The Rose Bowl isn't part of the College Football Playoff this year, but the bowl did get the two highest-ranked teams not in the Playoff with a matchup featuring No. 5 Iowa and No. 6 Stanford.
Iowa's first Rose Bowl trip since 1991 has been nothing short of magical. The Hawkeyes went an incredible 12-0 in the regular season and won the Big Ten West. They did it behind two solid, though not dominant units that were at their best when they needed to be. Despite injuries on the offensive line and at running back, Iowa found some explosiveness. The defense has imposed its will in the trenches and boasts a strong secondary with Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King. Iowa won't wow you, but the Hawkeyes are fundamentally sound and were just one play away from the Playoff in a tough loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Stanford is built similarly to Iowa, though it had more of a roller coaster season. The Cardinal were dominated by Northwestern to start the season before catching fire and beating USC and UCLA. However, they lost to Oregon, all but eliminating them from the Playoff, though they got close with a win over Notre Dame. The secret to this year's team? It wasn't a stout defense like some years. Rather, it was dynamic running back Christian McCaffrey, who broke Barry Sanders' all-purpose yards record en route to a Pac-12 title.
These are two programs built similarly that have some new tweaks. It should make for an outstanding Rose Bowl after a year off from the typical Big Ten vs. Pac-12 setting.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Stanford is favored by 6.5 points.
Make friends: Get to SB Nation’s team blog chats for this game at Black Heart Gold Pants for Iowa fans and Rule Of Tree for Stanford fans.
Three big things to know
1. A home-field advantage for Iowa in California?
Stanford fans are used to Rose Bowls by now, but Iowa fans haven't been there in 25 years. Hawkeyes fans took over Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game and they made Rose Bowl tickets the hottest of the bowl season. Iowa brought 50,000 fans to the 2002 Orange Bowl and pundits have said there could be 60,000 Iowa fans at this year's Rose Bowl.
2. Big plays deciding the game?
Stanford has the ultimate big play king in McCaffrey, but the Cardinal haven't been great at stopping big plays. The team ranks 75th nationally in defending explosive plays, according to Bill Connelly's S&P+ ratings. Iowa has big play potential, too, as it showed off with an 85-yard touchdown pass in the Big Ten Championship Game. Iowa needs to avoid giving up third-and-longs to McCaffrey and quarterback Kevin Hogan, while Stanford needs to avoid letting Iowa break out big runs and passes.
3. An old-school Rose Bowl
Iowa and Stanford both play throwback styles with pro-style offenses that love fullbacks. The Rose Bowl is always like a step back in time and that will continue this season. And one more relic for good measure? Brent Musburger is calling the game. That's pretty much the perfect Rose Bowl setup.
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