For Stanford, this is its Super Bowl, the ultimate goal for the Pac-12 champion. It's also the team's third consecutive BCS bowl, establishing the program among the elite in the country.
A big reason for Stanford's ascent has been its transformation into a physical force. David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, described how that transpired, while speaking at his final press conference, Sunday at the LA Hotel Downtown.
"Recruiting," Shaw said. "We believe it 100 percent. You don't make a kid tough. You find a tough kid. Guys that are tough physically, guys that are tough mentally, guys that are tough emotionally that can control their emotions.
"Coaches are half a field away. It's what the guys do on the field, and we can't help them. They have to do it themselves. They have to fix problems. They have to control their emotions. They have to rely on what they see. So you've got to find the toughest kids, the smartest kids you can find, and put them on the field to give them a chance to win."
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Senior punter Daniel Zychlinski is concluding his collegiate career at the Rose Bowl Game. How cool is that?
"This is a dream come true," Zychlinski said. "When our class came in as true freshmen, this was our goal from the beginning. To sit back and to reflect on the ride that we've taken to get to this point is truly extraordinary.
"I can't wait to get on the field. I've been visualizing the moment in my mind since we found out we were going to play in the Rose Bowl. Running down the ramp and onto the field just as so many great football players have done before us, and being a part of the tradition that is the Rose Bowl is a great way to end my career at Stanford."
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Often, the natural progression of a program comes with the loss of successful coaches. Thus far, Stanford's staff has remained intact, though Wisconsin has lost its head coach, Bret Bielema, to Arkansas. Their coordinators also have taken other jobs, though they have remained for this game.
Does Shaw expect to lose some assistants?
"I don't anticipate it," he said. "As I've said before, I've turned off all their cell phones, locked their e-mails.
"It's part of the business. When you have success, it's a thing that could happen. And I give my guys all the strongest recommendations. The two coordinators I have have done a phenomenal job on both sides of the ball. It's a credit to them. The reason why we're here is a big credit to those guys. And, hopefully, they get a chance to stay, and it will make us a stronger team."
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A favorite subject among members of the media, particularly among those who don't cover Stanford, is quarterback Kevin Hogan. They know of him, but know little about what makes him special. Shaw has been asked to explain Hogan's success in different ways. Here is one such description:
"To boil it down to just a couple of things, because he does a lot of things very well, first and foremost, he matured from training camp to about Game Five," Shaw said. "He matured as far as understanding what we need to do and being specific with his job. The growth has been phenomenal.
"His athletic ability is something you can't teach. When he gets out in space and makes a guy miss or breaks a tackle, that's such a plus. It's something defenses have to account for.
"But the underlying thing for me is that he's ultra-competitive. He's very demanding of himself. No game is too big for him, no task is too daunting for him, and he stays even-keel. He calms our huddle -- it's phenomenal for a young man to step into a huddle and not have to domineer the huddle.
"You've got dominant personalities in that huddle, but he can come in and call the play with confidence. And those guys know he's going to give it his all to help them try to win a game."
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Players and coaches have commented on the organization of the Rose Bowl Game activities, which have included a trip to Disneyland, the Beef Bowl, a Clippers game, and an evening at the Improv, as well as media events.
Somehow, the off-the-field stuff has not seemed as invasive as it's been in comparison to previous bowl trips. The media events have been at 8 a.m., and been over by 8:30, leaving most of the day free for team activities.
"I've had an awesome experience and it's been the best bowl game I've been a part of," right tackle Cameron Fleming said. "I like the way the week has been structured. It lets us have fun and enjoy the surroundings while having plenty of time to prepare for the football game. It most definitely feels like a game week. Instead of going to school, we get to relax at the hotel."
Of all the events, tight end Levine Toilolo said, "The entire team would agree that the comedy show was one of the best bowl events we've been to over the last few years."
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Inside linebackers coach Dave Kotulski faces a daunting task for his players - that of being thrust the task of stopping Wisconsin's inside running game.
"You've got to play fundamental football," Kotulski said. "They force you to play great football."
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Tight end Levine Toilolo appreciates the opportunity to play fairly close to home, in San Diego County, and described what the Rose Bowl Game means to him.
"Being back in SoCal after growing up here as a kid, it will be great to play in front of my family and friends," Toilolo said. "To have the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl is one of those things that you think about while growing up and will remember for the rest of your life. I'm very fortunate to be able to be a part of this."
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Stanford's Usua Amanam has been a force as a blitzer from his nickelback position. But with Wisconsin's offense centered around a power-running game, it would seem there may be fewer opportunities for Amanam to get on the field.
"There are still nickel opportunities," Shaw said. "We don't want to put guys in different positions than they've been in before. He's going to have his role, whether that's four plays, seven, 15 or 30, he's ready for it.
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Wisconsin's 7-5 record has no bearing on Stanford's motivation, Shaw said.
"Our guys aren't built like that," Shaw said. "We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
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Stanford Coach Shaw Signs Long-term Contract
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