Rose Bowl Preview: Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object

On New Years Day, the 102nd Rose Bowl will show its thorns. That’s sure what it’ll feel like when the #6 Stanford Cardinal, a new staple in Pasadena, takes on the #5 Iowa Hawkeyes, smelling roses for the first time in 25 years. Prepare for a hard-hitting, grind it out, old school type of football game, absolutely perfect for the Granddaddy of the All.

Why Iowa Will Win

How do you beat Stanford this season? Simply put: you out-Stanford, Stanford.

Northwestern weathered down the Cardinal defensive front for a grinding 225 rushing yards. Oregon whipped the Stanford D for 231 rushing yards and three scores, and Notre Dame pounded away for 299 yards and two touchdown averaging over eight yards per carry. Obviously it’s no coincidence that the three times all year teams ran for 200 yards or more resulted in the two losses and a third almost-loss.

Iowa’s running game just didn’t work against Michigan State and its dominant defensive line, getting stuffed for just 52 yards and going nowhere fast. But Hawkeye Offensive line is better than that, and more importantly, the backfield is about to get healthier. It’s easy to say that it’s just a sprain, but top back Jordan Canzeri suffered an ankle injury in the Big Ten championship game that took him out, making the Iowa ground game even more ineffective. The time off is expected to get him ready to go for a ground attack that cranked out 200 yards or more seven times on the year and averaged 192 per game on the season.

On the other side, Iowa only allowed 200 yards once all year in the tight win over Indiana. Start throwing, and that plays into exactly what the Hawkeye defense wants you to do.

Why Stanford Will Win

How do you beat Iowa this season? You out-Iowa, Iowa. Both of these teams have their work cut out for them.

Part of the analysis before the Big Ten championship was that Michigan State does a lot of the same things Iowa does, only with more talent and with a far better quarterback. Iowa’s C.J. Beathard was terrific, but Connor Cook is the veteran who led the Spartans on the game-winning 22-play drive. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan – like Cook – has been there and more than done that, playing in two Rose Bowls, going 1-1. He’s not going to bomb away all over the field, but he’s now a big-game quarterback who won’t buckle under the pressure, and has plenty of weapons around him to make the right decisions.

But the bigger problem for the Hawkeyes could be the way Stanford pounds away. Michigan State was able to push and shove when push came to shove, and the Cardinal NFL-caliber front five can do just that, helping the offense lead the nation in time of possession while ranking third in third down conversion percentage.

Iowa has good players across the board, but again, just like it didn’t have a Cook under center in Indianapolis, in the backfield it doesn’t have a Christian McCaffrey, who is a game breaker in every sense of the word. After shattering Barry Sanders’s three-decade standing record, that kind of talk is thrown your way.

Impact Players

Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is a do-everything running back that is near impossible to defend.


Christian McCaffrey: Unfortunately for his Heisman campaign, much of America was tuning into Iowa in the Big Ten championship, and Clemson vs. North Carolina in the ACC title game, missing out on McCaffrey’s epic performance against USC in the Pac-12 championship.

The 32 carries for 207 yards and a touchdown were great, the four catches for 105 yards and a touchdown were special, the 11-yard touchdown pass was the highlight, the two punt returns for 29 yards were solid and the five kickoff returns for 120 yards added to his all-around day. It’s easy for any great defense to take one player away, but Stanford has Hogan who can move the chains, too. The Cardinal offense is dynamic, and looks to move the chains like it has been all year.

But that’s where Desmond King comes in.

Desmond King has increased his draft stock this year as Iowa's star cornerback.
Desmond King has increased his draft stock this year as Iowa’s star cornerback.

Iowa’s star corner took home the 2015 Thorpe Award after coming up with eight interceptions including an 88-yard pick six against Maryland on Halloween. Soon after, no one threw his way anymore.

The Detroit native is a tough, active all-around defender with 67 stops on the year including a season-high 11 against Purdue, and he’s a bit McCaffrey like in his all-purpose abilities averaging 25.6 yards per kickoff return and 12.7 yards per punt try. A potential top 50 draft pick, a few big plays on the big stage could boost him up into the early second round. The Match-up between King and McCaffrey will prove to be one of the must-see match-ups of this bowl season.


In what will be a grind out, physical game, the team with most dynamic player in the country will come out on top. Look for Stanford to replicate Michigan State’s defensive Strategy to slow down, but not completely stop, Iowa.  Stanford 34-20

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