Roses are red, violets are blue. Who’s going to the Rose Bowl? Not OSU.
For the 12th time in the past 24 seasons, Ohio State claimed at least a share of the Big Ten football championship Saturday night in Indianapolis. And for the 10th time in those 12 championships, they will spend the bowl season somewhere other than the traditional postseason home of Big Ten champions, Pasadena.
It’s a bizarre and somewhat annoying stretch for a fanbase whose members are raised from birth to equate a successful season with a late afternoon appearance on New Year’s Day.
It’s tempting to believe that “Plays its home games in Madison” must place somewhere close to the top of the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl tiebreakers, but in reality, Ohio State’s California dreams have fallen prey to a mixture of their own failures, their own successes, and some plain old bad timing.
Somehow, Texas (which is rather notably not a member of either the Big Ten or Pac-12) has played in more Rose Bowls this century than the Buckeyes. Oklahoma will also play its second Rose Bowl of the 2000s on New Year’s Day 2018.
How is that possible?
1993: Wisconsin lost to Minnesota in October, and then tied Ohio State 14-14. The Buckeyes were perfect outside of that tie, and entered the regular season finale in Ann Arbor at 9-0-1, needing just a win over 7-4 Michigan to claim an outright Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth. Final score: Michigan 28, Ohio State 0. When the Badgers won their regular season finale over Michigan State in Tokyo (yes, the one in Japan) in early December, the Rose Bowl tiebreaker went to Wisconsin since they hadn’t been to Pasadena since 1963.
To sum up: ties were a thing, Michigan drubbed OSU, there was a Big Ten conference game in Tokyo, and Wisconsin had gone decades without a Rose Bowl. You are excused for thinking that 1993 feels like it happened in an alternate universe.
1996: The Buckeyes clinched the Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl with a road win over Indiana in the penultimate week of the regular season. That meant that while their annual implosion against Michigan ruined their perfect season, it couldn’t keep them away from Pasadena like it did a year earlier. The #4 Buckeyes knocked off #2 Arizona State with a classic game-winning drive that earned them a couple first-place votes in the final polls, but wasn’t enough to give them a national championship.
1998: An early November loss to Michigan State and Clint Stoerner’s fumble a week later cost the Buckeyes a chance to play for the national title. But they were still in position to go to Pasadena entering the last week of the season with a win over Michigan and a #13 Wisconsin loss to #14 Penn State. OSU took care of its end of the deal, beating the Wolverines 31-16. However Wisconsin won 24-3, sending the Badgers to the Rose Bowl, while OSU had to settle for the Sugar Bowl.
2002: Ohio State went a perfect 13-0 during the regular season, sharing the Big Ten title with Iowa, who also went 8-0 in league play. The Hawkeyes went to the Orange Bowl. The Buckeyes went to the Fiesta Bowl to play for the national title instead of the Rose Bowl, which had hosted the championship game one year earlier. OSU upset heavily-favored Miami to win its first unanimous national title since 1968.
2005: The Buckeyes split the Big Ten championship with Penn State, but the Nittany Lions won the tiebreaker due to a head-to-head win. It wouldn’t have mattered, though, since the Rose Bowl was hosting the national championship game that year. OSU hung 34 points and more than 600 yards of total offense on Notre Dame (9.6 yards per play!), which under the standard Tresselball conversion, works out to roughly 17 miles of offense under Urban Meyer. The Rose Bowl matched up Texas and USC. That game was okay, too.
2006: Much like 2002, the Bucks missed out on the Granddaddy of Them All because they were too good. They swept through the regular season unbeaten, and earned a spot in the national title game in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes were In-N-Out of contention against Florida before the first half was over.
2007: The strangest regular season in memory ended up with a fittingly weird Big Ten Rose Bowl representative. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten title outright, but ended up in the national title game after a series of shocking upsets knocked Oregon, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and West Virginia out of the race to close the regular season. OSU went to the Sugar Bowl to play LSU, while Ron Zook’s Illinois traveled to Pasadena to face USC. Neither one went well.
2008: OSU and Penn State ended up tying for the Big Ten championship with 7-1 conference records, but PSU got to go to Pasadena by virtue of their 13-6 win in Columbus. The Buckeyes went to the Fiesta Bowl, as required by law. Boom Herron failed to take a knee at the 1, and they lost to Texas.
2009: The Buckeyes won the Big Ten title outright, but thanks to an early-season heartbreaker to USC and a loss at Purdue that rivals 2017’s Iowa game for sheer ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ they were out of the national title picture. That Boilermaker team entered the game 1-5, including a loss to Northern Illinois. It was OSU’s only conference defeat. The silver lining to the year came when they punched their ticket to the Rose Bowl for only the second time since 1984.
There, the Buckeyes shut down Oregon’s up-tempo offense, holding the Ducks to just 260 yards and 12 first downs in a 26-17 win.
2010: Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State finished in a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten at 7-1. Wisconsin won the tie-breaker for the Rose Bowl because of course they did. The Badgers ended up losing to TCU there. OSU went to the Sugar Bowl, and in Jim Tressel’s final game in charge, beat Arkansas in a contest that officially never happened.
2014: You probably don’t need much help recalling this one. The Buckeyes went 8-0 in regular season Big Ten play, then fed Wisconsin feet-first into a woodchipper in the conference title game to earn a spot in the playoff.
The Rose Bowl was a playoff semifinal, but the Buckeyes went to the Sugar Bowl instead. There they faced Alabama, which received the first of its now-customary auto-bids into the final four. The Buckeyes won, then beat Oregon in Dallas to claim its second national title of the century. If you’re scoring at home, that’s two national titles and one Rose Bowl in the 2000s.
2017: The Rose Bowl is a playoff game, and the Big Ten champion Buckeyes were left sitting on the curb outside because they’re not on the bouncer’s list.
Don’t worry, though. The sunset over the Wal-Mart next to Jerry World is supposedly just as majestic as the one over the San Gabriel Mountains.