Northwestern Mutual Rose Bowl Preview
Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (12-1)
January 1, 2016, 5:00 PM ET
Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California
Line: Stanford -6
Bowl swag: Fossil watch, Ogio Backpack, New Era fitted 59Fifty Cap, item from gift suite
Stanford (#6 CFP Standings)
The Cardinal ran all over USC in the PAC-12 Championship Game in Santa Clara, with Christian McCaffrey totaling 461 all-purpose yards while setting the championship game record and shattering Barry Sanders’ single-season record in the process. Stanford came thisclose to getting all the way back into the College Football Playoff after laying an egg in its season opener at Northwestern. While that season-opening loss doesn’t look as bad in retrospect as it did at the time, given Northwestern’s 10-2 2015 season record, it was likely the difference between Stanford playing for a national championship as the PAC-12 Conference Champ, versus “settling” for a berth in the Rose Bowl. That said, do not expect the Cardinal to play as if they are disappointed to play in a traditional matchup in the Grandaddy of all college football games.
Stanford’s defense has been less stout than in recent years, but has still had a knack for getting it done when necessary throughout the 2015 season. The secondary is now healthy again, getting Ronnie Harris and Alijah Holder back at full strength after seeing both hobbled late in a very difficult regular season schedule. The thin (body-wise) defensive line has benefitted from strong performances from RS Freshman Solomon Thomas and Graduate-transfer—from Cal, of all places—Brennan Scarlett really playing well down the stretch. The heart-and-soul of the defense is all-conference LB Blake Martinez, who led the PAC-12 in tackles for the second consecutive year with 131.
So, by now you have heard of Christian McCaffrey, he of the all-purpose 3,496 yards, which is more than any human being has ever earned in a single college football season. The Cardinal also boasts what may be the nation’s best offensive line, anchored by Outland Trophy winning guard Joshua Garnett, made famous by the double pancake play. The Cardinal also have a first team all-conference TE (Austin Hooper), and LT (Kyle Murphy), but the straw that stirs the drink is fourth-year QB starter Kevin Hogan. Hogan’s stellar Stanford career was celebrated in this fantastic piece by Jill Whisnant. He is the Cardinal’s winningest starter ever, and he aims to become the first Stanford QB to win two Rose Bowl games as starter. As has happened all season, Hogan figures to be the key to Stanford’s hopes in this game. If he plays well, Stanford’s chances will be strong.
Iowa Hawkeyes (#5 CFP Standings)
All Kirk Ferentz and Iowa did this season was run the table during the regular season for the first time in program history. There has been some criticism of Iowa’s schedule, but the Hawkeyes managed to vanquish every opponent faced during the season. Many “pundits” doubted Iowa all year long (*raises hand*), only to be proven wrong time and again. Some had begun to question whether Ferentz had grown stale on his alma mater’s sidelines, but he proved them wrong with one of the 2015 season’s best coaching jobs. More impressively, Iowa came within approximately a yard-and-a-half of winning the B1G Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Iowa’s defense is ranked 18th in the nation in scoring, and that side of the ball has led the way to the historic season that the Hawkeyes have enjoyed. Unlike Stanford’s defense, Iowa’s defense is led by its ball-hawking cornerback Desmond King. Linebackers Josey Jewell and Cole Fisher both racked up over 100 tackles during 2015 to lead Iowa, ranking second and sixth in the B1G, respectively. Up front, DL Nate Meier led Iowa in sacks with 6.5, tying him for tenth in the B1G. As a team, Iowa had 18 interceptions during the season, three more than the second best team in the conference.
Those who have not seen Iowa will not trust that the Hawkeyes can do much on the offensive side of the ball. They would be incorrect. The statistics have not been eye-popping, but the Hawkeyes have been clutch. QB CJ Beathard was fourth in the B1G in passer rating at 139.6, and he led Iowa to the fourth best 3rd down conversion percentage in the B1G at 42.86%.The rushing game is keyed by Jordan Canzeri, who should be fully healthy following a late-season ankle injury. Tevaun Smith and Matt VandBerg were both in the top 20 in the B1G in receiving yards per game. Most importantly, Iowa (and CJ Beathard) have been able to get it done when it has needed doing the most throughout the season.
Stanford has been favored by 6-6.5 points since the first line posted for this game, which is nuts against a team that ran the table during the regular season, including a blow-out win over the same Northwestern Wildcats who beat Stanford this season, on the same field in Evanston, IL. Iowa has the better defense, but Stanford has the better QB, a great, clock-chewing running game, and, of course, the AP offensive player of the year in Christian McCaffrey. Stanford will win by a late field goal in a fiercely contested Rose Bowl game.