LOS ANGELES -- The two teams' records differ; fairly significantly as a matter of fact. At first glance, Stanford’s 11-2 mark seems far more impressive than Wisconsin’s 8-5 ledger. And it is. The Cardinal won the Pac-12 championship and knocked off the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country in 2012.
But the same DNA that courses through the Cardinal also runs through the Badgers. As Stanford head coach David Shaw put it, Wisconsin was a “shoestring” away from having a significantly better record.
The Badgers lost five games this season, four of them by field goals and one by a touchdown. That’s 19 total points. Six of Stanford’s wins this year have been decided by a touchdown or less and their two losses are by a combined 11 points. In other words, neither team is particularly concerned with whether their respective fan bases have weak tickers. The teams have combined for six overtime games between them this year, with Wisconsin going 0-3 in overtime games and Stanford going 2-1.
So what does this tell us? Either it means Wisconsin is a much better team than their record indicates or it means they aren’t mature enough to win close games. On the flip side, either Stanford isn’t as good as its record indicates or it knows how to win -- cosmetically or otherwise.
“I would say we're a pretty good football team,” said Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez -- who didn’t coach the Badgers during the regular season. “We're a better football team. This is a group of young players that probably have persevered and are more resilient than any group I've ever been around. They've gone through an offensive line coaching change. They've lost three overtime games. They've lost two games where they've had a chance in the last possession to win, yet they came out the next week and played well.
“So, if you just look at our [record] -- how many losses we have, it's very misleading. I'm hoping Stanford's looking at that because we're a much better team, much better football team than a five-loss team.”
Hate to break it to you coach, but Stanford coach David Shaw said he’s not going to be fooled by the five losses. And let’s not forget, Stanford has needed fourth-quarter or overtime rallies six times this season.
There is also an emotional factor Shaw can’t control. Former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema split for Arkansas and all but two assistants Wisconsin assistants have already taken other jobs. However, Bielema is the only one who won’t be on the sidelines. All of the other coaches have agreed to stay on and coach their players through their third straight Rose Bowl.
“I don't say this lightly [so don’t] take it like I'm trying to butter them up, I do think it's commendable in this day and age that the coordinators have stayed on and they have other jobs,” Shaw said. “I think that's huge where coaches leave at the drop of the hat. And kids are left high and dry. And these kids have earned the right to go to the Rose Bowl. And it's great they have their coaches here to coach them. Sincerely, that's phenomenal in this day and age in our coaching profession.”
In other words, stick around till the clock reads zeros. Because this one probably won’t be over until it’s really over.