Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanford Cardinal look to start off 2013 by beating the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl.
It's been a dream year to be a Stanford Cardinal fan. The lowest point was losing an epic Fiesta Bowl matchup with Oklahoma State, but after that it's been smooth sailing.
Stanford struggled their way through San Jose State. It seemed like a bad thing at the time, but it turned out to be one of the many close games they'd secure against good teams. They pummeled Duke, who would also be bowl eligible.
Then they beat USC, pummeling them and rocking them on both sides of the ball. They derailed the national championship dreams of the Trojans while setting their own up. While Stanford's hopes would be dashed a game later against Washington, after that they started rolling. With only a close loss to Notre Dame that could have arguably gone either way, Stanford would start pulling out win after win right at the margins.
The Cardinal won their rivalry game with Cal in dominant fashion. They pulled out a trap game against Washington State and rocked Colorado. They then pulled out incredibly tight fourth quarter comebacks against Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA, overcoming what seemed to be a final blow to their conference title hopes each time.
The Cardinal would face nine winning teams in 2012. They'd go 7-2, winning most of them by the skin of their teeth. There would be plenty of close calls and games that could have gone every way, but Stanford won almost all of them, and here they stand in Pasadena.
The Cardinal now finish up their season with Wisconsin. This is a five loss Big Ten champion that probably shouldn't be there. This is a Badger squad that finished third in their own division, making them no better than Washington or Arizona in the pecking order of the Pac-12.
That isn't to say Wisconsin couldn't give Stanford trouble. No team matches the style of the Cardinal better than the Badgers. They're used to playing in the mud and winning physical, ugly contests. Moreover, their defense has proven they can hang with tough foes like Ohio State and Oregon State. The offense has struggled to get going without Russell Wilson though, and has been their downfall in their losses all season.
Stanford has hardly been an efficient machine. The Cardinal have had everything clicking, but no one would say they were an overwhelming force in 2012 like their Andrew Luck counterparts. The offense gets a timely touchdown at almost every part of a contest, but Kevin Hogan isn't exactly directing symphonies out there, just four note tunes that get him through the game. Stepfan Taylor trudges, but Stanford's depth isn't quite what it used to be in the backfield. The Cardinal defense has had incredible moments, but even they have had their down periods and needed the offense to pick them up. Only Zach Ertz and the linebacking corps could be considered unstoppable forces.
The offense has its moments, but at times it can be eminently stoppable. The Badgers defense will definitely match up well with trying to handle a physical front since they've seen it in practice. However, on the other side, Wisconsin is perfectly stoppable and they can be beaten up front. Montee Ball is a tough guy, but the Wisconsin offensive line has generally not been the powerful force that trudged their way to their previous two Rose Bowls. Yet here both of them stand in The Granddaddy of Them All. It could be another close affair, the type of game that Stanford has handled all season.
2012 has been Stanford's year. Can they start off 2013 with another show of force?