Regardless of whose analysis you listened to in the lead-up to this year’s Rose Bowl, it all pretty much sounded the same: Stanford was going to beat Wisconsin and beat them big. Well, things didn’t go quite as planned when the two teams did hit the field Tuesday, but the Cardinal did get the win, beating the Badgers 20-14.
More importantly, Stanford may have taken the first step toward a National Championship Game appearance at this time next year.
Before we can get to 2013 though, it only seems appropriate we wrap up 2012, which is exactly what the Cardinal did with Tuesday’s win. It wasn’t their prettiest victory of the season, but did follow the script that so many other Stanford games did this year: The Rose Bowl was their seventh victory this season by single digits.
Granted, it certainly didn’t look like it’d be a tight game early on, when Stanford used some creative play-calling to jump out to a 14-0 first quarter lead. The highlight came on a perfectly executed 34-yard wide receiver pass from Drew Terrell to Jamal-Rashad Patterson for a 34-yard gain, which set up the Cardinal’s first score of the game. By the end of the opening quarter Stanford was up 14-0, and it appeared they’d cruise to victory.
But just as easily as Stanford took the lead, Wisconsin cut right into it with a 14-point second quarter of their own. Most of the Badgers’ offense came on the ground and courtesy of the usual suspect, Mr. Montee Ball, who finished the Rose Bowl with 100 yards and one score on Tuesday night. Curt Phillips added a touchdown pass as well, and a late second quarter Stanford field goal was the only thing separating the two by a score of 17-14 at halftime.
Yet for all the fireworks the first half provided, it was actually Stanford’s defense which ended up as the difference in the second half. That defense- which used suffocating second halves to upset USC and Oregon earlier in the season- did the same to Wisconsin, limiting them to zero points after intermission. Usua Amanam sealed the win with a fourth quarter interception.
With the victory Stanford capped what was undoubtedly one of the most satisfying seasons in school history. Not only did the Cardinal win 10 games for just the second time in ever, but did it by silencing the doubters (which admittedly included yours truly) who questioned their long-term staying power after Andrew Luck, Chase Beeler, Cody Fleener and a number of other talented players left last spring for the NFL. Safe to say we were wrong, and the Cardinal is indeed legit.
Of course what’s scarier for the college football world is that even after three straight BCS bowl games and 35 wins over the last three seasons, Stanford might only now just being getting started.
Assuming that coach David Shaw doesn’t get gobbled up by an overzealous NFL team this off-season (and frankly, after what he’s done in two years at Stanford, NFL clubs would be crazy to not at least inquire with him), the Cardinal should enter the 2013 season as one of the favorites to take home the BCS title.
As my colleague Allen Kenney pointed out a few weeks back, the Cardinal will return 17 starters next year, including a red-shirt freshman at quarterback (Kevin Hogan), four starters along the offensive line, the entire defensive backfield and key playmakers Anthony Wilkerson, Ty Montgomery and Kelsey Young, all who played big roles in Tuesday’s win against Wisconsin. Tight end Zach Ertz could return at tight end (he should have interest from the NFL), and even if he doesn’t, Levine Toilolo is more than capable of filling shoes. Most importantly, three of what appear to be the Cardinal’s four toughest games in 2013 (UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame) are all at home.
After their Rose Bowl victory on Tuesday, it’s safe to say that it’s good to be a Stanford football player.
It could be even better come this time next year.
For all his insight, analysis and opinion on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.