USC vs. Michigan – the way it should be

DECEMBER 8th, 2003 - Creators of the Bowl Championship Series said after its unveiling that it would "remove the uncertainly of college football's champion and eliminate split national titles." Oh really, and how's that working out for you?

Controversy is nothing new to this system, which was established in 1998 to create a unified (and agreed upon) National Championship – rather than the "mythical" one that existed before. And this year is no different. Consensus number one in the polls, USC, was passed for Sugar Bowl, and instead will play for roses in Pasadena.

But while on the surface this may be a blow to the Trojans, it could be a blessing to those opposing the BCS, the Pac-10 Conference, and, of course, the legendary Rose Bowl.

"The Granddaddy of them All" got its name for a reason. There is just something about the Rose Bowl that is unmatched anywhere in college football, and perhaps, in all of sports. Maybe it's the nationally televised Rose Parade, the multi-million dollar floats, or maybe it's the storied stadium.

Heck, the Tournament committee didn't even sell full sponsorships for the game. Unlike all other bowls, an advertisers name never prefaced "Rose Bowl."

What ever it was, one thing was for sure. It was exclusive to the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences.

It was speculated by more than a few that one of the driving forces behind the other conferences backing the initial BCS idea was to get a piece of the Rose Bowl. At that time, the bowl had one of the highest payouts to competing teams (in 2002 it was $13.5 million, level with the other three BCS bowls), it has the largest stadium, and is situated in the heart of one of the largest television markets in the world.

Everyone wanted to smell the roses.

But things have soured (or wilted) since then. The past two years, the traditional match-up of Big Ten vs. Pac-10 has been broken – in 2001 for the BCS title game, and again last year when Ohio State went to Tempe, leaving the Rose with Oklahoma against Washington State. Iowa, a Big Ten at-large, was Pasadena's first choice – but through a quirk in the BCS rules, the Orange Bowl got to choose the Hawkeyes first.

Last season's contest was especially troublesome. For the first time in years the game wasn't sold out, only filling ninety-three percent of the Rose Bowl's capacity. And its Nielsen rating, the standard used to rate all TV programming, was the lowest in almost a decade.

Both before the game, and again after the season the bowl made it apparent they weren't pleased.

"We learned a lot about the BCS this year and the way that it operates," said Mitch Dorger, then the bowl's president. "We did not anticipate all the subtleties of the system."

But after a year, life makes sense again.

Finally it has what it wants. In the most untraditional way, the Rose Bowl has its traditional match up. And what's more, they have the #1 team in the nation – as decided by humans, not hard drives. USC will face fourth-ranked Michigan on January 1st.

The most storied program on the west coast meets the most storied program in the Big-Ten. Reminiscent of decades past, this is the type of match-up that made the Rose Bowl legendary. It is also arguably the best game on slate this bowl season. The eyes of the nation are focused not on Bourbon Street, but rather the lights of Los Angeles.

"We're going to thoroughly enjoy having the Pac-10 and Big Ten back with us again," said Tournament executive Mike Riffey.

"I think we're going to have the national championship game right where we are," he continued. Pete Carroll also talked about moving the championship west. But in the process, the balance of power in college football has also shifted.

USC can still win a share of the national championship as, unlike the coaches' Poll, the AP poll isn't forced to choose the winner of the Sugar Bowl as its national champ.

If the Trojans pull out a victory and remain top ranked in the writers poll, it could be the act of defiance needed to bring down the BCS. And in the process, the Rose Bowl and the Pac-10 regain the power it once held.

People are not talking about Oklahoma, LSU, or the Sugar Bowl. They are talking about USC, and more importantly, the Rose Bowl. The Pac-10 has reclaimed some of the legitimacy it lost when it was the only major conference to not send a team to the title game. Fans around the country are waking up and paying attention to that "other coast," something that doesn't usually happen.

When the BCS eventually breaks up (and it will), the Rose Bowl will have a dominate voice in what the future holds for college football, because it is such a valued prize. And as long as the Pac-10 has Pasadena, it will also have the upper hand in what becomes of the bowl system.

So while it looks like USC has been slighted, in fact, it may be the best thing that could have happened for the rest of the Pac-10 conference.

Roses have never smelt so good.
Author Kellen Hade is a journalism student at Oregon State University. Top Stories