* Note: For the sake of clarity I refer to both conferences by their current names rather than their names at the time the game was played.
The Rose Bowl game carries the nickname "The Granddaddy of Them All" when it comes to college football games. The game has not always featured the best two teams in the nation; but when it comes to pageantry and name recognition, the Rose Bowl is second to none.
The Rose Bowl is traditionally played on New Years Day and features a matchup between the conference champion in the Big Ten and the conference champion in the Pac-12. The College Football Playoff (CFP) will put a hitch in this tradition by making it the semifinal game to the National Championship game in one out of every three years. Here's a look at the history of the Rose Bowl to see how much tradition might be lost.
Like many traditions, the Rose Bowl is based on its geographic location and climate. The event was birthed in the upper class society of Southern California at the end of the 19th century. As this historical overview from the Tournament of Roses website explains, the Valley Hunt Club was eager to put the mild, Southern California winters on display to people from the eastern parts of the United States who were acclimated to ringing in the New Year in the dead of winter. Football was not on the program for the first Tournament of Roses. Instead, the original entertainment featured chariot races, jousting, numerous types of animal races, and other events.
Football entered the picture in 1902 for a brief moment when a future Big Ten affiliate Michigan took on a future Pac-12 affiliate Stanford. The Wolverines abused Stanford by a lopsided score of 49-0. The football gods would take more than 70 years to repay Michigan for spoiling the inaugural game with a blowout as legendary Wolverine head coach Bo Schembechler lost in his first five Rose Bowl appearances. Schembechler eventually captured the trophy in 1981 with a 23-6 trouncing of Washington.
The lopsidedness of the first game led to a 14-year hiatus from football until 1916 when Brown and Washington State played. Led by legendary coach William "Lone Star" Dietz, the Cougs shutout the Bruins 14-0 in what would be WSU's only Rose Bowl title to date. WSU (WSC at the time) found itself back in Pasadena in 1931, but was easily defeated by Alabama 24-0. A 67-year drought ended in 1998 when quarterback Ryan Leaf led the Cougars back to the The Tournament of Roses only to thwarted by Michigan 21-16 in a game that came down to the final play.
The game remained an intercollegiate contest in 1917 when Oregon came up victorious over Penn 14-0. Then World War I happened. The Rose Bowls in 1918 and 1919 featured the Mare Island Marines based in California versus the Fort Lewis Army based in Washington (1918) and the Great Lakes Navy based in Illinois (1919). The "Webfoots," as Oregon was called in the day, would return to the first game to be played by schools after the way in 1920 only to lose 7-6 to Harvard in the Crimson's one and only Rose Bowl appearance.
From 1920 to 1946, the Rose Bowl featured at least one eventual Pac-12 school and one school east of the Rocky Mountains. USC established its prominence in the Tournament of Roses by capturing eight titles during that time span. The Trojans hold the most Rose Bowl titles by far with a total of 24 in 33 appearances. Michigan is second in total championships with 8 in 20 appearances. In 1942, the game was played outside of Pasadena for the first time in history as the West Coast was in fear of Japanese attacks just weeks after the Pearl Harbor bombings. The 1942 game took place in Durham, NC where Duke earned bragging rights to hosting its own Rose Bowl. The Oregon State Beavers would play spoiler on Duke's parade knocking of the Blue Devils 20-16. The Beavs have made a total of three Rose Bowl appearances, 1942, 1956, and 1965. 1942 was the only year the Beavs would bring back the hardware to Corvallis.
The Big Ten versus Pac-12 arrangement began in 1947 and continued uninterrupted until 2002 when the Bowl Championship Series impeded on the running tradition. Illinois would capture the first guaranteed Big Ten versus Pac-12 matchup in 1947 by handily defeating UCLA 45-14. The Fighting Illini have won three Rose Bowl crowns, the most recent in 1964.
The 1950s was a decade of dominance for the Big Ten capturing nine of ten titles. Ohio State led the way with three titles in 1950, 1955, and 1958. The latter two of those wins came under legendary coach Woody Hayes. Hayes would make several more Rose Bowl appearances after 1958, but only came away victorious once. Hayes won a total of four Rose Bowls in seven appearances at Ohio State, including four straight appearances from 1972 to 1975.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 would split the 1960s after Washington opened up the decade with two consecutive wins in 1960 and 1961. The decade had a pair of first-and-only time winners and unique appearances. Minnesota knocked off UCLA for its only Rose Bowl title in 1962. Purdue won its one and only Rose Bowl title to date in 1967 behind legendary quarterback Bob Griese. A year later, the Boilers' in-state rival Indiana would make its one and only appearance in 1968 losing to USC.
The 1970s were a decade of dominance for the Pac-12 winning nine out of ten contests. Five of those wins belonged to USC. The first two came under head coach John McKay who led the Trojans to the 1972 and 1974 titles. McKay would eventually leave USC to go coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an expansion team at the time that is widely regarded as one of the worst football teams in the history of the NFL. McKay was replaced by another legendary coach, John Robinson, who collected three Rose Bowl titles of his own in 1976, 1978, and 1979. Robinson returned to coach the Trojans after a stint in the NFL in the early 1990s and collected a fourth Rose Bowl title in 1995.
The Pac-12 continued its strong run in the Rose Bowl throughout the 1980s winning seven out of the ten years. UCLA had a particularly strong run in the middle of the decade collecting three titles in 1983, 1984, and 1986 under coach Terry Donahue. Schembechler collected his final Rose Bowl win in his penultimate year coaching in Ann Arbor. He returned to the Rose Bowl one final year in 1990, but fell short to USC by a score of 17-10.
The Big Ten made a comeback in the 1990s winning six of the ten contests. The early part of the decade belonged to Washington though. Under their legendary coach Don "The Dawgfather" James, the Huskies opened up the decade by capturing the 1990 and 1991 Rose Bowls. Penn State made its first Rose Bowl appearance in 1995 as a newest member of the Big Ten and won under Joe Paterno. Paterno would take one more team back to the Rose Bowl in 2009, but fell short to Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans by a score of 38-24. Barry Alvarez won three titles in the 1990s at Wisconsin in 1993, 1998, and 1999. Alvarez's undefeated streak in Pasadena would be snapped in 2013 when he served as the interim coach for the Badgers against Stanford after the departure of Bret Bielema from Wisconsin to Arkansas.
The Big Ten versus Pac-12 streak came to an end in the 2000s when the BCS system came into existence. The Rose Bowl served as the site for the National Championship Game in 2002 and there was neither a Pac-12 team or Big Ten team in the game. Miami defeated Nebraska by a score of 37-14 to win the national title. The 2003 Rose Bowl featured Washington State versus Oklahoma since Big Ten champ Ohio State played in the Fiesta Bowl, which served as the National Championship game for that year. Texas filled in for USC in 2005 when the Trojans appeared in the National Championship game. The Longhorns would return to the Rose Bowl a year later when they defeated USC in what was the National Championship Game. TCU's 2011 appearance was the only time between 2007 and 2014 that neither a Pac-12 or Big Ten team appeared in the Granddaddy of Them All. The Horned Frogs filled in for Oregon after the Ducks reached the National Championship Game that season.
In head-to-head competition since 1947, the Pac-12 holds a slight edge over the Big Ten with 33 to 30 wins. However, that parity reflects the early dominance of the Big Ten from 1947 to 1959 winning 12 of 13 games. The Pac-12 has held had a major edge since 1960 winning 32 out of 50 head-to-head contests.
The Rose Bowl has a tradition to it that is unrivaled by any other bowl game. Most of the tradition has occurred with Pac-12 and Big Ten teams taking center stage. Still, the Rose Bowl has a tradition of flexibility. War and issues of national security have altered the tradition in the past. More recently, the BCS system broke tradition by putting Big Ten and Pac-12 champions in the National Championship Game or making the Rose Bowl itself the National Championship Game. The new arrangement of using the Rose Bowl as a semifinal in the CFP reflects upon the tradition flexibility the game has had at different points in its history. It also provides teams outside of the Big Ten and Pac-12 to have a chance to compete in the game and add to the tradition.
The biggest problem that I see with the new arrangement is that for the first time in history, the Rose Bowl will not be an end within itself, but rather a stepping stone to a bigger goal, the National Championship Game every three years. Teams have celebrated Rose Bowl victories in the past as the ultimate reward for their season. Having to compete in another game after the Rose Bowl dilutes that victory to an extent. Still the tradition of Big Ten versus Pac-12 will carry on more years than not bringing a team west of the Rockies to the Golden State for a little holiday.