Rose, Orange Bowl Previews: Wisconsin, Northern Illinois in BCS despite Resumes

Why are Wisconsin and Northern Illinois in New Year's Day Bowl games?  Wisconsin is in the Rose Bowl because Ohio State and Penn State are on probation, but Northern Illinois looks like a purely politically correct choice.  Now that they are there, can either pull the upset today?

Rose Bowl Preview and Ethics: 2 of 3 most popular US teams banned to give Wisconsin a spot

Wisconsin v. #6 Stanford, Jan. 1, 2013 at 5:00pm EST on ESPN

The fact that Wisconsin, rather than Ohio State or Penn State, will emerge from the Rose Bowl tunnel representing the Big Ten puts ethical issues front and center.  According to Nate Silver of the New York Times, Ohio State and Penn State are two of the three most popular football teams in the country. Both teams beat Wisconsin in Big Ten play and finished ahead of Wisconsin in the conference's Leaders Division but were banned from playing in postseason, which included the conference's championship game. 

Should Ohio State have been banned from a bowl game for free tattoos players not associated with the current team received when many believe schools should have to start paying the players who bring in millions of dollars for their universities?  Was being banned from bowl games for a few years enough for the heinous crimes committed at Penn State, or is it unfair to penalize the current players who had nothing to do with it when the perpetrator is behind bars?

Whatever your views, Wisconsin fans everywhere are thankful that the evils of free tattoos forced the Urban Renewal in Columbus to be sidelined during bowl season. Had sanctions not removed OSU and Penn State from BCS consideration, one of two teams that had brought disgrace to the sport by valuing the dollar over the game and the student-athletes who play it would have been matched against a Stanford team that does everything the right way and places a high value on athletes who perform well in the classroom.

Although a stronger Big Ten team, particularly Ohio State, would have made the “granddaddy of them all” a more appealing and competitive contest, we are stuck with the matchup we have. And, let’s face it, the only people that think Wisconsin deserves to be in a BCS bowl game live in Madison, Wisconsin or play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who saw their own hopes for a BCS berth go down the drain during a 63-17 trouncing at the hands of the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game.

Beyond the five losses, the Badgers are a team in turmoil, which began with the attack on star running back Montee Ball in August, continued with the sudden dismissal of Offensive Line coach Mike Markuson, and culminated with the unexpected departure of Head Coach Bret Bielema and the subsequent loss of six assistant coaches (including both coordinators).

The loss of Bielema, who led the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowl appearances, to Arkansas was a stunning one for the program, and this team faces numerous challenges including inconsistent quarterback play. 

Curt Phillips, the senior who threw all of eight passes in the Big Ten championship game, will be the starter for Wisconsin. Success in that game came from Wisconsin’s trio of running backs (workhorse record-setter Ball, James White, and Melvin Gordon) who each ran for over 100 yards, and a similar performance will be required for the Badgers to compete against Stanford.

To weather the storm and lead the team in the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin is turning their eyes toward Barry Alvarez, who ended his coaching career as his Joe Thomas-led Badgers steamrolled the Auburn Tigers in the 2006 Capital One Bowl and is returning to coach the Rose Bowl while serving as the athletic director for the university.

Alvarez is enjoying his final curtain call.  It’s likely that he remembers the 2000 Rose Bowl that featured a strong Wisconsin team.  That team has the legs of Ron Dayne was considered an elite team against an overmatched Stanford team. 

The tables have turned on Alvarez as Stanford is no longer known primarily for its basketball team or having Chelsea Clinton enrolled (as it did in 2000), but for an outstanding football program.

After taking over from Jim Harbaugh two seasons ago, David Shaw has gone 22-4 as Stanford’s head coach. This coaching matchup of young up-and-comer versus the coach exiting the stage for the second time should make what on paper should be a relatively weak contest a more intriguing matchup.

The Cardinal are on the verge of something special. They are one of six teams in BCS era to make three straight BCS appearances (Miami, USC, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and Oregon are the others) and they are probably a questionable call at Notre Dame or an earlier quarterback change away from playing against Alabama for the title. Shaw, a coach on the rise, will look to cement the progress Stanford has made and win the first Rose Bowl for the Cardinal since 1972.

The key to the matchup, featuring more traditional defensive-minded and run-oriented teams, will be whether Stanford’s stout defensive front, which leads the nation in sacks and tackles for losses (TFLs), can halt the advances of the Badgers’ three backs and harass Phillips. That defense, led by linebacker Chase Thomas, is among the best in the nation.

On offense, Shaw’s specialty, Stanford hasn’t been as strong, but they will rely heavily on star back Stepfan Taylor. While the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, whose versatility outside the pocket has added a new dimension to the Cardinal offense, they are still primarily a running team.

This will be a smash-mouth game featuring two outstanding coaches, one on his way off the field for good and another rapidly rising through the ranks of college football’s top coaches. If you’re a casual fan that likes high-scoring games, then watch Oregon v. Kansas State on Thursday. However, if you’re interested in watching a great defensive showdown, this is it.  Even if it is a slightly uneven matchup and not quite as appealing as watching a potent Urban Meyer-led spread offense versus a Stanford defense that shut down Oregon would have been, then this will be a great game for you.

By the numbers

Wisconsin:

Avg. Pts/G (O)- 30.8 (50th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (O)- 162.6 (115th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (O)- 237.8 (12th)

Avg. Pts/G (D)- 19.08 (19th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (D)- 196.5 (24th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (D)- 124.5 (21st)

Stanford:

Avg. Pts/G (O)- 28.5 (70th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (O)- 203.5 (94th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (O)- 173.3 (51st)

Avg. Pts/G (D)- 17.46 (14th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (D)-251.2 (83rd)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (D)- 87.7 (3rd)

Prediction

This matchup will feature two great seniors who play the game how it’s supposed to be played (Wisconsin’s Ball and Stanford’s Thomas) and two great coaches on opposite spectrums of their careers. Unfortunately for the Badgers and for those that wish to see Alvarez ride off in victory, Stanford has a far better team.

Stanford 31, Wisconsin 20

Disappointing Goliath v. Unlikely David: Discover Orange Bowl Preview

#15 Northern Illinois v. #12 Florida State, Jan. 1, 2013 at 8:30pm EST on ESPN

The main question regarding this game isn’t who will win but how a one-loss team from the MAC conference ended up in a BCS game. Northern Illinois has managed to do what no other team has been able to do -- get into a BCS game as a one-loss team from a non-BCS conference. Even Boise State and TCU have not been able to accomplish this feat. 

 

Even a passing look at the results from this past season will let fans know that Northern Illinois doesn’t belong on this stage. This is a team that beat 2-10 Army by one-point, beat 1-11 Kansas by a single touchdown, and lost to 4-8 Iowa. While the Huskies were able to pull away from teams later on in the season, it certainly wasn’t a season that calls for an Orange Bowl appearance.

 

Northern Illinois is playing in a BCS game because the powers that be decided several years ago that quotas mattered more than merit and that “fairness” to the various conferences, even the weak ones, was more important than rewarding excellence. They are also there because of the ineptitude of the Big East, whose conference champion Louisville could not crack the BCS's top 16, allowing Northern Illinois, per the new rules, to make it to a  BCS by finishing in the top 16 in the final BCS rankings. 

 

However, the fact that Northern Illinois is the “unlikely David” functioning as a BCS charity case doesn’t mean this game is easy to predict. Northern Illinois has a superb offense led by Junior QB Jordan Lynch, who is an outstanding runner and more-than-adequate passer, and their defense is solid as well. More importantly, Florida State has a long history of playing down to their opponent.

 

Jimbo Fisher’s team would have been in the national championship discussion for its game against rival Florida if not for a one point loss to North Carolina State. While the loss to Florida would have still ruled them out, this is a strong team and they’ve dominated the inferior ACC competition. Could they continue their dominance against a weaker foe or will they once again stumble against a lesser team?

 

Senior QB E.J. Manuel will be the key for the Seminoles. Highly touted out of high school yet never able to live up to lofty expectations, Manuel is still a solid quarterback, and sophomore running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. could thrive against the smaller Northern Illinois front.  

The loss of coach Dave Doeren to NC State adds another dimension to the game, and although new coach Rod Carey will certainly do admirably, it hurts the Huskies' already slight chances. Being without their #2 and #4 rushers (Leighton Settle and Keith Harris Jr., respectively), and the cocky comments of Jordan Lynch also will hinder the hopes of the Huskies. However, Northern Illinois may receive an unlikely victory if a team that consistently disappoints plays beneath their talent level once again.

 

By the Numbers


Northern Illinois:

Avg. Pts/G (O)- 40.8 (8th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (O)- 235.6 (59th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (O)- 250.2 (9th)

Avg. Pts/G (D)- 19.0 (18th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (D)- 160.8 (4th)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (D)- 139.0 (33rd)

 

Florida State:

Avg. Pts/G (O)- 39.9 (12th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (O)- 262.9 (43rd)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (O)- 203.0 (26th)

Avg. Pts/G (D)- 15.08 (7th)

Avg. Pass Yards/G (D)- 217.7 (41st)

Avg. Rush Yards/G (D)- 93.0 (5th)

 

Side note

 

Jackie Manuel, the mother of FSU star QB E.J. Manuel, has been battling breast cancer throughout the season and underwent her last round of chemotherapy on New Year’s Eve. Manuel, who was highly heralded out of high school but has not been fully embraced by FSU fans, has been highly criticized at times during his career despite being an above-average college quarterback. However, he has always handled himself well, displayed maturity, and won a lot of games for FSU. He will have more important things on his mind as he suits up for the Orange Bowl, and, regardless of the outcome, I wish him and his family the best.

 

Prediction

 

Despite Florida State’s significant advantage in talent level, this is the type of game that could have posed a problem for the Seminoles. However, the loss of Doeren, the speed of FSU, and the strength of their front units will prove too much for an offense that relies too heavily on single player (Lynch). Florida State’s offense will prove too diverse for the Huskies. However, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that this game will be closer than most, including me, suspect.

 

Florida State 30, Northern Illinois 13

 

 

 

 


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