STANFORD -- Two teams not expected to reach the Rose Bowl will meet in Pasadena on Jan. 1, and Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner said no one will be disappointed by the matchup against Wisconsin.
"It's going to be a bloodbath," he said. "It's going to be a physical matchup up front."
For the No. 8 Cardinal (11-2), the game represents a chance to win a Rose Bowl for the first time since Jan. 1, 1972. These same teams met in the 2000 Rose Bowl -- Stanford's only appearance since -- with the Badgers posting a 17-9 victory.
"This transcends all of us on this team," said senior nickel back Usua Amanam.
Wisconsin (8-5) will arrive at the Rose Bowl for the third straight year, having lost the previous two but now playing its best football of the season. The day after Stanford held off UCLA 27-24 in the Pac-12 title game, the Badgers blasted Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten championship game.
"It was a show," Stanford coach David Shaw said of the Badgers' performance. "I wouldn't say I was surprised. I would say they're a team that had some tough breaks earlier in the year.
"What I saw the other night was a team that was confident, a team that knew who it was and a team that played extremely well. They really exploded. We're going to have to step our play up in order to be ready to play with these guys."
The Badgers lost three overtime games this season, and their five defeats were by a combined total of 19 points. They found a place in the Big Ten championship game because division rivals Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play.
When it mattered, the Badgers were very good. In their five most recent victories, they outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 153 points.
Coach Bret Bielema knows people wonder about the first five-loss team to qualify for the Rose Bowl, but he isn't making apologies.
"I understand the question," he said. "But we're proud of who we are, where we are and what we represent."
In an era of wide-open college football, both teams are physical, run-oriented teams. Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball has rushed for more than 5,000 yards in his career and owns the NCAA record of 76 rushing touchdowns.
"It'll be old-fashioned football. It'll be fun," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said.
Gardner grew up in Mequon, Wis., although he said the Badgers did not recruit him. "They didn't want me," he laughed. "Growing up in Big Ten country, the Rose Bowl is THE game. I've been watching it since I was in diapers."
Getting to Pasadena on New Year's Day was "kind of the mission statement" for Stanford this season, said outside linebacker Trent Murphy.
But just making an appearance isn't good enough, he said. "It's about being successful there, winning there, showing the world we belong," Murphy said.
Skov knows outsiders expected the Cardinal to disappear in the wake of coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck leaving for the NFL the past two seasons. Instead, the Cardinal is playing in its third straight BCS bowl game.
"People kind of doubted us," Skov said. "Hopefully, it's a sign to the nation that we're here to stay."