As we turn the calendar from 2015 to 2016, the college football season will be preparing to crown its champion in the second ever college football playoff championship.
This year, the title will be won by one of four teams playing in two semifinals on the evening of December 31st as Clemson will play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and Michigan State will challenge Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Prior to these bowls, Houston and Florida State will kick off the “New Year’s 6” with the Peach Bowl.
While the two most important games are being played on New Year’s Eve, the two oldest bowl games have been saved for New Year’s Day, these of course being the Sugar Bowl, which has been around since 1935 and the so-called “granddaddy of them all,” the Rose Bowl, which has been played continuously since 1902.
For this preview, we’ll take a look at that time-honored Pasadena classic and the two teams scheduled to play in it, the #6 Stanford Cardinals and #5 Iowa Hawkeyes (5pm ET, Jan 1 on ESPN).
This is the first meeting for Stanford and Iowa, two teams that have had moderate bowl success. Iowa comes in with a 14-13-1 record in bowls, most recently losing in the TaxSlayer Bowl last season while Stanford has gone 12-11-1 with their most recent appearance in 2014, resulting in a victory of the Foster Farms Bowl.
Stanford has played in 26 bowl games in its 100+ year history, 14 of which have been the Rose Bowl. The Cardinals have won six of these games, lost seven and tied one. Their last appearance in the Rose Bowl was in 2014 and their last victory was the year prior, against Wisconsin.
Iowa has appeared in 28 bowl games including five appearances in the Rose Bowl. The team is 2-3 in these games with their most recent appearance being all the way back in 1991 which resulted in a loss against Washington.
But enough about those teams of the past, this is the 102nd Rose Bowl and it features the Pac 12 champion taking on the Big 10 runner-up. It features two teams with excellent running games, solid passing games, and battle tested rosters. Both have faced tough opponents and adversity throughout the season but this match-up no doubt, will be the toughest test for both.
The USA sportsbooks currently have Stanford as six point favorites on their spread, something that shouldn’t be surprising given the California team is basically getting home field advantage. Plenty of pundits will still be making them their pick. But putting that aside, Stanford is likely the oddsmakers favorites because of their best weapon, Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey (pictured), whose 2015 season was one for the record books.
McCaffrey Leads the Way in All-Purpose Yards
When you hear the name Barry Sanders, you think of greatness. Many know that Sanders was one of the best college running backs of all time and following that success at Oklahoma State, that he went on to have an even more successful and noteworthy career in the NFL. In fact, Sanders is regarded as one of the best at his position to play the game.
Surpassing Sanders’ single-season record for all-purpose yards set in 1988, had been seen as one of those records never likely to be broken. However, in 2015, 27 years after Sanders ran into the record books, Stanford’s McCaffrey made his own history by topping Sanders’ feat. This earned the sophomore a spot among the finalists for the Heisman and while he did not win, the honor going to Alabama’s Derrick Henry, McCaffrey’s season is no less impressive.
Come Friday, in the Rose Bowl, the running game is going to be a main focus especially for Stanford. Expect McCaffrey to be a big part of that as he has been all season. The sophomore back has rushed for over 100 yards in all but three games this season, two of which occurred in the first two games he played. Since then, McCaffrey has been the best running back in football, finishing with seven games of over 140 yards, including three of which went for over 200. But McCaffrey is also a pass-catching back and with his most recent game in which he recorded 207 yards on the ground and 105 through the air, McCaffrey established himself as a dual threat and one that Iowa would be wise not to overlook.
Desmond King’s Impact felt on Defense and Special Teams
While Iowa does have a decent offense, the team’s biggest strength comes in the form of sometime cornerback, sometime kick returner and sometime punt returner, Desmond King.
The 5’11 junior is a dangerous threat both as a returner and as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation. On special teams he averages 12.7 yards per punt return and 25.6 yards per kickoff return, both good enough for top 10 marks in the country. On defense, King owns eight of Iowa’s 18 interceptions and is the Thorpe Award winner for best defensive back in the nation.
Needless to say, Stanford will have its hands full keeping King from landing on the scoreboard. They will also have a hard time keeping their own QB, Kevin Hogan, from falling prey to what King has done so well this season. Fortunately, Stanford and Hogan are bolstered on the line by guard Joshua Garnett, the Outland Trophy winner this season.
Our preview’s Iowa Hawkeyes vs Stanford Cardinals Betting Picks Predictions
As mentioned earlier in this preview, Stanford are six point “home” favorites with the sportsbooks, so that is their prediction as to how the game will end. Overall, Iowa is a good team and until the Big 10 championship, looked as if they would be representing the conference in the Cotton Bowl. That said, Stanford is the team that no one was talking about. They are in many ways still an unknown, a surprising Pac-12 winner. Their conference isn’t as highly regarded as the Big 10, although Stanford actually had a tougher schedule in terms of SOS (strength of schedule) and FPI (football power index) than their Rose Bowl opponent. So they are our betting pick for this game.