Wisconsin Badgers vs. Stanford Cardinal Rose Bowl Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

Wisconsin Badgers (8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS) vs. No. 6 Stanford Cardinal (11-2 SU, 8-5 ATS)
Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
Date/Time: Tuesday, January 1st, 2013, 5:00 p.m. EST
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
TV: ESPN/DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: Wis. +7/Stan. -7
Over/Under Total: 47.5

It’s considered the “Granddaddy” of all bowl games, but on New Year’s Day when the Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers take on the 6th-ranked and PAC-12 champion Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena the game might be overshadowed by all of the talk off the field leading up to kickoff.

Of course I’m referring to the coaching situation at Wisconsin.

After leading the Badgers to a huge, 70-31, romp over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game and their third straight appearance in the Rose Bowl, coach Bret Bielema shook up the college football world by bolting for the money of the SEC and the open job at Arkansas. The move not only surprised college football “experts,” but it surprised the Badgers so much so that with very limited options their only choice is to have former head coach and current AD Barry Alverez return to the sideline to coach the team in the Rose Bowl game.

It was actually the senior captains on the Badgers that asked Alverez to coach the game, but their hand was sort of forced since the past two seasons have seen a total of nine assistant coaches bolt for greener pastures, including six last year. With nobody with much seniority on the coaching staff to elevate to the interim position, the players asked Alverez to put on the headset and coach the team, a move that could play out in their favor since Alverez is a Hall of Fame coach and has won three Rose Bowls during his days in Madison.

Lost in all of this turmoil on the Badgers side of the field is the quiet and stable Stanford Cardinal, who will be going back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2000 season. The Cardinal were arguably the hottest team in the country down the stretch, beating four ranked teams in November down the stretch, including UCLA twice in order to win the PAC-12 title, 27-24.

Regardless of who coaches the Badgers, or whether or not Wisconsin at 8-5 even deserves to be in the Rose Bowl in the first place, the game on the field should be a good one. The duel will feature the Badgers power running game, a three-headed attack that is 12th in the country and ran for 539 yards in the Big Ten title game win, going head-to-head against the Stanford run defense that is 3rd in the country allowing a meager 88 yards a game.

The the Rose Bowl matchup already set before BCS selection Sunday, oddsmakers had already determined to list the opening point spread with Stanford as 6.5-point favorites for the game. By midweek when the news broke the Bielema was leaving, some sportsbooks took the game off the board entirely, while others simply moved the number up the hook to Stanford minus -7. With 26 days left before kickoff, the number is likely to move a little, but don’t be surprised if it stays at a touchdown even though Alverez has yet to lose a game on the beautiful turf in Pasadena.

The over/under total opened at 47.5 and has yet to move in either direction.

This might be one of the easiest games to handicap in the entire bowl season, mainly because both teams don’t keep secrets as to what they do on offense. If you like smash-mouth, run the ball between the tackles, three-yards and a cloud of dust football then this is your game.

Wisconsin uses a combination of Montee Ball (1,721 yards, 21 TD), James White (802, 12) and Melvin Gordon (570, 3) to run the ball behind a mammoth offensive line and they don’t try and disguise it with much other than an occasional speed reverse to Gordon or misdirection counter play to the short side of the field. Quarterback Curt Phillips is their third starting signal caller this season, and while he is safe with the ball (only one turnover in four starts), he’s also very vanilla and not very dynamic throwing for only 457 yards, four touchdowns and a meager 55 percent completion percentage.

Stanford’s season turned when they also pulled the trigger and replaced junior QB Josh Nunes with freshman Kevin Hogan. The Cardinal offense is also a very run-heavy attack with Stepfan Taylor (1,442, 14) getting most of the carries behind a strong offensive line, but the addition of Hogan in his five starts has opened up the play-action passing game. Hogan hits on 73 percent of his passes and uses two of the top tight ends in the game in Zach Ertz (837 yards, 6 TD) and Levine Toilolo (16.5 ypc, 4 TD) to perfection.

All of this really means that the team that pays better defense physical defense in the face of a constant barrage of bodies over and over will win this game. As I already mentioned the Cardinal have one of the best run defenses in the land, but the Badgers allow 125 yards a game on the ground (22nd) and are no slouch either. The biggest difference might come when either teams tries to pass. Stanford seems to be able to get pressure on the quarterback out of their base front, whereas the Badgers only have one “dangerous” rusher in David Gilbert and are forced to bring blitzes and gimmicks to force early throws.

These two strong academic schools have met three times on the gridiron, with the latest one being a, 17-9, grinder in 2000 won by the Badgers at home in Madison. The Badgers also won a 1996 meeting in Madison, 14-0, while the only game played in California ended in a 24-24 tie back in 1995. Although they have not beaten the Badgers on the field, Stanford can claim the rights to being the better wager since they are 2-1 ATS as the underdog in all three matchups.

As far as betting trends go, the Cardinal are historically a better pick in this matchup. Stanford is 10-1 ATS in their last 11 non-conference games including a 4-1 ATS mark in bowl games. Wisconsin struggles in non-conference games (0-5 ATS and failed to cover in all four non-conf. games this year), and has a tendency to get crushed in bowl games (except for the ones coached by Alverez).

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: It’s very possible that this game will be decided by a field goal. I also like the Alvarez angle here as positive variables are nothing but good stuff when it comes to team chemistry. I’m betting the Badger’s at +7.

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