The historic, grand, hallowed Rose Bowl has somehow been transformed into a proving ground, a strange situation but only fitting under the circumstances.
Wisconsin has been called the third-best team in the Big Ten and therefore the most fortunate team in the Big Ten, able to come to Pasadena only because of the hadn't-been-here-in-the-longest-time tiebreaker.
Craig James of CBS called Wisconsin the worst team to play in the Rose Bowl
The UCLA defense has been called things that can't be printed here, in pedestrian terms the Achilles' heel of the Bruins, if the Achilles' heel happened to be torn.
This afternoon, old issues become part of the new year.
Two teams that are 10-1, ranked sixth (UCLA) and ninth (Wisconsin), are in the 85th Rose Bowl with something to prove.
"I think so," Bruin tight end Mike Grieb said. "People doubt them, and I think people are doubting us, too."
Because of all the questions.
Will the UCLA defense respond to the debacle of the Miami game?
Will any Bruins fans attend the game to find out?
Will the impressive Wisconsin defense, No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense, handle the impressive UCLA offense?
"It should be like that," Badgers cornerback Jamar Fletcher said. "UCLA, they have something to prove to me. I honestly don't believe their defense is as good as our defense. Edgerrin (James of Miami) kind of ran wild on them, and I think Ron Dayne is a better back than Edgerrin. They're going to have to prove they can stop Ron, just like we're going to have to prove we can stop Cade McNown.
"We have something to prove. Everybody has counted us out, everybody around the world. Time and time again, we've been the underdog. People have been counting us out. Now we have an opportunity to play one of the best."
Does Wisconsin have to be concerned about the UCLA defense? No.
Diplomacy is one thing, especially against a Bruins team that loves to find motivation in bulletin-board material, but the Badgers are unanimous in their worry about facing this athletic unit.
"They have a lot of team speed, which is something we're not used to playing against," said tackle Chris McIntosh, a 6-7, 311-pounder. "It's real important for us to play physical right away."
A key for UCLA will be whether star linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who at times has struggled in his return from a sprained knee ligament, still has his speed.
Another key for UCLA will be its depleted defensive line.
Starting nose guard Micah Webb tore a knee ligament in the Miami game and is out. Starting end Pete Holland sprained his left elbow in practice, is out of the opening lineup, maybe out of the game, and might be bound for off-season surgery.
Webb's replacement, Ken Kocher, is a freshman who will be making his first start _ and who has been bothered by the flu. Holland's replacement at right end, Anthony Fletcher, is a freshman who will be making his first start. And because Kory Lombard, a walk-on, sprained an ankle, Stephen Sua, normally the fourth-string nose guard, suddenly becomes the backup.
"Fletcher, he's inexperienced, but he's a big boy (6-3, 293)," said sophomore Kenyon Coleman, the Bruins' one desired starter on the line and now the veteran. "I think he'll get the job done. And Kocher, he hasn't started before, but he's played a lot."
Said Badgers coach Barry Alvarez: "It is an advantage, obviously, to us if they're not playing their best guys. It's rather obvious."
So why will this be a special day for UCLA no matter the result?
Because it's the final gathering of a phenomenal offense that should be appreciated while it's still intact, one with three tailbacks who had 100-yard games, two fullbacks capable of starting, an all-conference tight end, receivers with size and athleticism, a line that gave up 10 sacks in 11 games, and a great quarterback. After today, the quarterback, tight end and at least two of the offensive linemen _ three if junior Kris Farris opts for the NFL _ will be gone.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Wisconsin (10-1) vs.
LINE: UCLA by 9.