We've been asked by the honorable head honchos at SBN to preview one of the bowl games. Since our favorite squad was unable to earn a bid to a bowl game this year I got to pick and I thought why not choose the one bowl that I desperately want to see my Gophers participating in someday. The Rose Bowl has eluded our Gophers since 1962 but someday we will return, it just won't be this year (or probably next year).
This year it is one of the best match-ups of the bowl season pitting Wisconsin against TCU, two very similar teams. Statistically it is really interesting just how similar these teams are. Offensively they both led their respective conference in points and tied for 4th nationally with 43.3 ppg. Defensively they were both very stout, not allowing their opponent to get into the end zone very often. And both teams were great on third down, on both sides of the ball. Something has to give, but it could be a great game.
When Wisconsin has the ball
|3rd Down %||50.8%||21.9%|
When TCU has the ball
|Wis (Defense)||TCU (Offense)|
|3rd Down %||39.3%||52.3%|
Once again both teams are pretty well stacked here. For the Badgers John Moffitt and Greg Carimi were both not only All-Big Ten selections, ESPN All-Americans and AP All-Americans. Carimi is the Outland Trophy winner and is expected to be a first round draft pick. This is a great offensive line unit and it has been the driver of a great rushing attack that set a school record for rushing touchdowns.
TCU's offensive line is no slouch either as the Horned Frog's ground game rushed for 261 yards per game. Marcus Cannon is expected to be the first guard taken in the upcoming draft and center Jake Kilpatrick was also a first team All-Mountain West selection, second team AP All-American and Rimington Award winner.
Defensively it is nearly as impressive for both teams. TCU's Tank Carder is an ESPN All-American linebacker and was the MWC Defensive Player of the Year. Defensive lineman Wayne Daniels and LB Tanner Brock were both first team All-MWC selections, Daniels being a unanimous selection. Cory Grant and Stansy Maponga were second team MWC along the DL. So there is some top end talent on this impressive defense.
The Badger front seven is led by J.J. Watt who was a consensus first team All-Big Ten member and was AP 2nd team All-American. Watt was third nationally with 21 tackles for loss. The Badger linebackers did not win a bunch of accolades but they are a very good unit led by Blake Sorenson
The trenches in this game is full of All-Americans, trophy winners and future NFL players. Both programs got it done this year with great offensive lines and a very strong front seven defensively.
The Skill Players
On offense both teams have experienced quarterbacks, good running backs and solid receivers. This should really come as no surprise considering this is a match-up of top 5 teams and they are balanced offenses capable of beating you up on the ground and then through the air.
Wisconsin is led by the two-headed monster on the ground. John Clay and James White averaged 93.6 and 93.5 yards rushing respectively and combined for 27 touchdowns. Scott Tolzien is their senior quarterback who was 2nd team All-Big Ten, led the league in passing efficiency (4th nationally) and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award going to the nation's best senior QB.
TCU is led primarily by their quarterback, Andy Dalton who was the MWC Offensive Player of the Year. Dalton also led his league in passing efficiency, 7th nationally. Sophomore running back, Ed Wesley was 2nd in the league in rushing and was named 1st team All-MWC.
The defensive backfields are equally as strong. TCU boasts an All-American safety in TeJay Johnson and two other backfield mates earned 2nd team All-MWC. Wisconsin's corner, Aaron Henry also earned All-Big Ten honors and he leads the Badger secondary.
What does this all mean? It might have been easier to just post a list of awards won by these two teams. The point is both teams are very good at all position groups.
The best match-up, in my humble opinion, is the Badger rushing attack against the Horned Frog front seven. If I had a gun to my head I would say this is a slight advantage to Wisconsin considering they have two All-Americans on the line, they have two great running backs and if they can rush for nearly 200 yards on Ohio State then I think they'll be OK against TCU's great defense. This isn't a slam dunk here but slight edge to Wisconsin.
Wisconsin's passing attack is not a favorite over TCU's secondary. The Badger passing game is efficient but TCU's secondary is very good and gave up only 126 passing yards per game. I'll go with TCU here.
Now we move to when TCU has the ball and on the ground I am going to give the edge to Wisconsin.. Here might be a clear example of me being more familiar with Wisconsin and not giving TCU the credit they deserve but here is my rationale. Against two other good rush defenses and solid MWC teams, TCU failed to really gain much traction on the ground. Utah and BYU finished 2nd and 3rd in the MWC in rush defense. TCU managed 177 and 108 yards rushing respectively against those two teams. I believe that Wisconsin's rush defense is superior to Utah's and BYU's so that is what I'm going to go with.
TCU's passing game will get the edge here over Wisconsin's secondary. Even Adam Weber threw for nearly 300 yards on Wisconsin, is that enough justification? Really, they did finish 3rd in the Big Ten in passing defense and they have some talent back there but assuming Dalton gets enough protection (and there is no reason to think he won't get that) then I think he'll be able to find open receivers and move the ball through the air a little bit.
I haven't really discussed special teams but once again these teams are eerily similar. Jeremy Kerley is a back-to-back MWC Special Teams Player of the Year winner. The return man is one of the best in the country and may swing the balance of the game into TCU's favor. But wait...Wisconsin has a game-changing returner as well. The Big Ten does not give all-conference awards to return men but if they did David Gilreath might be at the top of that list. He ranks as one of the conferences best all-time kick returners. He also could house a kick or punt and give Wisconsin an edge in the final outcome.
So we are still left with "So What?" I don't want to make any predictions other than it should be a really good game. Both teams know exactly what they want to do and they know exactly how to execute. These are not flashy teams, they are full of very good football players and they execute their game plans. The BCS Title game has two very sexy teams and should be entertaining but for me is the premier matchup of the bowl season.