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Best Games of 2011: Oregon hands Wisconsin one more late loss

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There were a number of good bowl games played in the 2011-12 season. We have already touched on two of them in our look back at ten of the best games from this past college football season. Few games matched the hype the way the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of Them All, did when it paired Pac 12 champion Oregon and Big Ten champion Wisconsin in Pasadena. As expected, Oregon and Wisconsin got started on a fast pace and the game went down to the final seconds.

Before we continue with a look back at the 2012 Rose Bowl, and in case you have missed any of the previous segments, here are the games we have already reflected on:

Rose Bowl: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 10 Wisconsin
January 2, 2012

The Quick Slant: Oregon’s offense continues to tick while Wisconsin’s offense runs out of steam as Ducks finally get a big bowl win for Chip Kelly.

Game In Brief: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38

This was the Rose Bowl match-up that most college football fans and experts were hoping to see when the season got underway. We all knew what Oregon’s offense was all about and the Ducks had everything they needed to make a run back to the BCS Championship Game. But a season-opening loss to LSU set Oregon back right out of the gate, and a loss later in the season to USC all but eliminated Oregon from title contention. Instead they set their sights on a third straight Pac 12 championship in hopes of finally winning a big game after two straight seasons ending in BCS game frustration.

Meanwhile in the dairy state of Wisconsin a new quarterback, Russell Wilson, gave the Badgers a key ingredient to make their own return trip to Pasadena. All Russell Wilson Everything hysteria swept the nation, or at least Crystal Ball Run, as the NC State transfer gave the Badgers a dynamic offense capable of throwing and running on any given play with multiple options. Their season saw a pair of hiccups in late-game fashion on the road (Michigan State and Ohio State), and unfortunately for Bret Bielema’s squad, the new year would continue that trend.

Two of the most dynamic offense set a Rose Bowl record for first half points, exchanging blow for blow from start to finish. Wilson connected with Jared Abbrederis for a 38-yard touchdown just minutes in to the game, and LaMichael James scored a short touchdown run two minutes later on the opening possessions for each team. Wilson responded with his own short touchdown run, and Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas rushed 91 yards as the first quarter came to a close to tie it at 14-14. Whew!

RoseBowlGamepresentedVizioWisconsinvoKRVyxmj4GvlAfter the Badgers regained the lead, 21-14, with a short Montee Ball run it took exactly 16 seconds for Oregon to respond with a 54-yard pass from Darron Thomas to Kenjon Barner. Wisconsin looked to carry the momentum in to halftime with a 33-yard fumble return by Louis Nzegwu but the Ducks moved right down field on the ensuing possession and finished with a touchdown pass form Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei. It would be 28-28 at the half, already threatening to shatter Rose Bowl offensive records in short time.

But the second half saw Wisconsin start to wear down and run out of steam. Thomas opened the second half with a 64-yard touchdown run just 50 seconds in to the half and Wisconsin fought back with ten points to take a lead in to the fourth quarter, but it would only be a matter of time before Oregon struck back. Thomas and Tuinei connected for a second time early in the fourth quarter to take the lead and a 30-yard field goal gave Oregon a seven-point lead midway through the final quarter. Wisconsin, a victim of poor clock management in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter was moving down field and you almost got the sense Wilson was going to get his team in the end zone. A completed pass that stayed in bounds however forced the clock to continue ticking and Wilson was unable to get a snap off to spike the football. Officials had to take another look as Oregon started to celebrate, and video replay confirmed the clock expired just before Wilson attempted to spike the football.

Snake bitten once more for the Badgers.

What We Said Then (Full Story)

One thing that it thankfully won’t be remembered for though is this: Chip Kelly will never again have to answer a question about his ability to “win the big game.” The dumbest story line in college football is no more. Kelly has his first bowl win as a head coach, and the Ducks have their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917, after Monday’s 45-38 thriller against Wisconsin.

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While it’s almost certain that star running back LaMichael James will be gone to the NFL (James just completed a redshirt junior year) alongside a few star seniors like Tuinei, a good chunk of the core returns. With Darron Thomas back under center, and De’Anthony Thomas taking on a more featured role, the Ducks should start next year in the Top 10, and alongside USC should be the favorites in the Pac-12 entering the 2012. It really is an unbelievable ascension for a program that really had no true football tradition before Kelly showed up in Eugene just a few short years ago.

Hindsight is 20/20

Oregon will lose LaMichael James, but Darron Thomas surprised many by announcing he would be leaving for the NFL as well. So much for that taking on a more featured role. We also saw Chip Kelly flirt with the NFL but deciding to return to Eugene, which is nothing but good news for the program.

Wisconsin got a bit of a boost in learning that Montee Ball will be back next season as well. While we did not discuss him too much in this post it should not go without mention just how valuable he was to Wisconsin. He will be the top running back in the Big Ten and perhaps the country next season. After not receiving much Heisman hype it should be expected he would be considered one of the favorites heading in to the 2012 season.

Which of these two teams has the best chance to return to the Rose Bowl next season? Both wil be among the favorites in their conference, with a slight nod to Oregon perhaps. Wisconsin will benefit from a postseason ban at Ohio State, leaving the door wide open for a return to the Big Ten championship game if things go well in Madison and they can hold off Illinois and Penn State in the Leaders Division. That is probably a safe bet for 2012.

As for Oregon, they will once again have to do battle with Stanford in the Pac-12 North. The cardinal are coming off a strong recruiting season and seem to have some mojo continuing to flow in Palo Alto, but they will have to find someone to fill the void left by Andrew Luck, which is certainly no small task. Other than Stanford, Oregon should be a few years away from having to take Washington, Washington State Cal, and Oregon State too seriously in the division. Which leaves us to the Pac 12 South, where USC is already generating plenty of buzz as a Pac 12, and BCS contender now that their postseason ban expires and Matt Barkley has decided to come back. USC knocked off Oregon in a bit of a statement game for the Trojans in Eugene. Don’t be surprised if Lane Kiffin’s crew starts to reclaim the top spot in the Pac 12 in 2012.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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