PASADENA, Calif. — The Rose Bowl is a living archive of football tradition.
Every year, teams participate in the same oceanside pep rallies, Disneyland visits and Hollywood beef-eating extravaganzas before those flowered parade floats glide down Colorado Boulevard right before the game.
All that history suits No. 9 Wisconsin perfectly. Coach Bret Bielema has built a Midwest powerhouse by largely adhering to traditional styles and schemes, determined to win Rose Bowls with unapologetically old-fashioned football.
And though No. 6 Oregon usually seems to be visiting our planet from the near future, coach Chip Kelly’s Ducks also love every bit of the history they see out of their mirrored helmets.
The last two losers of the Rose Bowl will return today for a chance at redemption in the 98th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All, matching two offences with thoroughly disparate strategies for racking up similarly huge numbers on the scoreboard.
“You can’t get two teams much more different than these, but that’s why I think it’s going to be a great game,” said Bielema, who has led the Badgers to their first back-to-back Rose Bowls in a dozen years.
“We do things a certain way at Wisconsin like we’ve done them in the past, and Oregon always has something new for you. People are going to see something special in this matchup.”
Bielema was a defensive lineman at Iowa in the 1991 Rose Bowl, which featured the most total points (80) in the game’s history. That record could fall before sunset in Arroyo Seco if quarterback Russell Wilson gets the Badgers (11-2) rolling and Oregon’s Darron Thomas can orchestrate his offence’s usual success.
“We’ll be comfortable from the jump, because we’ve already played in these types of games before,” said Thomas, a redshirt at the Rose Bowl two years ago. “Everybody wants to knock us off, so they come with their best punch. It’s not really pressure, but we want to win one.”
Both teams head into the Rose Bowl with impressive pedigrees of recent success — except in bowl games.
Two-time Big Ten champion Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl to TCU last year, while three-time Pac-12 champion Oregon was beaten by Ohio State two years ago before falling in the BCS title game last January.
The Ducks are the only school playing in their third straight BCS bowl this season, while the Badgers are looking for just their second bowl win in five years.
Although Oregon has revolutionized college football with everything from its hurry-up offences to its wildly inventive uniform looks, Kelly relishes this matchup and this stadium more than, say, the site of the BCS title game in suburban Phoenix last year.
“You felt like you were walking into a spaceship,” Kelly said of the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium.
“It has kind of a futuristic feel to it. I’m a lot more comfortable in the Rose Bowl setting. That’s what college football is all about.”
The Rose Bowl’s history also is vital to Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, who acknowledged a feeling of wonder when he visited the stadium last week. Badgers safety Aaron Henry says his teammates have their awe in check after last season’s loss, instead focusing on removing the empty feeling they brought home from Southern California.
“To go through everything we went through to get here the last two years, we don’t want to lose it twice,” Henry said. “This game means too much for our careers and our lives. This is history right here.”
Many players on both teams still remain from the schools’ last Rose Bowl teams, but two new quarterbacks are in charge.
Wilson is wrapping up his incredible single season at Wisconsin by fulfilling his late father’s wish to see him on the hallowed turf in Pasadena, while Thomas is completing his second standout season after replacing Jeremiah Masoli.
“It’s a great matchup because they’re an all-around team,” Thomas said.
“They’re not going to do anything to show you a look you haven’t seen. They are a base team, and they’re going to come out and do their thing.”
Just about the only certainty in this matchup is Wisconsin’s offence controlling the ball for most of the minutes on the clock. With their run-based offence and another massive front line, the Badgers led the Big Ten in time of possession, while Oregon’s highly caffeinated offence had the ball for fewer minutes than any offence in the Pac-12.
Although Oregon has absolutely no interest in time of possession, the Ducks’ biggest obstacle might be time — specifically the time Wisconsin gets to prepare for their schemes. During Kelly’s revolutionary three seasons, Oregon is 1-4 in season openers and bowl games when opposing staffs have extra weeks to prepare for the hurry-up offence.
Kelly realizes his teams haven’t fared well when returning from a long layoff, but doesn’t see any rust on his Ducks.
“I think if you make a big deal out of it, it turns into a big deal for your players,” Kelly said. “As long as you’re consistent in your approach, everybody is dealing with the same thing.”
The game also matches arguably college football’s top two tailbacks in what’s likely to be their final games before declaring for the NFL draft.
With one more touchdown in his spectacular season, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball can tie Barry Sanders’ FBS record of 39 TDs in a season.
And with 1,759 yards rushing entering the game, he’s likely to take the NCAA rushing title away from Oregon’s LaMichael James, who won it last year and merely leads the FBS this fall with 149.6 yards per game.
Tradition will always be served at the Rose Bowl, but even Wisconsin made a few minor alterations to its long-hallowed red-and-white uniforms before the game.
The Badgers realize Oregon will be wearing Nike’s latest creations, including a helmet that reflected the lights of the Los Angeles hotel ballroom where it was unveiled shortly after Christmas.
Henry thinks the Ducks’ progressive fashion sense could even help the tradition-rich Badgers in the biggest game of the season.
“It gives us a better target,” Henry said. “It gives us the ability to see them a little better and make tackles or make plays.
on the ball. A lot of our guys, to get rid of the reflection, wear eye-black. I don’t think we’re going to have a problem.”