Newy Scruggs, NBCDFW.com
Horned Frogs players talk about being favored to win the Rose Bowl during Media Day before the big game.
The story line seems obvious for Saturday's Rose Bowl, and it's tough to argue against it after watching Wisconsin's star left tackle, 6-foot-7 Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi, as he ducks down to enter a hotel ballroom.
"It's like a Ferrari and a dump truck," TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said with a grin.
Yet the third-ranked Frogs and the No. 4 Badgers also say it's a simplistic way of looking at what's arguably the biggest bowl outside the national title game this season.
Sure, Wisconsin's offensive line is a worthy heir to the Badgers' tradition of power football, while TCU's top-ranked defense is a masterpiece of tactics and technique. But the Frogs (12-0) aren't exactly small, and the Badgers (11-1) are far from slow.
"I get that that's the first line of the story, but there's much more to it than that," Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "I think we'd be slighting both teams if all we talked about was our size and their speed."
It's impossible to miss Wisconsin's offensive line, usually because it's blocking out the sun. The Badgers' line is a monument to overpowering physicality -- a Mount Rushmore Plus One, with every starter at least 6-foot-4 and 313 pounds.
Carimi and left guard John Moffitt are among the Badgers' most popular and talented players, leading a line that has allowed three tailbacks to rush for at least 850 yards apiece while giving up just 12 sacks.
"Their offensive line is known throughout the country," said TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick, an elite talent himself. "With that combination of size and speed, they're different than anybody. They're unique, and they're pretty awesome."
Wisconsin built its hulking line with history in mind. Superior line play has been a hallmark of Badgers football since shortly after coach Barry Alvarez arrived at the school from Notre Dame in 1990, building the program that eventually produced the only three Rose Bowl victories in Wisconsin history.
"You can arguably say the best lines in Wisconsin history went through the Rose Bowl," said the 22-year-old Carimi, who grew up just east of Madison. "The '98 and '99 lines had a lot of the same guys on them, and the first Rose Bowl team (after the 1993 season) had a great line too, I think. That's the deal as Wisconsin. If you want to be seen as a great line, getting to the Rose Bowl is a part of it."
The parallels are particularly strong to the 1999 Wisconsin team, with Ron Dayne winning the Heisman Trophy behind a line that bullied every opponent except Michigan during a one-loss season. Coach Bret Bielema has stuck with Alvarez's physical foundation, even while much of the nation has evolved into various spread offenses.
"We're very conscious that Wisconsin has a tradition of great offensive line play," Moffitt said. "As long as there's enormous people in Wisconsin, I think that's the way it's going to be."
Yet the Badgers' haven't faced a challenge quite similar to the unbeaten Horned Frogs, whose defensive dominance is becoming a program hallmark as well.
TCU led the nation in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and first downs allowed, rarely facing a challenge it didn't completely suppress. The Frogs held five opponents to single-digit scoring and kept every opponent except San Diego State under 25 points.
The 4-2-5 defensive scheme that has kept Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien in film study all month has made stars of linebacker Tank Carder and safety Tejay Johnson, the Frogs leave the Badgers scrambling for comparisons.
"Michigan runs a similar defense, but speed-wise, it's not something we've ever seen before," Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks said. "They're smaller, but obviously more athletic and faster. Their whole package is just not something we've seen before."
TCU respects Wisconsin's size, but isn't intimidated. The Frogs have thrived against bigger offensive lines at Mountain West rivals BYU -- which Bumpas laughingly describes as infamous for sending out 25-year-old players with families and retirement plans -- and powerful Utah, the Frogs' fellow BCS busters.
"We do have big kids," Bumpas said. "Our tackles are 305 (pounds) and 260. I guess the one that's 260 is probably a little nervous because he looks across the line and sees these behemoths, but you've still got to go play."