The Big Ten Conference, big losers in recent Rose Bowls, will be represented Jan. 1 by Michigan State and a coach who takes no blame for previous failures.
"I don't want any responsibility for what hasn't happened," George Perles said. "All I know is the last time I was out there (in Pasadena), I got a ring (in 1980 as defensive coordinator for Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl team). Coming out here is fine."
It has been other than fine for Midwest teams. The Pacific-10 has won the last six games and 12 of 13. Reasons offered include California distractions, Christmas hotel rooms vs. home for the holidays, proximity of the Rose Bowl to Pac-10 campuses. The game, before a crowd of about 104,000, will begin at 2 p.m. PST.
"Home, away doesn't matter," said Perles, whose 8-2-1 Spartans beat their opponent, 8-3 Southern Cal, 27-13 Labor Day. "Playing them twice is fine. Our team is conditioned right now to play the cards you are dealt. We don't worry about the rain, snow, turf, indoor and outdoor, officials or split crews.
"You drive yourself nuts worrying about those things that have nothing to do with you. The team with the best players wins. Our attitude is this is a new year, a new team. This is the first time we're out here in 22 years."
Obviously, this is the first time the Spartans have been in Pasadena with flashy tailback Lorenzo White. He ran for 1,459 yards on 322 carries and had 14 touchdowns. In four seasons, White gained over 5,000, second to Archie Griffin in conference records.
"I think he's a great running back because he's so durable," Perles said of White, who ran for 111 yards and two TDs in the Labor Day meeting. "He can carry the ball so many times and he doesn't get hit that hard because of all his different moves. He's got something that's very unique. He gets all the attention, he has everybody interested in him, and for some reason, and this is to his credit, he isn't envied by his teammates."
White is complemented by junior quarterback Bobby McAllister, who threw for more than 1,000 yards and gained 299 yards on the ground. McAllister's favorite receiver is Andre Rison, an All Big-Ten selection who caught 32 passes for 694 yards.
"I think it's very rare when two football teams get an opportunity to face each other from start to finish, especially in an event such as the Rose Bowl," said USC's Larry Smith, only the second coach to get the Trojans to the Rose Bowl in his first year. "I think both teams have changed a lot since the first game. They're matured and developed in different ways. It's a whole new ballgame."
Smith will be without junior tailback Steven Webster, who tore knee ligaments in the Pac-10 clinching victory over UCLA on Nov. 21. Webster, who will be replaced by Scott Lockwood or Ricky Ervins, missed the Sept. 7 game with a sprained ankle.
"We missed him (Webster) in the (first) Michigan State game, no question," Smith said. "I feel this, though -- our two younger backs, Lockwood and Ervins, in 11 games have gained a lot of experience and they've got a pretty good feel for our offense."
The Trojans usually go as far as junior quarterback Rodney Peete takes them. Peete owns 11 school records and was fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 2,460 yards and 19 scores.
"Rodney Peete is a key guy," Smith said. "He can audible and he can be effective as a runner. We use Peete more in the passing game than they (Michigan State) do with McAllister.