Stanford Cardinal vs. Iowa Hawkeyes, Friday Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET
Last year we didn't have a traditional pairing in the Rose Bowl - the Pac-12 was represented by the winners from Oregon, but they beat not a Big Ten foe like they are supposed to but instead the ACC's Florida State. It was a playoff game, and a highly-prestigious game and all, but it still wasn't the real Rose Bowl, and there is no better game in my mind than the Rose Bowl. Now everything is right with the world again. Not only do we have a traditional matchup, but it's a heck of a game at that.
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Rose Bowl Betting Storylines
Stanford certainly won't be uncomfortable in this traditional Rose Bowl. This is the third time in the last four years that they have been in the game. They beat Wisconsin in 2013 before losing to Michigan State the next year. Iowa doesn't have the same type of experience on their side - their players weren't born yet when the Hawkeyes were last in the Granddaddy of Them All, losing to Washington in 1991. It's not like they have been playing in equally-prestigious and pressure-filled games, either. Outside of the 2010 Orange Bowl, which came before any of the current players were with the program, they have been playing largely in games that only their parents and most enthusiastic fans really care about - when they have made a bowl game at all, which they didn't after the 2012 season. If you believe that experience truly matters then you have to give a big edge to the Cardinal in this one on that front.
While Stanford is comfortable playing Big Ten opponents in this game, they will certainly be hoping that things go better here than it did the last time they played a Big Ten foe. The Cardinal opened their season at Northwestern, and they were humiliated. They lost 16-6 in by far the worst performance of their season. Now, you have to be very careful in evaluating common opponents, but it is at least worth noting that when Iowa played at Northwestern this year they won by 30.
When looking at individual players in this one, Christian McCaffrey obviously towers above all others. Second in Heisman voting, McCaffrey is in a conversation with only guys like Barry Sanders when it comes to all-purpose yards. He's a freak. It sets up a very interesting matchup, too. Stanford is sure to look to ride McCaffrey as far as they can in this one, but he will be running into a defense that it Top 10 nationally against the run. It's strength against strength, and it has the potential to really define the outcome of this game.
The star for Iowa is Desmond King, freshly crowned as the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the country's best defensive back. At his best he is functionally impossible to throw against. Kevin Hogan has had a reasonable year, but he is at the helm of a passing offense that underwhelms - they are just 79th in the country in passing yards. King is much better than the passing defense overall for the Hawkeyes, but his presence against a flat passing offense could force Stanford to exploit their strengths, and that could make them much more one-dimensional. It's crucial, then, that King gets off to a fast start - an early statement play from him could shape the game and have big implications for his team.
Rose Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
This game hasn't settled on a number yet - it can be found with Stanford favored by 6.5 in some spots and by the key number of seven in others. Action has been basically split between the two teams, so we aren't likely to see major movement or real pressure for consensus of lines unless something major happens leading up to the game. The total sits at 53.
The Hawkeyes have gone "under" the total in eight of their last 10 neutral-site games, but the "over" is 3-0-1 in their last four games played on turf. The Cardinals are 6-1 ATS in their last seven neutral-site games and 5-1 ATS in their last six bowl games.
Stanford vs. Iowa Rose Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
If I can get Iowa and get seven points as well then I have no choice but to do that. There are concerns - they haven't played the toughest schedule, they are more blue-collar than star-driven, they don't have a lot of depth, and though Kirk Ferentz has been on his game this year it has long seemed that his best years are in the past so he could very easily be outcoached. I stick with them, though, because of how very impressive they were in defeat to the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship and how generally feisty and determined they have been this year. Stanford is the class of their conference, but the Pac-12 was far from their best this year. Iowa is an attractive underdog - even with their major experience shortcoming.
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