The 2012 Rose Bowl Game pairs Big Ten and Pac-12 reps, upholding traditional conference ties that have been jeopardized during the BCS era.
The Granddaddy of 'em All has been at best a reluctant participant in the BCS. For nearly a decade, the Rose Bowl, along with the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences, shunned efforts by the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance to match the top two ranked teams. It wasn't until 1998 that the BCS was finally formed.
That relationship has been short of a boon for the Rose Bowl. In the BCS era, the Rose Bowl has lost some of its luster because its annual matchup between the Big Ten and Pac-10 were frequently disrupted. From the 1946 season to 2001, every Rose Bowl game featured a Big Ten and a Pac-8/10 team. That hasn't been the case for half of the past 10 games.
That's why the recent announcement that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are building a more "collaborative" relationship must be viewed with some suspicion by the other parties in the BCS. This may be the prelude to the two conferences, as well as the Rose Bowl, making a move to sever their ties to the BCS. The possibility exists that the Rose Bowl will return to its old and exclusive Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in the very near future, perhaps as soon as the the current BCS pact expires.
Why? Because Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, perhaps the most powerful man in college sports, has never been interested in expanding the current format and has been mostly lukewarm about the BCS in the first place. The BCS does not create a huge revenue stream that the two leagues couldn't replicate on their own; it does not help raise their profiles (it's really mostly a long-running informercial for the SEC); and it certainly hasn't helped either conference to win more national championships.
With both leagues now flush with cash (each of the 24 member schools in the two conferences will earn well over $20 million per school per year after the new TV deals kick in), they're more inclined to look forward by looking inward. They can package their "collaboration" with the Rose Bowl, whose deal with ESPN via the BCS runs out after the 2014 game, for a new windfall that they wouldn't have to share with anybody else if they get out of the BCS.
For the Rose Bowl, which as the oldest bowl game always viewed itself as first with no equals, a return to the exclusive Big Ten/Pac-12 arrangement may be preferable to the current regime where the bowl game is falling into irrelevance. The Rose Bowl's had some of its worst TV rated games since signing up with the BCS, including the 2003 game between Oklahoma and Washington State that also fell far sort of a sellout.
Bound by its current contract, the Rose Bowl will have to host four more games under the auspices of the BCS, including the 2013 BCS title game. This year's game, at least, will be featuring the traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup, with Oregon facing a Wisconsin team making a return trip to Pasadena.
Here's a quick look at the Rose Bowl in the BCS era:
Best Game: The 2006 game for the 2005 national championship wasn't just the best the Rose Bowl in the BCS era, but its entire history, dating back to 1902. It featured two-time defending national champion USC, on a 34-game winning streak, and No. 2 Texas, also unbeaten and having won the Rose Bowl the previous year. The game lived up to its hype and then some as USC stormed back in the second half and seemingly built an insurmountable 12-point lead in the fourth quarter. A fourth-and-2 conversion in Texas territory with two minutes to go would've sealed the three-peat. But the Longhorns stuffed LenDale White; then Vince Young drove them to the winning score with 19 seconds left in the game. The 41-38 victory by Texas remains the most-watched college football game in the BCS era and so far the Rose Bowl's only real prize for being involved in the BCS.
Worst Game: The 2006 game served to redeem the 2002 game, the Rose Bowl's first turn to host the BCS championship. It was a clunker even long before kickoff. No. 1-ranked Miami could've faced Oregon, ranked No. 2 in the polls but No. 4 in the BCS standings that at the time was dominated by the computers. Instead, the 'Canes faced Nebraska, a team that lost its final game, 62-24, at Colorado and failed to win its own division, let along the conference. The game was as putrid as predicted, with Miami jumping out to a 34-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 37-14 victory.
Best Individual Performance: In the first year of Rose Bowl's participation in the BCS, Ron Dayne ran for 246 yards and tied a Rose Bowl record by scoring four touchdowns to lead Wisconsin to a 38-31 victory over UCLA. Dayne would return the next year, running for 200 yards and adding another touchdown in Wisconsin's 17-9 win over Stanford. Dayne was one of only four players (and the only one from the Big Ten) to win consecutive Rose Bowl MVP honors. Wisconsin would become the only Big Ten team to win back-to-back Rose Bowls. In fact, the Badgers are the most successful Big Ten team in the BCS era as they'll be making their fourth appearance in Pasadena in the last 14 years.
Biggest Controversy: Three times BCS rules were changed because of controversies involving Rose Bowl berths. In the 2002 season, the Orange Bowl "stole" Iowa by invoking an obscure BCS rule, leaving the Rose Bowl without a Big Ten team and causing the aforementioned Oklahoma-Washington State box office disaster. The BCS responded by allowing bowls that lost teams to the championship game to "protect" conference teams they're affiliated with. In 2004, Texas edged Cal in the final BCS standings, the resulting firestorm caused the AP to withdraw from being part of the BCS. And finally, in the current BCS pact the Rose Bowl was forced to accept a non-automatic qualifying conference entry in the first year that's occurred, leading to TCU's berth last year.
Prediction for 2012 Game: After losing to TCU in a hard-fought 21-19 game last year, Wisconsin should be plenty motivated to wipe away that disappointment. The question is, will the Badgers be able to deal with Oregon's speed? The answer is no. And the Ducks, who have been very capable in slowing some of the nation's top rushing attacks, will be able to make enough stops for a 38-24 win.