Once again, the New Year’s Day bowl schedule is highlighted by the Rose Bowl, the Grandaddy of Them All. As always, this game brings together teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12, as the no. 8 Wisconsin Badgers face the no. 6 Oregon Ducks. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 EST on Wednesday, January 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Badgers as 3-point favorites with an over/under of 51.5 points. Be sure to check out all of this year’s college football bowl odds.
The Badgers are hoping to end their season on a winning note after coming up short in the Big Ten Championship Game for the third time in the last four years. Wisconsin put together an impressive season, keeping four shutouts and winning 10 games. However, a surprising loss to Illinois and two losses to Ohio State kept the Badgers from claiming a Big Ten title and perhaps having a chance in the College Football Playoff.
On the bright side, the Badgers have a five-game bowl winning streak that they’ll look to keep intact. Paul Chryst is a perfect 4-0 in bowls since coming to Wisconsin and 5-1 in his career. However, the Badgers also lost three straight Rose Bowl appearances earlier this decade, making them 3-6 all-time in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin hopes that the arrival of a new decade will be their good luck charm in Pasadena.
Oregon, meanwhile, is fresh off a win in the Pac-12 Championship Game, earning their first conference title since 2014. However, a loss to Arizona State a couple of weeks earlier knocked the Ducks out of the College Football Playoff picture. If not for that loss, Oregon might be playing in the CFP after putting together an 11-2 season rather than facing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Of course, the Ducks are no stranger to major bowl games. The last time they played in the Rose Bowl, they beat Florida State in the 2014 CFP semi-finals. It’s also worth noting that Oregon missed a bowl entirely in 2016, so to climb all the way back up the ladder to the Rose Bowl in three years is an impressive accomplishment for Mario Cristobal. He will lead the Ducks into their eighth Rose Bowl appearance, with Oregon 3-4 in their previous trips to Pasadena.
While both programs have been Rose Bowl regulars over the years, this will be just the second time that Oregon and Wisconsin have crossed paths on New Year’s Day. The previous time was the 2012 Rose Bowl, a game the Ducks won 45-38.
I’ll be honest, this might be the biggest tossup of the bowl season. I could see either team winning a close game or winning in lopsided fashion; both sides are that good. In the end, I worry a little about Wisconsin having a hangover after coming so close to winning the Big Ten title game. Meanwhile, Oregon clearly put their disappointing loss to Arizona State behind them. With three points to spare, I’ll take my chances with the Ducks.
One area where I think there’s a small separation between these teams is on defense. Despite Wisconsin pitching four shutouts during the season, Oregon actually allowed fewer points this year by a small margin. That points to the Ducks being more consistent during the season, as the Badgers were a little more vulnerable defensively during the second half of the season. One could also argue that Oregon faced more potent offenses in the Pac-12 than Wisconsin did in the Big Ten.
During the season, I was most impressed with the Oregon front-7, especially the defensive line. They were dominant in the Pac-12 title game against a Utah offense that no other team had been able to slow down all season. To me, the Ducks have a fighting chance to keep Jonathan Taylor and the Wisconsin rushing attack somewhat contained. Taylor is undoubtedly the biggest difference-maker the Badgers have on offense. If the Oregon defense can slow him down a little, I’m not sure quarterback Jack Coan can carry Wisconsin against a high-level opponent.
That leads me to the other difference between these two teams, which is the quarterback position. Coan posted good numbers this year, but he’s more of a game manager, especially against quality defensive teams. On the other hand, the Ducks have Justin Herbert, who was one of the best quarterbacks in the country this year. Herbert passed for over 3,000 yards and was 10th nationally with 32 touchdown passes while limiting himself to just five interceptions.
Equally important, the Ducks have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, helping to establish a stale rushing attack with CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who both average better than six yards per carry. While I expect the Wisconsin defense to put up a fight, Oregon’s balanced attack will be difficult to stop for four quarters.
Again, I won’t be surprised no matter the outcome of this game. Wisconsin has a running back who can dominate a game while Oregon has a quarterback who can dominate a game. Both teams are also solid defensively. Ultimately, I think Oregon is a little bit better and with three extra points, I like the Ducks against the spread.