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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Buckeyes take long route to Pasadena

BCS side effects have kept Ohio State away from the Rose Bowl recently. But this year's return is welcome.

November 19, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Ohio State is coming to the Rose Bowl, and this time it's going to stick.

One of the crazy corollaries to the Bowl Championship Series is Ohio State's having won or shared five straight Big Ten titles, six since 2001, but preparing for its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1996 season.

Since 1947, the Big Ten champion has, more or less, been contracted to represent the conference in Pasadena. Some years the first-place team didn't make the trip because there used to be rules against the same school representing the conference in back-to-back seasons. And then there was 1961, when Ohio State's faculty council, claiming football had become too big, nixed the trip.

What a riot -- including the one that broke out on campus.

But nothing compares with the Buckeyes' more recent dodge ball.

Two years ago, Ohio State players clenched roses in their teeth after beating Michigan -- but the stems were conditional.

The implausible catch was Ohio State working from No. 7 in mid-November to No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS standings.

Fat chance of that happening -- except it did. Ohio State ended up first and played two-loss Louisiana State for the title.

Ohio State skipped the 2003 Rose Bowl to play Miami for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl.

In 2005 and '08, the Buckeyes shared the Big Ten crown with Penn State, which earned the BCS automatic bid.

Joe Paterno's team couldn't play in Pasadena because the 2006 Granddaddy was hosting USC-Texas for the national title.

This is the point in the story where we pause to allow Rose Bowl traditionalists to pull out the rest of their hair.

Ohio State circumvented the Rose Bowl after the '06 and '07 seasons to play in the BCS title game, hosted by the Fiesta and Sugar bowls.

Ohio State is coming this time -- promise.

There is still a weird part to it, though, because Ohio State has to somewhat temper its Rose Bowl elation until it takes care of that "team from up north."

The Michigan game is Saturday, in Ann Arbor, with nothing but pride and blood at stake.

The woeful Wolverines are 1-6 in Big Ten play and 5-6 overall, and can't even play a Rose Bowl spoiler's role.

"We don't think it's lost any of its luster," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel overstated of the game this week.

True, the game won't lack internal intensity because these programs have been knocking helmets for 100 years. Legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, once returning from a recruiting trip in enemy territory, risked running out of gas rather than refueling his car in Michigan.

Tressel did concede this year's game might not mean as much to "someone from the outside, someone from, I don't know, Utah or something."

By contrast, in 2006, the schools met in Columbus as No. 1 and No. 2 and played an epic game, one day after the death of former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler. Saturday is light-years from that luster.

The Rose Bowl can't publicly cheer, but it wants Ohio State to beat Michigan and come west at 10-2 and ranked in the top 10. It wants Ohio State to play a Pac-10 team ranked in the top 10 -- certainly possible if the Pac-10 champion is Oregon or Stanford.

The best news is this year's Jan. 1 game likely will not involve USC or Michigan, even though there is a remote chance USC could earn the bid in a six-way tie at 6-3.

Frankly, everyone's tired of USC winning the Rose Bowl and Michigan losing it.

You want something shiny and new?

Oregon has played Ohio State once, in 1958. Stanford and Ohio State's only pairing was in 1971, the January day Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett ruined Ohio State's undefeated season with a pass to Randy Vataha.

Oregon State and Ohio State have never met in the Rose Bowl, and Arizona has never qualified for the game.

Ohio State has navigated through BCS red tape and is finally headed our way, making this year's Jan. 1 Rose Bowl something it desperately needed to be: different.

Blitz package

* Those guys at ESPN are smart. The network persuaded Oregon and Oregon State to move this year's Civil War game in Eugene to Thursday night on Dec. 3. Well, guess what: If the Ducks defeat Arizona on Saturday and the Beavers win at Washington State, the Oregon-Oregon State game will determine the Pac-10 champion and Rose Bowl representative.

Oregon State could have clinched a Rose Bowl berth in last year's Civil War in Corvallis but came up short, 65-38.

* Don't discount Oklahoma State for a BCS at-large berth if the Cowboys beat Colorado and Oklahoma to finish 10-2 without winning the Big 12 South. In fact, it seems a cinch the Fiesta Bowl would take 10-2 Oklahoma State to replace Texas if the Longhorns advance to the BCS title game. The Fiesta Bowl would view it the same as the Rose Bowl taking a Pac-10/Big Ten representative for a school it lost to the title game.

If Oklahoma State gets in, that would put the squeeze on undefeated Boise State getting one of the four BCS at-large berths. So, Boise State fans, you're rooting for Oklahoma to beat Oklahoma State in Norman on Nov. 28.

* The Southeastern Conference two years ago proposed a "plus-one" playoff that would have seeded the top four teams in the final BCS standings and pitted them in two of the four BCS bowls, with the winners playing for the title.

The proposal was rejected.

How it might have worked this year: Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati, Florida trounces Alabama and your undefeated BCS top four are Florida, Texas, Texas Christian, Boise State.

Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Boise State. Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Texas Christian.

Of course, if you ended up with five unbeatens, and Boise State was the fifth, you'd still have a mess.

* Quirky "Big Game" stat: Stanford scored 106 points in its last two victories, against Oregon and USC. Cal scored a total of six points against Oregon and USC.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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