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Bloom is off bowl this time

All-American Cade McNown runs UCLA's 40-point-a-game offense. Wisconsin boasts the nation's stingiest defense and bulldozing RB Ron Dayne, on pace to become college's all-time leading rusher.

Supporting casts include the Bruins' Kris Farris, Outland Trophy winner as 1998's best offensive lineman, and the Badgers' Tom Burke, whose 21 sacks are the most in the country.

For good measure, UCLA features Danny Farmer, a magician of a wide receiver who seems to reappear open in the seam at crucial times, and Wisconsin has Aaron Gibson, a behemoth lineman who has dieted down 40 pounds to a svelte 371.

The makings of a classic, entertaining Rose Bowl? More like a matchup that's drawing politely stifled yawns.

Usually the hottest ticket in southern California at this time of year, tickets for the New Year's Day game have been selling for less than their $110 face value. UCLA had to return 6,300 tickets, about a fifth of its allotment, to the Tournament of Roses Committee because of a lack of buyers.

The Rose Bowl is actually a comedown for the Bruins, who several weeks ago believed they would be in Arizona playing for the national championship. But they were blown out of the Fiesta Bowl by a 49-45 loss to Miami on Dec. 5 in a game that was postponed more than two months by Hurricane Georges.

So despite again matching Big Ten vs. Pac-10 champions, in its first year as a member of the Bowl Championship Series, the Rose Bowl seems to have slipped into the shadows as an also-ran.

But Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez disagrees.

"The Rose Bowl is the greatest venue in college sports and the game itself is a remarkable experience," he said. "We are thrilled to get another chance to play in the granddaddy of them all. It should be a very interesting game. We're two totally different football teams."

CHAMBERS QUARTERS: While much of the hype has focused on whether UCLA's defense can handle Dayne, the Bruins said they have not forgotten about Badgers sophomore WR Chris Chambers.

"He keeps us a little more honest," Bruins cornerback Ryan Roques said.

Chambers was the only receiver in the Big Ten with better than 20 yards per catch (20.7), and his ratio of one touchdown for every 4.57 receptions was first in the conference.

"He's more of a deep guy, he can get behind a defense," Roques said. "We don't want to give up any big plays. We can be thinking "Run, run, run,' and then have a big letdown and give up a big pass play."

GIBSON PASSES LENO QUIZ: Gibson, the Badgers All-American, filmed a segment for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno during Wisconsin's visit to Universal Studios on Monday.

Jay Leno popped a quiz on college football's largest player, asking the 6-foot-7, 370-pound Gibson which ocean bordered California, the address of the White House and California's nickname. Gibson was 2-for-3.

"I didn't know the nickname for California was the Golden State," Gibson said. "I said it was "Cali.' "

The segment aired Wednesday night.

By the way, Gibson has a "little" brother. Thirteen-year-old Adam Gibson is 6-5, 320 pounds.

ODDS AND ENDS: To pull off the upset, the Badgers must hold on to the ball (they led the nation in turnover ratio, 31 forced, nine given up), get big games from Dayne (led Big Ten, ninth in nation with 1,279 rushing, 11 TDs), Burke (led nation with 21 sacks, Big Ten defensive player of year), freshman CB Jason Fletcher (six INTS).

UCLA's defense (gave up 689 yards to Miami) must improve while McNown (3,130 passing, 23 TDs) works on Badgers secondary (sixth in nation in pass defense, only five TD passes given up) with speedy Farmer (51 catches, 22.2 per catch, 8 TDs), Brian Poli-Dixon (42 catches, 10 TDs) and the running of RB DeShaun Foster (635 rushing, 10 TDs).

_ TIMES WIRES

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