Small non-automatic qualifier vs. big BCS power.
A dominant defense vs. an offensive juggernaut.
David vs. Goliath.
It’s bowl season, and that means the over-simplified clich?s are back.
And it’s the 2011 Rose Bowl that provides a mouth-watering matchup for media folk and fans alike. The belittled, overshadowed, yet unbeaten Horned Frogs take on the traditional Big Ten champion Badgers.
TCU has been tabbed as the representative of all the unheralded non-AQ schools, while Wisconsin carries the almighty Big Ten flag into Pasadena.
But much like last year, when everyone tried to make UW’s meeting with the Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl an age-old battle of size versus speed (which was just plain senseless), the characterizations of these two Rose Bowl participants once again have their flaws.
The common perception is that schools outside the major conferences are inherently weaker, even though BCS programs in the ACC and Big East haven’t looked much better. But believing this TCU team should be an underdog solely due to their less-respected conference affiliation is just plain foolish. And let’s be honest, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly been a powerhouse program over the last decade. This is UW’s first BCS bowl game appearance in 11 years.
Now the Horned Frogs won’t be a non-AQ team for long. TCU is joining the Big East after the 2011 season. So this non-AQ label will last for just one more year, and once the switch to the Big East is made, TCU will almost assuredly become the favorite to win the conference title.
But make no mistake about it; Gary Patterson’s Mountain West-champion team isn’t lucky to be here. They aren’t a charming Cinderella story that’s defied the odds. They are loaded with talent and have earned their impressive No.3 ranking.
TCU’s Jake Kirkpatrick just won the Rimington Award given to the nation’s top center. Tejay Johnson was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation’s top defensive back. Defensive end Wayne Daniels is a first-team All-American, and you ever hear of that guy LaDainian Tomlinson? Yeah, he’s a TCU alum.
TCU recruits from a deep Texas talent pool, and they continuously churn out top-flight athletes. There are no gimmicks or crazy formations that have led to their success.
They are good, balanced football team, and UW center Pete Konz is well aware.
“This is the No.1 ranked defense; they are undefeated. They are a team that’s lost one game in the last two years, and that was to a really good Boise State team,” Konz said. “They aren’t supposed to be as good because they are from the Mountain West? Whatever, some people might want us to fall into that trap but please, we know.”
Konz and his fellow offensive linemen have garnered a ton of attention heading into this matchup. Everyone wants to know if the potent Wisconsin running game can produce against the stingy TCU defense.
The Badgers have put up gaudy rushing statistics all season, and they possess arguably the top offensive line in the nation. Onlookers are always obsessed with the UW O-line’s massive size and that’s led many to assume that Wisconsin will easily maul a smaller TCU front.
Senior guard John Moffitt knows it isn’t that simple.
“That’s a trap. Good D-lineman are good D-lineman,” Moffitt said. “I mean we are a big O-line, and ever since I’ve been here we’ve gotten that comparison. People love that for some reason. But they are the No.1 defense in the country, so if you let yourself think for some reason that you’re going to push them around because you’re bigger, then that’s a big mistake.”
When you actually take a look at the depth chart, TCU’s defensive line isn’t even that small. Both defensive tackles weigh over 300 pounds and the starting defensive ends are 250 and 260 pounds respectively.
The Badgers may be one of the best teams in the country when it comes to running the football, but the Horned Frogs are particularly good at stopping it. We all know TCU plays a much weaker schedule, but allowing less than 90 yards per game on the ground is pretty darn impressive.
Wisconsin could very well control the game on the ground behind that offensive line and three-headed monster in the backfield, but if that’s the case it will be because of their talent and skill, not their size advantage.
TCU has seen big offensive lines before. Patterson’s program has played in plenty of big games against prestigious opponents (TCU is the last team to beat Oklahoma in Norman).
The Horned Frogs may not be the traditional power that a Pac-10 school normally provides in the Rose Bowl, but this team will give the Badgers all they can handle.
So while the non-AQ teams continue to duke it out with voters each year to gain respect, the Badgers already understand and acknowledge the challenge that lies ahead because Wisconsin has just as much to prove in Pasadena.
And that’s the kind of mindset they’ll need to grab their 12th win of the year.
Max is a senior majoring in journalism. Think the Badgers are going to dominate TCU at the Rose Bowl? Let him know at [email protected] or tweet @maxhenson.