LOS ANGELES — It has only been 11 years since the University of Wisconsin played in the Rose Bowl, but be advised, everything has changed.
The Granddaddy of Them All is no longer your granddaddy's Rose Bowl. Or your daddy's Rose Bowl, for that matter. Since UW completed its 3-for-3 Rose Bowl domination in the 1990s, college football's most historic, traditional game has undergone a major facelift.
The biggest change? Thanks to the takeover of the postseason by the BCS, the customary matchup of teams from the Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences is no longer a given.
A matchup like Saturday's — fourth-ranked UW of the Big Ten versus third-ranked Texas Christian of the Mountain West Conference — has become commonplace. Indeed, no one cares that it will be upwardly mobile TCU on the sideline opposite UW and not USC or UCLA or Stanford.
For all the changes, however, this much remains the same: If you want to make a point to the rest of the nation, there is no bigger or better stage than the Rose Bowl. And make no mistake, both UW (11-1) and TCU (12-0) have points they want to make.
But which team has more to prove and, therefore, will have the most motivation?
That's a significant question because motivation, more than any other factor, plays a role in the outcome of bowl games. The team that is happiest to be at a particular bowl usually plays better and comes out on top.
The commonly held belief is that TCU, driven by its inferiority complex as a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference, will be supremely motivated to show people it can play with the big boys. That is especially true after last season, when the Horned Frogs were disappointed to be matched against fellow non-AQ unbeaten Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, played poorly and lost.
There is no disappointment this time. The Frogs couldn't even dream about playing in a Rose Bowl when coach Gary Patterson took over 10 years ago and they're thrilled to be here.
But if TCU is more motivated than UW, it's not by much. The Badgers have made a steady climb from a disappointing 7-6 season in 2008 and, after sharing the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Michigan State, want badly to conclude their journey with a reaffirming victory.
To explain what's at stake, let's turn to Gabe Carimi, UW's All-American offensive tackle.
"We represent Wisconsin, we represent our program, we represent the Big Ten, we represent all the (automatic) qualifying conferences," Carimi said. "And they represent all the other stuff: their conference, their program, all the non-qualifying teams."
Indeed, it is that story line — a team from college football's ruling class versus a team from the ranks of the disenfranchised — that makes the Rose Bowl almost as appealing as the BCS national championship game.
TCU could silence all who doubt that it doesn't belong among the elite with a victory over the hottest team in the nation. If you think the Horned Frogs — who have lost three games in three years, all to top-10 teams — haven't been waiting for this, you haven't been watching. TCU has a chip on its shoulder as big as Texas and is proud of it.
"I'll tell them to enjoy the ride, go get after them, play for 60 minutes and understand that they're in the Rose Bowl," Patterson said. "After 10 years, we finally got to a point where all eyes of America are on us and (we're) getting the chance to prove what kind of program we have."
UW's motivation is more subtle than that, but is still powerful. Losing to the Horned Frogs would be no disgrace because TCU and Boise State are to college football what Gonzaga is to college men's basketball. No one doubts how good they are, especially in a one-and-done setting.
But UW has become known as the school that wins Rose Bowls and maintaining that reputation is something the Badgers take seriously. Their mantra? You don't come here to play in the Rose Bowl, you come here to win the Rose Bowl.
The senior class that has driven UW's renaissance also seems intent on finishing out by beating one of the nation's three undefeated teams, a victory that would position the program solidly for the future.
"I can't really respond to what TCU's motivation is," UW coach Bret Bielema said, "but I know this: Our kids really believe that this is a culmination of something special. There is a difference in that ring if it says Rose Bowl champions or just says a Rose Bowl that you played in. That's a big deal for our guys."
It had better be because UW, though it is the bigger, stronger, more-tested team, won't beat TCU if it doesn't come to play.
Contact Tom Oates at email@example.com or 608-252-6172.