Long before Scott Tolzien became one of the faces of the University of Wisconsin football team, he had a rooting interest in its fortunes.
Growing up in Rolling Meadows, Ill., Tolzien said it was a family tradition that everyone gather at his grandmother's house on New Year's Day to watch as many bowl games as possible.
"We used to have all the TVs on around the house, five different games on," he said.
Tolzien, now the award-winning senior quarterback for the Badgers, watched each one with an unshakable agenda.
"I just rooted for the Big Ten as a kid," he said. "Any time the Big Ten succeeded it was pretty exciting."
There was one game that was required viewing for a family that has strong roots in college football. Tolzien's older brother, Michael, played at Air Force; his younger brother, Mark, plays at Holy Cross; his uncle, Mike Korf, played at Tulane from 1971-76.
"The climax of it all was the Rose Bowl," Tolzien said.
So it was on Jan. 1, 1999, when Tolzien, 11 at the time, tuned in to watch UW make its first of back-to-back appearances in Pasadena, Calif.
"The most vivid memory," Tolzien said, "is Ron Dayne in the UCLA game running all over the place."
A junior tailback, Dayne rushed 27 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns for the Badgers en route to a 38-31 victory — an outing that set the stage for his run to the Heisman Trophy the following year.
That season ended in the same place with the same result. UW outlasted Stanford 17-9 to become the first program in Big Ten history to win consecutive Rose Bowls.
All those childhood memories are relevant now that the Badgers (11-1) are headed back to the Rose Bowl to play for the first time since 2000.
UW, which shared the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State, will face TCU (12-0).
Gabe Carimi was 10, growing up in Cottage Grove, when the Badgers made that historic Rose Bowl run. Now he's an award-winning senior left tackle whose work has factored into the most prolific offense in school history.
When Carimi is asked what he remembers about the last two Rose Bowls for UW, one word keeps popping up.
"There's a lot of joy," he said.
"You're just a kid. The team you always rooted for went to a Rose Bowl. That's what I remember as a kid — a lot of joy that we anticipated (leading) up to the game."
After a whirlwind week of awards and banquets, the Badgers return to practice today. One of their biggest challenges between now and Jan. 1 is keeping the game — its profile, its hype, its meaning - in perspective.
"I've never been to L.A.," senior strong safety Jay Valai said. "It's going to be a little culture shock. Hopefully, nobody will end up on TMZ (the Los Angeles-based gossip and celebrity news website) during the week."
Asked about the challenge of maintaining an even keel, UW senior tight end Lance Kendricks was succinct.
"Just stay focused," he said. "That's what we've done consistently well all season. Follow the plan."
Since the Rose Bowl matchup was announced Sunday, some college football observers have categorized it as the most intriguing behind the Bowl Championship Series title game pitting unbeatens Auburn and Oregon.
The Horned Frogs feature the top overall defense in the nation, while UW counters with an offense that averages 43.3 points a game.
"I think it's on us to prove they can be beat," Valai said.