter when the season began.
Curt Phillips was third on the Wisconsin depth chart. He was a redshirt senior who had lost two seasons because of three surgeries to his right knee. After Danny O’Brien struggled and Joel Stave sustained a broken collarbone, Phillips got the call.
His role is that of conductor. Wisconsin has a run-and, shoot, let’s-run-again offense.
“I think for me, personally, it makes it that much more special when it’s an opportunity that you weren’t so sure you were going to get,” Phillips said.
Likewise, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan didn’t expect to be in the spotlight. But the Cardinal turned to the redshirt freshman when the offense sputtered with Josh Nunes at quarterback. All Hogan has done is beat ranked teams in his four starts, including then-No. 1 Oregon.
It was Hogan’s play that rallied Stanford to victory against UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game.
“His growth has been phenomenal,” Stanford Coach David Shaw said. “No game is too big for him.”
Run with me
The Badgers’ game plan is to have a Ball. Stanford’s scheme is Taylor-made.
In other words, the only “spread” in this game will be the betting line — or the pregame and postgame meals.
Smash-mouth football is the meat and potatoes for both teams.
The numbers have piled up for Wisconsin’s Ball. He has 1,730 yards rushing this season. He has an NCAA-record 82 touchdowns in his career. He needs 150 yards to break the Rose Bowl career rushing record held by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne.
But he has a hole in his resume he’d like to fill. “Every time I think about my legacy, the one thing that sticks out to me is I have yet to win a Rose Bowl,” Ball said.
Ball won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back.
Stanford’s Taylor wasn’t even first-team All-Pac-12, but his teammates know better.
“With all of our young running backs, we just say, ‘Do what he does,’” Stanford Coach David Shaw said. “We say, ‘Follow him. If you can keep up, you’re going to be a good football player.’”
Taylor has 1,442 yards rushing and set the Stanford career rushing record with 4,212 yards.
“When you’ve got he and Montee Ball on the field at the same time, you have to account for both of them or they’re going to hurt you,” Shaw said.
Stanford ranks third in the nation against the run, giving up an average of 87.7 yards per game.
“They’re very big, a lot bigger than how they look on film because we ran into a couple of them at Disneyland,” Ball said of the Cardinal defense. “They fly downhill and really attack the run game.”
The Badgers are not too shabby either, ranking 21st against the run at 124.5 yards a game.
“Neither team wants to play finesse-style football,” Stanford guard David Yankey said. “They’re from a very physical conference in the Big Ten, and they don’t want to let that reputation down.”
What might have been
The Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences might have been celebrating a bigger moment — a national championship matchup.
Stanford (11-2) lost a controversial overtime game to Notre Dame and let a 10-point second-half lead get away at Washington.
Wisconsin, 8-5, didn’t even win its division. Ohio State finished the regular season with a record of 12-0, but the Buckeyes were ineligible for postseason play.