Foam Finger: Smelling Roses in the New Year

L.A. sports from the fan stands

Tomorrow, after we’ve watched the floats take over the streets of Pasadena and stomached the fact that it’s now time to start dating everything 2013, we’ll be able to feast our eyes on The Granddaddy of Them All. At 1:30 p.m., the 99th Rose Bowl Game will kick off, as the Cardinal and the Badgers take to the gridiron to battle for some roses.

The game will be bittersweet: Though there’s no real home team to root for—no, Stanford isn’t even close to a hometeam, especially after what it did to USC and UCLA this year—the match-up should provide an interesting, if not exciting, start to the year in sports. Wisconsin (8-5) is making its way to Rose Bowl Stadium for its third straight season, and the squad owns an undefeated 4-0-1 mark against Stanford, though the Cardinal have won their last seven games and are by no means looking to stop.

In their last two trips to the Rose Bowl, the Badgers have been unsuccessful, and Stanford is favored to win this bout by about a touchdown. The Badgers defense, helmed by fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Taylor—who leads Wisconsin with 120 tackles—will look to corral the Cardinal’s freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan and to stop Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for 1,442 yards in his senior year. On the other side, Stanford, led by Pac-12 Coach of the Year David Shaw, will look to stop Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. Shaw has described Ball and Taylor’s match-up as one of “strength against strength,” one that invites heavy hits and scampering-style runs.

Barry Alvarez, the athletic director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and interim head coach of the Badgers, is no stranger to Pasadena. During his reign as the Badgers’ coach, he garnered three Rose Bowl crowns: against UCLA (’94 and ’99) and Stanford (’00). If Alvarez and his squad can pull off the upset tomorrow, he will tie Ohio State’s Woody Hayes for most Rose Bowl wins by a Big Ten coach. Alvarez joins the sidelines after former coach Bret Bielema jumped ship to coach at Arkansas, and the Badger faithful and the team itself have expressed an immense sense of satisfaction that Alvarez will be walking the lush sidelines of Rose Bowl Stadium one more time.

Whether the change in coaching will actually make a difference, tomorrow’s game will be one of running and tapping into X-factors. The Cardinal will rely on tight-ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz, who leads the team in receiving, with 66 catches for 837 yards, to make a difference. And the Badgers will look to fifth-year senior signal caller Curt Phillips, who hasn’t played in three years because of injury woes, to be the difference maker. With shaky ball-slingers and run-heavy offenses on both sides of the field, Alvarez and Shaw will have to get creative. May the better man win.