Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey leads Pac-12 champion Stanford against the surprising one-loss Iowa Hawkeyes.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual

January 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1)

How They Got Here

Iowa rolled off one of the more improbable streaks of the year before finally falling in the last minutes of the Big Ten title game to Michigan State. With the Spartans headed to the playoff, the conference runner-up Hawkeyes get to represent the Big Ten in the Granddaddy of Them All.

Stanford’s playoff hopes were ended with a late-season loss to Oregon, but the Cardinal went on to rout USC in the Pac-12 Championship to earn their automatic bid.

When Stanford Has the Ball

Running back Christian McCaffrey didn’t bring home the Heisman, but there’s no doubt he was the nation’s most versatile player this year. The sophomore broke Barry Sanders’ record for most total yards in a season and led his next closest competitor by over 1,000 yards. But Iowa has the potential to match up well, boasting the 11th-best rush defense in the country.

The Cardinal doesn’t pass the ball much (77th nationally) but has been efficient when it has needed to. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has the fourth best quarterback rating in the country. But he could find things tough against an Iowa secondary that includes Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Desmond King. The junior recorded eight interceptions in his first nine games before opposing quarterbacks simply stopped throwing his way. With a shutdown corner taking away half of the field, it will put additional pressure on the Stanford running game to control the offensive tempo.

When Iowa Has the Ball

In Stanford’s two losses and one other close game (a two-point win over Notre Dame), the Cardinal gave up an average of 252 rushing yards per game. Iowa has rushed for 200-plus yards seven times this season and scored 35 rushing touchdowns. The Hawkeyes will likely need a big ground game to come away with a victory. In their games against the Cardinal, Oregon and Notre Dame averaged 6.42 and 8.54 yards per carry, respectively, so it will be crucial for the Stanford defense to not give up the big play.

Keys to the Game

If you like old-school football with stout defenses and pounding running games, this could be the game for you. But for some excitement, tune in just to see McCaffrey as there’s the potential for a big play every time he touches the ball. Iowa ranks 106th nationally in opponent kickoff returns, so a big return by McCaffrey is not out of the question. On paper, both teams are fairly evenly matched so this game could well be a close game that hinges on a turnover or big special teams play.

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