The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Two of the top four teams in the nation will square off in Pasadena on New Year's Day, as the TCU Horned Frogs meet the Wisconsin Badgers in the 97th Rose Bowl.
Wisconsin, which logged an impressive 11-1 mark during the regular season and shared the Big Ten Conference title with Ohio State and Michigan State after posting a school-record-tying 7-1 league ledger, is making its seventh appearance in the Rose Bowl and fourth since 1994. The Badgers are 3-3 in their six previous Rose Bowl appearances, and have won their last three games in Pasadena.
Wisconsin, which is 10-11 all-time in its bowl history, is appearing in its ninth straight bowl game, including all five during head coach Bret Bielema's tenure.
TCU has been a thorn in the side of the BCS for the past few years, as the Horned Frogs, under coach Gary Patterson, have run roughshod through the rest of the Mountain West Conference and challenged the big boys for inclusion in the exclusive post-season club. In fact, TCU has won two straight MWC titles after recently completing its second consecutive 12-0 regular season, and it is the first team from a non-automatic BCS qualifying conference to play in back-to-back BCS bowl games.
TCU, which has won 26 of its last 27 games overall, is 11-13-1 all-time in bowl games, which includes a 7-4 mark under Patterson. The Frogs own a 15-3 record in their last 18 games against teams from a BCS conference.
The series between these two teams boasts just one previous meeting, that coming in 1970 and ending in a 14-14 tie in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin averaged 45.2 ppg in conference action this year, setting a new school record and serving as the second-best mark in Big Ten history. The Badgers are one of just five teams in the country to rank among the top 25 in both total offense and total defense. The others being Boise State, TCU, Stanford and Ohio State. The combined records of those five teams this year is an astounding 56-4.
Wisconsin uses the run about as well as any team in the nation, and the Badgers are the only FBS team to have three RBs who have gained at least 800 yards on the ground this season. James White (1,029 yards, 14 TDs), John Clay (936 yards, 13 TDs) and Montee Ball (864 yards, 17 TDs) help UW average 6.12 ypc and 247.3 ypg on the ground. All total, the UW offense has amassed 46 rushing scores this year.
Scott Tolzien has enjoyed a solid campaign under center for the Badgers as he thrown for 2,300 yards with 16 TDs and only six INTs. His .743 completion percentage ranks among the national leaders, and his favorite targets are clearly Lance Kendricks (39 receptions, 627 yards, five TDs) and Nick Toon (33 receptions, 413 yards, three TDs).
Protecting the football has been key for the Badgers, who turned it over just nine times on the year which is tied with fellow Big Ten member Iowa for the fewest in the nation. Also helping the overall cause is the fact that UW is the least penalized team in the country (2.9 per game).
Ball was asked recently about facing the best defense in the country, "We love it. It drives us every day. This is why you play football. It is going to be a great game."
He continued by giving an assessment of what makes the TCU defense so good, "Speed. Hands down, speed. They have two great defensive ends that shoot up the field really well and their linebackers find the ball really well."
The Badgers have performed admirably on defense themselves this season, giving up 20.3 ppg behind average yardage outputs of 131.7 ypg rushing and 191.8 ypg passing. They have surrendered 19 passing scores, but just seven on the ground, and they have been particularly strong at the start of games, yielding a mere 3.3 points on average over the opening 15 minutes.
The Wisconsin defense doesn't feature one or two star players, but rather a collection of skilled guys who play together as a team. Blake Sorensen heads the unit with 60 tackles, and five others have at least 51 stops. J.J. Watt has team-highs in TFLs (21) and sacks (seven), while Antonio Fenelus has four of the Badgers' 14 INTs.
Like their counterpart, the Horned Frogs have a potent offense which averages 43.3 ppg on 491.5 total ypg. The TCU ground attack is as punishing as the Badgers, or anyone else's for that matter, churning out 261.2 ypg and accounting for a whopping 39 TDs. Ed Wesley has rushed for 1,065 yards and 11 TDs this season, picking up 6.6 ypc for a team that averages 5.5 ypc. Wesley is joined by three others who have at least 400 rushing yards, including QB Andy Dalton (407 yards, five TDs).
Speaking of Dalton, this is not a run-only offense as the talented signal- caller has thrown for 2,638 yards and 26 TDs, while only being picked off six times this year. A strong believer in spreading the wealth, six different players have double-digit catches, led by Jeremy Kerley with 50 grabs for 517 yards and 10 TDs. Josh Boyce is the leader in terms of receiving yards with 602, and he averages better than 18 ypr and has reached the end zone six times.
With the offense firing on all cylinders, one might think that the TCU defense could do just enough not to give the opposition free cracks at the end zone, but the exact opposite is true as the Horned Frogs are truly one of the elite defensive teams in the country. Holding seven opponents to single digits and allowing just 11.4 ppg in all, and only 215.4 total ypg, TCU is the best the FBS has to offer. Foes have scored just seven rushing TDs, and they average a mere 4.0 yards per offensive play. The Frogs give in on only 22 percent of third-down conversion attempts, and they have allowed the opposition a grand total of 16 trips to the red zone in 12 games.
Tanner Brock has been a man possessed for the TCU defense, logging 97 tackles, with a pair of sacks, two fumble recoveries and an INT, while Colin Jones and Wayne Daniels have combined for 22.5 of the team's 68 TFLs. Tejay Johnson has three picks, helping the team come up with 22 turnovers on the year.
TCU Defensive Coordinator Dick Bumpas was asked recently about the challenges his unit will face against a Wisconsin offense that batters the opposition into submission, "The things that they do schematically causes you a lot of problems, so it'll be a very interesting afternoon."
This has all the makings of an absolute classic as both teams boast powerful offenses and strong, playmaking defenses. Expect to see plenty of action in all phases of the game, and for the Badgers to rely on the lessons they learned by playing a physical Big Ten schedule to serve them well as they pull out a narrow victory.