Wisconsin believes its third straight trip to the Rose Bowl could be the charm. Stanford is hoping for another victory in its charmed run through the Bowl Championship Series.
The unranked Badgers (8-5) and the No. 8 Cardinal (11-2) will meet in the 99th edition of the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, the bowl formally announced Sunday night.
Arroyo Seco will be filled with fans wearing red and white when two schools with virtually identical colors play a rematch of the 2000 Rose Bowl, won 17-9 by Wisconsin with Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Ron Dayne.
That loss was Stanford's most recent trip to the Granddaddy of Them All, while the Badgers lost the last two Rose Bowls to TCU and Oregon.
Although this matchup was highly unlikely just a few weeks ago, both teams' coaches already seem certain that a collision between two big, powerful teams who disdain most of college football's newfangled trickery could be a real throwback — with a perfect showcase in this tradition-soaked bowl.
"We've talked about how we admire how each other plays," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "This is probably going to be the first team for the both of us that's almost like a mirror image. I think our guys are going to see things they go against in training camp. There's going to be a little bit of a chess match as we go into this thing, but it's going to be exciting to see something familiar on film."
Stanford is in its third consecutive BCS bowl, a nearly unimaginable feat just six seasons ago when coach Jim Harbaugh took over the long-struggling program at a school with lofty academic standards and a fan base dwarfed by the conference's big-name football schools.
"This has been our goal all along, throughout the year, through our highs and lows," Shaw said. "I think we're going to have an exciting game. I think you're going to hear a lot of mutual respect. I think we admire how each other plays."
Wisconsin is no stranger to surprising occurrences after this weekend. The Badgers seemed highly unlikely to make their third straight Rose Bowl after a series of narrow losses, but they stunned Nebraska 70-31 on Saturday in the Big Ten title game to earn yet another sun-splashed break from the Wisconsin winter for their hearty fan base.
"We played our way into it with a win this week, and we're very excited to return to Pasadena and have the opportunity to play against a great opponent," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "It's a matchup I knew our kids were instantly excited about in the locker room last night."
Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck led Stanford's turnaround over the past four years, but those two NFL-bound leaders never managed what Shaw and freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan did in the past month by winning the conference title and getting the Cardinal back to Pasadena.
After beating No. 1 Oregon 17-14 in an overtime thriller two weeks ago, Stanford beat UCLA twice in seven days, clinching the Rose Bowl berth with another nail-biter at Stanford Stadium on Friday night.
Stanford hasn't won the Rose Bowl since the Indians — as the Cardinal were known until 1972 — earned back-to-back victories following the 1970 and 1971 seasons. Quarterback Jim Plunkett led the first win to cap his Heisman Trophy season.
The Badgers finished third in their division, but capitalized on their chance to play for the title with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play. After routing the Cornhuskers, the Badgers became the first five-loss team ever to reach the Rose Bowl — and just the second Big Ten team to play in three straight Rose Bowls, joining Michigan in the late 1970s.
"I think this year, because of the trials and tribulations we've been through as a team, it's just been a really popular team with our fans because of the way we've played," Bielema said. "I think we'll give (the fans) a really good reason to travel."
Wisconsin wasn't as mediocre as its 7-5 regular-season record indicated, however. Those five losses were by a combined 19 points, including three overtime defeats — and the Badgers left little doubt they're the best bowl-eligible team in the Big Ten with their demolition of Nebraska, the odds-on favorite to return to the stadium where the Huskers lost to UCLA back in September.
Star tailback Montee Ball is among the Badgers who will be playing in their third Rose Bowl. He rushed for 132 yards against TCU and 164 against Oregon, but Wisconsin lost a 21-19 nail-biter to the Horned Frogs before the Ducks shredded their defense for 621 yards in last year's 45-38 victory — the highest-scoring Rose Bowl ever played.
"We've just got to play better," Bielema said. "There's no doubt we played two very good football teams that were able to beat us in games that came down the wire on that field."
Stanford's entire renaissance has been leading to this trip down the California coast, ever since Harbaugh took over a moribund program in 2007 and immediately engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, beating No. 2 Southern California as a 41-point underdog.
Harbaugh and Shaw, his offensive coordinator, finally put together a winning season in 2009 to earn the Cardinal's first bowl appearance since 2001. Stanford then went 12-1 and beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in 2010 before Harbaugh's departure to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Cardinal didn't miss a beat when Shaw took over, with Luck leading them to an 11-2 season ending with an overtime loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. Stanford bounced back from early losses to Washington and Notre Dame this season with a spectacular finish, including that suffocating defensive performance against the previously dominant Ducks — on Oregon's home field, no less.