Christian McCaffrey gives Stanford edge over Iowa in Rose Bowl

Cardinal have better overall grades, although Hawkeyes are capable of pulling the upset.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Christian McCaffrey gives Stanford edge over Iowa in Rose Bowl

Two teams that had aspirations of making the College Football Playoff meet in the Rose Bowl instead, having each come up short in their respective seasons.

Iowa against Stanford figures to be one of the highlights of bowl season as both teams look to make the point that they are each one of the strongest teams in the nation, even equivalent to Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma, who will battle it out for the national title.

Iowa finished 12-1 overall, with their only loss coming in the Big Ten title game to Michigan State, a game that was the only thing standing between the Hawkeyes and playoff football, and one that went down to the wire to decide.

Stanford had two slipups in their season, losing their opening day encounter to Northwestern and then again later in the season to Oregon, in a game in which they fumbled the ball away more than once late to seal their own fate.  Stanford ended the season as Pac-12 champions with a 11-2 record, but on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

Players to watch

There was no better performer in the nation this season than Christian McCaffrey, Stanford’s all-purpose playmaker who finished the season as the top-graded running back in the nation. McCaffrey notched 1,842 rushing yards and was by far the best-graded receiver in the nation for the position as he carried the Stanford offense on his back for much of the year. He broke the single-season all-purpose yardage record, which had stood since 1988 and was held by the legendary Barry Sanders, one of the greatest players to play the game at any level. McCaffrey was also one of the best-graded return men in the nation and changed multiple games by teams refusing to kick his way, accepting poor field position all day with pooches and squibs. Iowa needs to control McCaffrey to win this game.

McCaffrey is the most important player for Stanford, but they do have able complementary pieces. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has been far better this season than last, and at his best is an able game-manager with the ability to hit a deep strike and be an added rushing weapon on the ground. He and McCaffrey have plenty of space to operate with thanks to a dominant offensive line, which boasts one of the top guards in the nation in the shape of Joshua Garnett.

Iowa has a strong offensive line of their own, having given up only 14 total pressures on the season. Center Austin Blythe and left guard Sean Welsh form a potent run-blocking duo and are a big reason why the Hawkeyes have seven separate positively graded backs this year.

On the other side of the ball, cornerback Desmond King has been a standout performer, allowing just two scores all season, both of which came in the first half of the year. King was targeted 78 times and allowed an NFL passer rating of just 45.8 and he’s picked off eight passes. He didn’t allow a 100-yard receiver all season and is the top cover guy who will try and eliminate Stanford’s deep shots.

Iowa has impressive performers at all levels of the defense. Linebacker Josey Jewell has graded well in all facets of the game and Jaleel Johnson and Nate Meier performing well on the defensive line line.

Prediction: Stanford 34, Iowa 31

Iowa was underrated and disrespected all season long despite being undefeated until rolling into the Big-Ten championship game. They proved in that game that they were worth their record despite eventually losing to the Spartans, but this season was no fluke of scheduling. Stanford has shot themselves in the foot multiple times this year but when they are on their game, the Cardinal are one of the best teams in the nation. Let’s not forget they do boast the best player in college football, in McCaffrey. He’ll put them over the edge.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Hard to make a pick here because both these teams are probably better than most people want to admit. Hoping the Cardinals win but the team with the ball last will probably win with a last second field goal.