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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

'Traditional' Rose Bowl? Look a little closer

Stanford arrives via the still-new Pac-12 title game, and Wisconsin has five losses. But then, tradition constantly needs to be recalibrated nowadays.

December 27, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Montee Ball and Wisconsin make it to the Rose Bowl with five losses this season.
Montee Ball and Wisconsin make it to the Rose Bowl with five losses this season. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

This is being called a "traditional" Rose Bowl because the football champions of the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences just hit town, went to Disneyland, plan to eat wheelbarrows of prime rib and then play in the sacred Jan.1 post-parade time slot.

Stanford, representing the West, got here the old-fashioned way — by defeating UCLA twice in six days after putting down USC for a fourth straight season.

Wisconsin won the Big Ten, fair and square, by finishing third in its division and then crushing old (well, not so much) league nemesis Nebraska.

TIMELINE: College football 2012-13 bowl schedule

Stanford and Wisconsin played a combined six overtime games this season. In the old days those would have been called "ties."

OK, so maybe this isn't quite how your granddaddy remembers it, but in football's changing modern age tradition constantly has to be recalibrated.

Stanford is still the school that does things the right way … even though it did leave one player home this week because of an NCAA violation. The whiz kids also placed three players on the Pac 12's all-academic first team. Only Utah (five), Arizona (four) and Colorado (four) had more first-team selections.

Of course, everyone knows Arizona has never been to a Rose Bowl primarily because it would never put football ahead of the classroom. And Utah and Colorado have been perennial academic Pac-12 stalwarts for what seems like months now.

You want tradition?

Meet Wisconsin's three head coaches … since Dec. 1.

Bret Bielema handled the yearly yeoman's load and even took part in a Dec. 2 conference call welcoming this season's participants to college football's most hallowed bowl event.

"We're proud of where we are and who we are and what we represent and are very excited to play in the Rose Bowl," Bielema said.

Within a week, he was the head coach at Arkansas, saying how happy he was to finally be in the big leagues.

"I grew up, ironically, on a pig farm," Bielema said at his introductory news conference in Fayetteville.

Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director, became Wisconsin's second head coach of December after players talked him into coming out of sideline retirement for one last float ride.

It seems the players actually want to win a Rose Bowl after going 0-2 under Bielema.

"I was surprised, totally caught by surprise," Alvarez said of Bielema's defection.

Alvarez was 3-0 in Pasadena during his coaching tenure in Madison before retiring in 2005. Alvarez, four years ago, was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

This "interim" tag works out perfectly.

"I always liked to coach big games," Alvarez said.

Wisconsin introduced December head coach No. 3 just last week. Gary Andersen felt so bad about bailing out on Utah State that he personally called each one of his players to break the news.

Andersen will monitor his new team from a distance this week and will not be on the Wisconsin sidelines for the game. "The last thing they need from me is to hang around them," he said.

Wisconsin also breaks tradition as the first five-loss team in Rose Bowl history. This was a result of Ohio State's and Penn State's being on NCAA probation.

Alvarez says his school owes no apology.

"I didn't have anything to do with two teams' being ineligible in our division," he said.

In the Badgers' defense, three of their five losses came in overtime, the other two by a total of six points.

The truth is, tradition is rarely what it used to be and the progressives would even say it's overrated. The Rose Bowl's historical purity was breached when it joined the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 and then, four years later, hosted Miami vs. Nebraska on a Thursday night — a "parade" was held on a different day.

Times change and so do bowls. In a sense, this is the last stand-alone "traditional" Rose Bowl of the era.

Next year, Pasadena will host the Rose Bowl and the final BCS title game. After that, the game will join hands with five other major bowls in a new, 12-year collaboration.

In the new four-team playoff format, each of six "major" bowls will host four national semifinal games. The Rose Bowl, in 12 years, will host eight "traditional" games. The four semis could include Pac-12 or Big Ten teams if they are selected among the final four.

There was initial thought that the Rose might take fewer semifinal games to keep more traditional arrangements, but the final decision was to become an equal partner.

It is possible next season will also be the last national title game hosted by college's oldest bowl.

The championship game will be rotated to the highest bidder. It will be news if the first game isn't hosted at Jerry Jones' palace outside Dallas.

The San Francisco 49ers' new home in Santa Clara and whatever new NFL stadium emerges in Los Angeles figure to be the targeted West Coast options.

Until then, enjoy this week's "traditional" Rose Bowl festivities.

Oh, did we mention the game is on cable?

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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