This is probably going to be the best bowl game of the year, save for the national championship game, as the TCU Horned Frogs and the Wisconsin Badgers lock horns in the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
The Wisconsin offense isn't one of those offenses that relies on speed and shiftiness and trickery to get the job done. . .they'd much rather line up behind the country's best offensive line (led by Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi), and slam it down your throats for four quarters. With their talented trio of running backs in Montee Ball, John Clay, and James White, they usually have little difficulty doing just that, and it showed with the Badgers putting up 201 points in their final three games of the 2010 season. The Badgers also have a smart, efficient quarterback in Scott Tolzien, and three capable receivers in Isaac Anderson, David Gilreath, and Nick Toon. Their game plan will be to get their running game on track early, and use that to set up the play-action passing game.
They're going to face an incredibly stiff test, however, in the Texas Christian defense. Statistically, TCU's defense has been nothing short of amazing, ranking first in the nation in scoring defense, first in the nation in total defense, first in the nation in pass defense, and "only" third in the nation in rush defense. The Horned Frogs play a 4-2-5 defense, which means they pull one of their linebackers out on defense in favor of an extra defensive back, and against an offensive front as physical as Wisconsin's, they may have some issues because of that. Three of their four starting defensive linemen weight less than 270 points, and the maulers that the Badgers have up front should be able to impose their will on TCU. The match-up to keep an eye on when the Badgers have the ball will be Carimi against defensive end Wayne Daniels, who is a fierce pass rusher, but is probably going to see a lot of running plays in his direction tonight as he works against the Outland Trophy winner.
TCU's offense has matched Wisconsin's this year in terms of points, as both teams average 43.3 points per game. The TCU offense, led by senior Andy Dalton, relies on a lot of short, quick-hitting passes, and defenses that do well against him tend to not blitz very much and flood the short zones in coverage. It would be shocking if the Badgers didn't do exactly the same thing. Forcing Dalton into throwing longer passes and having to forsake the underneath stuff would help the Badgers to victory in this one. TCU runs the ball very well, too, as they possess a pair of talented sophomore running backs in Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker. They are a real "thunder and lightning" attack, with Wesley averaging well over six yards a carry thanks to his speed, and Tucker being the bruising, between the tackles complement to Wesley.
They're going to have a tough time against a Wisconsin defense that plays with a lot of discipline. Defensive ends J.J. Watt and Louis Nzegwu are very disciplined, linebackers Blake Sorensen and Mike Taylor are good at getting off of blocks and stringing things out, and the Badger secondary is very good in run support as well. As already stated, look for very little blitzing from Wisconsin, as they try to take away the short passing game from Dalton and company.
The one aspect of this game that things may turn on is the special teams play, particularly the Horned Frogs' return game. The Badgers rank 106th (out of 120 FBS schools) in defending kickoff returns and 103rd in defending punt returns. TCU possesses one of the most explosive return men in college football in wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, and that explosiveness could rip the scales just enough in TCU's favor.
This one should be an outstanding match-up of two of the nation's elite programs. TCU carries the weight of all of the non-automatic qualifying schools on their shoulders, while Wisconsin wants to prove that they truly are one of the nation's best. The Horned Frogs' special teams will help them quite a bit in this one, but in the end. . .man, it's hard to go against that huge Wisconsin offensive line against that dynamic, but undersized, TCU defense.
SB Nation Minnesota prediction: Wisconsin 27, TCU 24