Even if TCU was not playing in the Rose Bowl it is the only bowl game that I actually want to watch at least for a bit regardless of opponent. Bucky's 5th Quarter and our own Ben Findley did a series of question and answer sessions covering this game from all angles, and is a nice side read for more information on this game.
This is Wisconsin's first Rose Bowl game since 2000 and for TCU is their first appearance, but an even more amazing stat is that TCU is the first current non-BCS school to play in the Rose Bowl since SMU played Stanford in the 1936 game. This game is only the third time since 2000 that a matchup is not a Big 10 vs. Pac-10 matchup, this is excluding when that was the BCS title game. Prior to the 2000s the last matchup that did not feature a Big 10 and Pac-10 game was in 1946 when it was USC against Alabama.
Before we get into breaking down positions, SB Nation Los Angeles does a good job of putting together the numbers comparing each team in this game:
Strength of Schedule: Wisconsin 71st; TCU 80th per Sagarin ratings
Points scored per game: Both tied for 4th in nation, Wisconsin and TCU (43.3 points per game)
Total yards per game: TCU (491.5, 9th); Wisconsin (450.2, 17th)
Rushing yards per game: TCU (261.2, 8th); Wisconsin (247.3, 12th)
Points allowed per game: TCU (11.4, 1st); Wisconsin (20.5, t-29th)
Total yards allowed per game: TCU (215.4, 1st); Wisconsin (323.5, 22nd)
Passing yards allowed per game: TCU (126.3, 1st); Wisconsin (191.8, 26th)
Rushing yards allowed per game: TCU (89.2, 3rd); Wisconsin (131.7, t-30th)
Just looking at these numbers it is no wonder that TCU is a field goal favorite since they have a better defense then Wisconsin and that seems to be the only major difference between the two teams.
The Wisconsin offensive line is massive and seems to be everyone's point of emphasis as being the key to beat TCU. The Wisconsin offensive line does out weigh the TCU defensive line, but the same thing was said when Utah played Alabama and Utah's defensive line which was faster just blew past the larger and supposedly superior offensive line. If Wisconsin is to be successful against TCU they must use their massive offensive line to wear down the TCU front four. TCU has the athletes to stop the run but the key will be at the end of the game to see if TCU can hold up since their overall depth is less then the Badgers.
A way for TCU to combat the size is to obviously use speed to beat the Wisconsin tackles off the edge and if that is successful enough and the tackles have to guard against defensive ends like Tank Carder coming off the edge then that could make Wisconsin more vulnerable to linebackers running up the middle to run blitz or go after quarterback Scott Tolzin. The trenches will be the biggest key to see who wins this game.
When TCU has the ball their offensive line is smaller then the Wisconsin defensive line, but they are very good. Utah's defensive line which goes 12 deep and was terrorizing quarterbacks leading up to the TCU game was pushed around all afternoon by the TCU offensive line. I think TCU can hold their own against Wisconsin but TCU does not go one-on-one when blocking defensive lines. TCU runs the option, jet sweeps with Jeremy Kerley and zone reads which means the blocking scheme has pulling guards to bring extra blockers to that side of the play so they are not going one on one with the Wisconsin defensive line.
The quarterback play for both teams is pretty similar in that TCU's Andy Dalton and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien are senior quarterbacks who are slightly above game managers for their respective teams. Andy Dalton is at his best when he has time to throw the ball, because the reason he struggled in last year's Fiesta Bowl against Boise State was because Boise was able to make Dalton uncomfortable. Now, Dalton does have some evasive moves and can run if needed to make a play, but if he gets constant pressure and is forced throw because of the pressure that is when Dalton most vulnerable. Dalton is also a solid runner and since TCU added the option to their offensive gameplan he is that much more dangerous.
As for Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, he is not going to light up any defenses with his arm. Tolzien did not have a 300 yard passing game all year, but his strength is his accuracy as he passed for just under 75 percent of the passes this year and only had six interceptions.
The running game is key for both teams to for one help their quarterbacks out and two each team has a solid running game. Wisconsin has John Clay, James White and Montee Bell who all rushed for 1,900 yards and a combined 44 touchdowns. TCU's defense must slow down the running attack which will include getting past the vastly oversized Wisconsin offensive line. In TCU's 4-2-5 defense they will be undersized against the Wisconsin backs but TCU will have to be quick to the ball carrier and gang tackle the Wisconsin runner.
TCU's rushing offense consists of Matthew Tucker, Ed Wesley, Andy Dalton and Waymon James. All four of those had over 400 yards with Matthew Tucker being the leading rusher at 1,065 yards. The rushing attack for TCU is actually more productive then Wisconsin as TCU had over 200 more yards on the ground this year.
TCU's rushing offense is much different then Wisconsin's run up the middle smash mouth style compared to TCU's running attack that which consists of the option, zone read and the inverted veer option which can be seen here:
One other running play that TCU uses on occasion is the jet sweep with wide receiver Jeremy Kerley as well as the occasional move of putting Kerley in the shotgun. Kerley could be a key factor in this game since he is as an explosive player if he gets the ball in space. Besides being a playmaker Kerley lead TCU with 50 receptions and 10 touchdowns. Kerley is also a very good return man as he averaged 28 yards per kick return which was good enough for 15th in the country. Wisconsin does not have a player like Kerley on their side who can break open a big play on offense and special teams, and Kerley could be the difference in this game.