New game takes to historic stadium
LOS ANGELES -- When the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers landed here Saturday, they boarded buses at Los Angeles International Airport and rode directly to the Rose Bowl. No. 3 TCU did not practice Monday. Instead the Horned Frogs took a field trip to see the Rose Bowl.
No disrespect to the other postseason games, but nobody gets off the plane and takes a tour of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The stakes of the Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO are higher this season. The winner may finish as high as No. 2 in the final polls. The Horned Frogs are playing to finish 13-0. The Badgers, coach Bret Bielema said Thursday, are playing for the honor of the Big Ten. Yet both teams understand the magnitude of their game is also rooted in what has come before them in the historic stadium tucked in the Arroyo Seco.
"It was just amazing, a really awe-inspiring sight. That's when it clicked," Wisconsin All-America guard John Moffitt said. "You can just feel the tradition. It's old. It's been there for a long time. It has a real presence to it. You remember how many people have played there, who's played there, what it means to play there. You're going to be in a small fraternity that's played in the Rose Bowl. To be part of that is a great honor."
It's why injured Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, his shoulder in a sling after his third surgery, trudged to the top row of the Rose Bowl, turned around and just looked.
"I don't know what made me do it," Bielema said, "but I look up and Borland's on the 50-yard line at the top of the stadium taking it in."
It's why Wisconsin All-America tackle Gabe Carimi said the Badgers are taking on their shoulders the honor of the traditional powers everywhere.
"There is no question we're not only representing the Big Ten, but every [automatic-] qualifying conference," Carimi said. "You can't beat around that. It's real."
TCU is a favorite by a field goal. However, once a non-AQ team, always an underdog.
"A game like this, a lot of people are going to be watching to see how the non-AQs do," TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick said. "We feel like it's our duty to show up for them.
The spectacle of a BCS bowl can overwhelm a team. TCU learned that the hard way a year ago. The Horned Frogs ran onto the field at the Fiesta Bowl and got knocked off their stride by the crowd and the noise, not to mention a very good Boise State. The 17-10 loss has motivated TCU for 12 months.
"We didn't play very well, especially offensively," Horned Frogs quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We all have that in the back of our mind. We want to prove to people that we can play in a bowl game, a big game."
TCU's first experience in a BCS game made the Horned Frogs look as if they had come into the Fiesta Bowl on a load of watermelons. Head coach Gary Patterson thought the hotel sprawled too much to keep his team together and focused. He didn't take the team to the University of Phoenix Stadium beforehand. And when the headsets from the press box to the sideline stopped operating, the offense stopped operating, too.
"I'm not sure, by losing that ballgame, that didn't put us where we are today," Patterson said. "I thought we were tight last year. We don't need to do anything more than what we've done up to this point. We've got to go be us."
Patterson is sticking to his routine. He stayed up until 2 a.m. Thursday fiddling with the game plan, watching more video. Thursday is his day to psych himself out.
"I'll be honest with you," he said. "If we were playing them [Wisconsin] or Paschal High School back home, by Thursday before a ball game, I'm not sure we can beat anybody."
Saturday should be a different story. The X's and O's of the matchup promise a lot when the Badgers have the ball. Wisconsin scored 70 points or more in three games, and scored more than 30 in its seven Big Ten victories. TCU limited seven opponents to seven points or fewer. The Horned Frogs, like the Badgers, averaged 43.33 points per game. But this time, TCU may need them.
"The way they run the ball, the things they do, they could have the ball for a long time," Dalton said. "We know we have to take advantage of every opportunity we have."
The Wisconsin defense may make traditionalists harrumph. Opponents complete nearly four of every seven passes (.564) and score 21 points per game. On the other hand, the Badgers are plus-14 in turnover margin.
"I think conceptually what they do in the passing game and running game work well together," Bielema said. "There are a lot of times when you play teams that are so different, their run game versus their passing game, it's easy to defend because you know what they're going to do.
"I think TCU has a lot of things that look the same, and that makes it difficult. And they're not stupid with the ball. They're not turning it over or throwing interceptions."
It may be self-evident in a game in which the opponents are a combined 23-1 that they don't beat themselves. That's how you get to the play in the most historic college football stadium in the nation. That's how you get to the Rose Bowl.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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