LOS ANGELES – Oregon was pronounced dead by the college coroner the Thursday before Labor Day after the Ducks played like pond scum in a horrific season-opening defeat at Boise State.
Ohio State allegedly packed it in Sept. 12 when it lost at home to USC and forfeited all credibility with the civilized world in “prove-it” games against schools outside the comfy Big Ten confines.
The Rose Bowl was listing toward USC and the winner of Iowa-Penn State and there was nothing anyone was going to do about it.
OK, so how did we get here?
Not only are Oregon and Ohio State meeting in the 96th Rose Bowl today, it’s a game around which you can sell advertising.
Oregon and Ohio State each finished with 10 wins, ended up ranked in the top 10, and outright captured, with no need for a procedural tie-break, the Pacific-10 and the Big Ten conferences.
“It is a pretty crazy story line,” Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said this week. “Obviously, they had a tough loss at the beginning of the year and we lost early, too. So I really think it shows the perseverance of these teams.”
That sounds about right: The Perseverance Bowl, presented by Citi.
This should be a lesson to all you kids: Never, ever, ever give up – or schedule your opener at Boise State.
Wait, it gets worse. Oregon and Ohio State each lost again after Sept. 12, and still made it to this top-shelf bowl. The Ducks gave up 52 points to Stanford, and the Buckeyes lost to Purdue – a team even Notre Dame handled.
Yet, given the rough starts, this Rose Bowl matchup is intriguing.
For starters, it’s a new coat of paint, not the usual USC vs. Michigan/Illinois/ Michigan/Penn State parade and rout.
Ohio State has won at least a share of five consecutive Big Ten titles but has managed to dodge Pasadena – which isn’t easy under a Pac-10/Big Ten compact dating to 1946.
Ohio State is thrilled to be participating in a postseason game not sponsored by a corn chip. The Buckeyes have played in five Fiesta Bowl-sponsored events since 2002.
Arizona is nice, but coach Jim Tressel knows almost all Sky Harbor Airport security members by their first name.
“We haven’t had this experience,” Tressel said of the Rose Bowl. “This isn’t old hat to us at all.”
Ohio State has lost three consecutive Bowl Championship Series games and is in California on serious business, strictly to clear its good name.
“We didn’t come here to get away from the snow,” defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. “We came here to put Ohio State back on the map.”
It might help that the Buckeyes’ most recent memories of Pasadena involve Joe Germaine throwing a last-minute scoring pass to defeat Arizona State in the fabulous finish of Jan. 1, 1997.
Oregon hasn’t been seen here since 1995, when it lost to Penn State and Joe Paterno was only in his late 60s.
Oregon and Ohio State haven’t played against each other in a Rose Bowl since 1958, when Len Casanova’s plucky Ducks nearly upset Woody Hayes’ national championship team.
Oregon hasn’t won the Rose Bowl since 1917, only a couple of years after they stopped racing chariots.
Oregon against Ohio State is as fresh as the rain every Rose Bowl volunteer prays will come again another day.
Oregon is the jet-aged green team from rain-soaked Eugene, sponsored by Nike, with more costume changes than backstage at “Miss Universe.”
Someone asked Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli this week if his team was cooler than Ohio State.
“It depends on what your definition of cool is,” Masoli said.
And he was right. Nothing is more “cool” than Ohio State’s marching band dotting the “i” in cursive Script Ohio, although the Buckeyes as a department-store brand are the short-sleeved white shirts Woody wore – complete with pocket calculator.
Ohio State wishes it had Oregon’s glitzy jail-break tempo on offense, averaging 37.7 points a game; Oregon might kill for a couple of Ohio State’s beefy interior defensive linemen.
Ohio State is trying to get hip with the program. It landed quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the recruit Oregon wanted to run its spread after dashing Dennis Dixon. The problem has been getting Pryor, who stands 6-foot-6 and eats up 3 yards per stride, to play like the next Vince Young.
Pryor has been a prodigy in progress. He was sketchy in Ohio State’s loss to USC and four-turnover terrible in the Purdue loss.
When Oregon didn’t get Pryor, it dipped into the community college pool for San Francisco Bay Area archer Masoli, who may step from the Rose Bowl tunnel as the most feared quarterback on the field.