Red, gold and green

This is not an attack of ’80s music nostalgia.

This is about Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl trip for New Year’s Day — the 10th in UW’s history, but the seventh since Barry Alvarez arrived on campus — and the Packers’ upcoming playoffs.

Each seems to not entirely impress people. The Badgers lost twice to Ohio State (whereas everyone else the Buckeyes played until Clemson lost just once) and had a bad loss to Illinois. No other UW Rose Bowl team had a bad loss on their schedule, except the 1994 (Minnesota), 1999 (Cincinnati), 2010 (Michigan State), 2011 (ditto) and 2012 (five of them) teams. The list does not include the 1998 Badgers, who nonetheless were so unimpressive to ESPN’s Craig James that he called them the worst team to ever get to the Rose Bowl … which then made them the worst team to ever win a Rose Bowl, I guess.

UW in fact never seems to impress anyone because of its traditional plodding style, except perhaps for the Russell Wilson season. When Paul Chryst was UW’s offensive coordinator, the Badgers ran the same plays, but they were much better disguised. They appear to have gone backwards with Chryst as the coach for some reason. Jack Coan hopefully won’t be the quarterback next season (once Graham Mertz is off his redshirt), but there really is no game-breaking receiver on the roster, including Quintez Cephus. On the other hand, Chryst is so far undefeated in bowl games, so whether fans like the style or not, the substance is a lot of wins. (Remember, no one complains about boring winning offenses.)

The thing about the Rose Bowl is that it’s not just about football. The UW Marching Band is in Pasadena for the first time with new director Corey Pompey.

Pompey appears to have made improvements without getting rid of the important things.

The second Bucky vs. Ducky Rose Bowl matchup features the Big Ten’s second best team (which is playing longer than its champion is) against a team that surprised most football observers by upsetting Utah, a team thought to be in contention for the College Football Playoff, in the Pac 12 championship game. The Ducks are 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring offense, while Wisconsin is 10th in scoring defense. Wisconsin is 22nd in the FBS in scoring offense, while Oregon is eighth in scoring defense. However, most observers seem to believe the Big T1e4n is a better conference than the Pac 12, which struggles to have a CFP-worthy team and in fact hasn’t had one the past couple of seasons.

This will probably be the key: UW is 14th in rushing offense, while Oregon is 10th in rushing defense. Oregon is 43rd in rushing offense, while UW is eighth in rushing defense. That favors Wisconsin, unless the Badgers put the ball on the ground.

Speaking of unimpressive yet successful, there are the Packers, which had to overcome a 17–3 halftime deficit to beat the Lions on (once again) a game-winning field goal Sunday. That makes the Packers the number two seed for the upcoming NFC playoffs, giving the Packers a week off and a second-round home game against Philadelphia (which beat the Packers on a tipped interception), Seattle or San Francisco (which hammered the Packers in Santa Clara) in round two Jan. 12.

At the risk of grandiose predictions, this team sort of reminds me of the 2010 Packers, which needed to win their final two games of the regular season to get into the playoffs, and then had to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl. Teams with struggling offenses and relatively stout defenses (though there was much complaining about this year’s defense for the number of points they gave up in wins) tend to win games like Sunday’s.

The converse is the 2011 Packers, which were an offensive machine on the way to a 15–1 regular-season record, only to lose at home in their first playoff game. You’ve heard the phrase offense wins games; defense wins championships. (A more amusing take comes from former Vikings coach Bud Grant, who observed, “Defense wins games; offense sells tickets.”)

The NFC frankly is not that good this season, which makes one think any of the six playoff teams could get to the Super Bowl. Yes, that includes Green Bay. The Packers also could lose their first playoff game.

 

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