Oregon’s College Football Playoff hopes went up in flames with the loss to Arizona State in the lead-up to the Civil War against Oregon State. A resounding win over Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game gave the Ducks quite a consolation prize. Mario Cristobal’s team will represent the conference in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
Paul Chryst’s Wisconsin Badgers also picked up a nice consolation prize, despite the loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Some felt that Penn State deserved the Rose Bowl bid, but the winner of the West Division and the loser in the conference title game got the slot in Pasadena.
Wisconsin is favored by as much as a field goal with a total on the rise from 49.5 to as high as 51.5 for the New Year’s Day game on the West Coast.
The Badgers lost to Ohio State twice. The other loss was one of the most stunning of the season and is the reason why Illinois is in the Redbox Bowl against Cal. A spot in the Rose Bowl and a crack at 2,000 yards are the reasons why star running back Jonathan Taylor is playing in this one. The Doak Walker Award winner for the nation’s best running back needs 326 yards to top Donnel Pumphrey’s FBS record for rushing yards. It won’t happen, but at least he’ll be on hand to give it a shot. At worst, he needs three yards to pass Tony Dorsett for fourth all-time.
Taylor was the leader of a Wisconsin offense that wound up 20th in the regular season with 6.45 yards per play. Jack Coan wasn’t spectacular, but he was really good with a 17/4 TD/INT ratio and a 70.1% completion rate. Wisconsin loves to throw a lot of short passes with slants and crossing routes and Coan was able to pick up good chunks of yards with those high-percentage throws. Quintez Cephus was his favorite target with 842 yards. Taylor also had 24 catches and was second with five rushing touchdowns.
The Badgers offense also didn’t disappear against good teams. In five games against ranked foes, the Badgers had 6.3 yards per play, so they were just fine. They even had over six yards per play against the Ohio State defense in Indianapolis.
Oregon managed 6.47 yards per play. It seems like you would want more with a quarterback that could go in the first round in Justin Herbert. Herbert was solid with 3,333 passing yards and a 32/5 TD/INT. Oregon also rushed for five yards per carry, led by CJ Verdell with 6.5 yards per pop. The Ducks did finish top 20 in yards per play. They also ran a lot of plays. It seems like sometimes we have this expectation or this perception of a team or unit and we expect too much. All in all, it was a strong year for the Oregon offense.
Of course, that being said, Oregon was limited to 5.85 yards per play in three games against ranked foes, but did have 6.45 yards per play against Utah.
Wisconsin finished 19th in yards per play allowed at 4.84 and Oregon finished 16th at 4.76. Oregon’s defense faced a lot more plays than Wisconsin’s, with 901 against for Oregon and 788 against for Wisconsin. Wisconsin had 49 sacks, which was tied for the third-most in the country. Oregon had 41, which was 10th.
Ultimately, these are two solid teams that have pretty similar statistical profiles. Oregon was 0.02 yards per play better than Wisconsin. Wisconsin did play a tougher schedule, as their SOS ranked 24th per Sagarin and Oregon’s ranked 36th.
One big difference between the two teams is that Oregon had 23 takeaways, even with some bad fumble luck. The Ducks had 19 interceptions and only four fumble recoveries. Their +13 turnover margin ranked seventh. Wisconsin had 21 takeaways, but only finished +3 in turnover margin because of some awful, terrible, no good fumble luck. The Badgers lost 14 fumbles, which was tied for the second-most in the nation.
Personally, I had a lot of questions about Mario Cristobal coming into the season. Cristobal has been regarded as a terrific recruiter and an excellent position coach, but there have been some questions about his in-game skill set and preparation. The way that Cristobal pantsed Kyle Whittingham in the Pac-12 Championship Game really answered a lot of my questions. It was a one-game sample size, sure, but that was an emphatic statement from the Ducks.
Chryst seems to be an underrated and undervalued coach for Wisconsin. Wisconsin doesn’t get the elite talent that most top-20 programs get, but the Badgers do well enough to be very competitive and very skilled at what they do with a power rushing attack. Coan’s arm was a clear upgrade over Alex Hornibrook’s and that gave Wisconsin a little more versatility on offense.
This should be a really tight game. Both teams should be highly motivated. Both coaches are solid. Both teams are run-first. Oregon’s passing attack is a little more explosive with Herbert, but the Badgers may have the best player in the game in Taylor.
With that in mind, I have to trust my numbers here. I have Oregon -1 on a neutral. I haven’t given any HFA in my numbers for this one, so it is a pure power rating of Oregon -1. With the line as high as +3 on the Ducks, they have to be the play here. I’ll use 2.5, as it is the consensus number, but you obviously want to try and find a 3 if you can.
Pick: Oregon +2.5