98th Rose Bowl Game is all about redemption


That’s the theme for the 98th Rose Bowl Game.

On one side, you have Big Ten champion Wisconsin, which has thought of nothing but making up for a 21-19 setback to Texas Christian University last New Year’s Day in the Arroyo Seco.

Then there’s Pac-12 champ Oregon, which arguably has had the best three-year stretch in its history. But the Ducks also have failed to find Bowl Championship Series glory, losing in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State two years ago and then to Auburn in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz. last January.

Both teams will look to erase those memories on Jan. 2 when when they square off in the Granddaddy of Them All at 2:10 p.m. in Pasadena.

“I think every year each team is different, and there are a lot of players that played on our (2009) team against a good Ohio State team that aren’t here any longer,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who is 33-6 in three seasons with the Ducks.

“We lost 23 or 24 seniors from last year’s team that played in the national championship, so I think every year’s different.

“We don’t look at what transpired in the past to be motivation of where to go in the future. We know we’re playing against an outstanding team, and we’re going to give it our best effort and our preparation to get down there and see what we can do against Wisconsin.”

The match-up is a contrast in styles.

Oregon (11-2), with its spread-option attack, is new wave; Wisconsin (11-2), using a basic I-formation and its usual mammoth offensive line, is old school.

The Ducks have been an offensive juggernaut under Kelly, averaging nearly 45 points per game since 2009, while scoring at least 40 points in 27 of 39 games.

Their leader is All-American running back LaMichael James, a Doak Walker award finalist for the second consecutive season after rushing for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns.

But Oregon’s prowess doesn’t end there. It also includes quarterback Darron Thomas, who has passed for 2,493 yards and 30 touchdowns, and speedster De’Anthony Thomas, who has accounted for 1,011 yards and 14 touchdowns between rushing and receiving.

Wisconsin hopes to slow down the Ducks’ attack with All-Big Ten players Chris Borland at linebacker and Aaron Henry at defensive back.

“(It’s) like opposite ends of the spectrum,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “They want to run as many plays as they can and we want to slow it down the best we can. It will be fun in that world.

“But you have LaMichael James and all he brings to the table and with (him and the Badgers’) Montee Ball, you have two of the premier running backs in the world of college football on the same field. When we get to January 2nd, it will be very, very special.”

Wisconsin relies on Ball, who was arguably the top running back in the country, ending the regular season with a nation’s best 1,759 yards and 32 touchdowns. The junior also had 255 yards receiving for six scores and comes into the Rose Bowl Game with 38 touchdowns, which is one off the national record set by Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.

But there’s more to the Badgers than Ball. Their other key option is quarterback Russell Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State who added another variable to Wisconsin’s arsenal — the ability to to scramble. Wilson has thrown for 2,879 yards and 31 touchdowns. But his ability to stretch out plays made the Badgers very dangerous to opposing defenses.

“Number one, they have a great scheme and really understand how to attack you and will make you pay for not being sound defensively,” Kelly said. “If you want to gang up and stop their running game with Montee Ball, then they’re putting the ball in Russell’s hands and throwing to Nick Toon (822 receiving, nine TDs) and those other guys.

“… A team that’s multi-dimensional like Wisconsin really presents the ultimate problem for you on the defensive side of the ball. You kind of follow scores during the year when it just seems like it’s a pinball number sometimes when you’re watching Wisconsin games.”

Oregon will try to contain the Badgers with a stout defense led by first-team All-Pac-12 players Dion Jordan on the defensive line, Josh Kaddu at linebacker and Eddie Pleasant in the secondary.

But both coaches believe this one could come down to whoever has the ball last. Either way, one team will be able to redeem itself.

“For us to be rewarded the opportunity to play Oregon and everything that they stand for is truly special,” Bielema said.

“As a coach, you just wanted to live in the year that you’re in, and everybody wants to draw comparisons to other years, but you really truly embrace it and enjoy the opportunity you have on a year-to-year basis.

“This year takes us back to Pasadena and one of the greatest environments in the world of college football.”

- Steve Ramirez