TCU didn't get to prove it deserved to play for the BCS title. A victory over Wisconsin in the Granddaddy of Them All could go a long way toward showing that it should have.
The third-ranked Horned Frogs, owners of the nation's top defense, face a No. 4 Badgers team that reached the 70-point mark three times this season in the 97th Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
TCU (12-0) couldn't bust into the BCS championship game, failing to vault past Auburn and Oregon as it fell victim to playing in the lightly regarded Mountain West Conference and finished third in the BCS standings.
"I think we've done a lot, not just what TCU's done, but non-automatic qualifying schools," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We still have one more game, and we'll go out and prove how we play and hopefully people will see that."
That game proved to be quite a consolation prize. The Frogs, who went undefeated for the second straight regular season, will make their first appearance in perhaps the most prestigious and storied bowl in college football.
TCU gets to play in Pasadena over a Pac-10 team -- the traditional selection to face the Big Ten representative -- because the Rose Bowl was obligated this year to select a team from a non-automatic BCS qualifying conference if one was eligible and not playing in the title game.
That allowed TCU to earn the Rose Bowl berth ahead of Stanford, and the Frogs are thrilled over where they ended up.
"It's awesome," said coach Gary Patterson, whose team joins a BCS conference in 2012 with a move to the Big East. "To know all the players that have played there and walk out into a stage that as they say is 'The Granddaddy of Them All,' so to be a part of something like that is very special. I don't think our kids will really understand how special it is until they get a chance to go there."
Patterson has his team in its second straight BCS bowl, and he'd like a better result than last year. TCU was also 12-0 going into the Fiesta Bowl but lost 17-10 to fellow unbeaten Boise State.
Debates have again abounded this season over whether non-BCS schools such as TCU deserve to play for the national championship. While that won't happen this year, a Frogs win over powerful Wisconsin may help convince skeptics that they should.
TCU is allowing averages of 11.4 points, 126.3 passing yards and 215.4 total yards -- all tops in the FBS -- and 89.2 rushing yards, third-fewest in the country. The Frogs' speedy defense, though, should receive its biggest test of the season from the Badgers (11-1), who are tied for fourth in the nation with 43.3 points per game -- same as TCU.
Not known as a high-powered offensive program, Wisconsin's 17th-ranked running game wore down opponents and helped the Badgers score 83 points once and 70 twice.
So did Unitas Award winner Scott Tolzien, who has passed for 2,300 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 74.3 percent of his throws -- best in the country.
Wisconsin held off fellow Big Ten co-champions Ohio State and Michigan State in the BCS standings to head back to Pasadena for the first time since the 1999 season.
"They're a special group," fifth-year coach Bret Bielema said. "They believe in something bigger than themselves."
For TCU to keep the Badgers from an eighth straight win -- Wisconsin's seven consecutive victories have come by 26.1 points -- it will have to stop a trio of running backs that has piled up nearly 2,900 yards on the ground.
James White (1,029), John Clay (936) and Montee Ball (864) running behind six All-Big Ten offensive linemen proved far too much for opponents to handle. Now the NCAA's best defense stands in their way.
That unit, led by linebacker Tanner Brock (97 tackles), safety Colin Jones (70 tackles, 10 1/2 for loss) and end Wayne Daniels (6 1/2 sacks), will face a Wisconsin line that doesn't start anyone under 6-foot-3 and 312 pounds.
The size differential, though, is hardly a comfort to Bielema.
"... They play extremely hard, play extremely tough," he said of the Frogs. "... One thing that was very common amongst everybody that had seen them either play or practice is just how hard they play and how tough they are individually."
That certainly can be said for Dalton, a 41-game winner as a starter. The senior has thrown for 2,638 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions while running for 407 yards and five TDs this season.
"We have grown up a lot from last year," Dalton said. "We have a lot of guys who played in the (Fiesta Bowl) last year, so hopefully we will have grown up and taken the experience and allowed it to help us."
Wisconsin won in its last three Rose Bowl appearances.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every College Football game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.
Wisconsin makes its first trip to Pasadena in 11 seasons, while TCU becomes the first team from a non-AQ league in the BCS era to play in the Rose Bowl. Both teams scored 520 points, tying for fourth nationally. While TCU boasts the stingier defense, Wisconsin racked up 201 points in its final three regular-season games. -- Adam Rittenberg