Wisconsin was the Big Ten champion with a big fat asterisk next to it, and college football bettors are saying as much, as the Badgers sit as underdogs to Stanford on most Rose Bowl odds menus.
The 8-5 Badgers, champions of the Big Ten Conference for the third straight season, meet up with the 11-2 Stanford Cardinal, champions of the Pac-12. It's the 99th edition of the Rose Bowl New Year's Day in Pasadena.
The early Rose Bowl odds pegged Stanford as a 6.5-point favorite over Wisconsin, and that number had held steady in the early betting. The Cardinal have won and covered three straight bowls while Wisconsin has lost four of five.
With Ohio State and Penn State both on probation, the Badgers began this season as the favorites to win the Big Ten again. And while they got here, they took the round-about way of doing it.
After a 3-1 non-conference run that impressed nobody, Wisconsin lost its Big Ten opener at Nebraska, 30-27, blowing a 17-point lead. The Badgers won three in a row over some of the Big Ten's weaker sisters, then lost in overtime to Michigan State.
After a blow-out victory over Indiana that clinched Wisconsin a spot in the conference championship game, the Badgers lost back-to-back overtime decisions to the aforementioned Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.
But then, with a conference record of 4-4, Wisconsin played its best game of the season and blew out Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game, 70-31.
Then came the big news that head coach Bret Bielema was leaving Madison to take over at Arkansas. And with the search for a new coach still ongoing, former Badgers head man and current AD Barry Alvarez, who won three Rose Bowls when he waddled the sidelines, will coach Wisconsin in Pasadena.
By the numbers the Badgers -- led by RB Montee Ball, who ran for 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns -- averaged 400 YPG on offense this season, 238 YPG on the ground. And the Wisconsin defense held opponents to 321 YPG.
Stanford, meanwhile, figured to take a step back this season, after losing QB Andrew Luck to the pros. Instead, the Cardinal won the Pac-12. Stanford opened this season 3-0, with a win over USC, but then gave up a fourth-quarter lead and lost at Washington, 17-13.
Two weeks later the Cardinal got robbed in an overtime loss at Notre Dame. Since then, Stanford has won its last seven games, knocking off ranked teams in Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA.
After beating the Bruins in the regular-season finale to win the Pac-12 North, the Cardinal topped UCLA six days later in the conference championship game 27-24.
Led by RB Stepfan Taylor, who ran for 1,400 yards and 12 scores, Stanford averaged 377 YPG on offense, while on defense the Cardinal held foes to 339 YPG.
However they got here, the Badgers are playing in the Rose Bowl for the third straight season. Last year Wisconsin lost to a powerful Oregon team, 45-38, and two years ago they lost to TCU, 21-19. Stanford, meanwhile, is playing in a bowl for the fourth straight season. Last year the Cardinal lost to Oklahoma State in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl, 41-38.
These teams last met 13 years ago in the 2000 Rose Bowl, when Alvarez and Ron Dayne led Wisconsin to a 17-9 victory.
Stanford last won the Rose Bowl way back in 1972, when the "Indians" got a late field goal to upset Michigan, 13-12.
Rose Bowl Pick: These teams are very similar; they both prefer to run the ball, and they've both got pretty good defenses. In what might be a tough, low-scoring affair, we'll take the 6.5 points with the Badgers. (courtesy of PickShark.com)
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