Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, (ESPN)
No. 9 Washington vs. No. 6 Ohio State
For the first time in the College Football Playoff era, the Rose Bowl has its traditional matchup: the Pac-12 champion against the Big Ten champion.
That's good for the bowl itself. But it will also serve as a consistent reminder for the next few weeks that these are the only Power 5 conference champions left out of the playoff field -- and the career finale for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, who announced Tuesday that he will retire following the game.
The Buckeyes went into Sunday hoping to land the final playoff spot, but the combination of their win against Northwestern and the results from the Big 12 and SEC title games kept them steady at No. 6, behind both Oklahoma and Georgia.
As far as consolations go, this is about as good as it gets.
"No disrespect to the other bowl games, because they're awesome, but the Rose is the one we've always looked forward to," Meyer said.
It's a fitting end for Meyer, who gets to check a Pasadena sunset off his coaching bucket list for the first time in his well-decorated career. For all he has done in the Big Ten and at several other stops in his coaching career, the 54-year-old coach has never brought a team to the Rose Bowl.
Meyer's college football finale will be a heavy focus in the coming month, especially after a 12-1 season filled with health issues, some close calls on the field and a three-game suspension. The rest of the Buckeyes will turn their attention to trying to prove they deserved a spot in the playoff by racking up a third straight convincing win to end the season.
With three losses, Washington exited the playoff discussion weeks ago and can prepare without any feeling it was snubbed. The Huskies' last appearance in the Rose Bowl Game came following the 2000 season, when senior quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo led them to a 34-24 win against Purdue. Like that team, this one is guided by a fourth-year starting quarterback in Jake Browning, who recently became the Pac-12's all-time winningest quarterback and ranks sixth in career passing yards.
No conference is as desperate for a good showing this bowl season as the Pac-12, which doesn't have another team in a New Year's Six bowl and went just 1-8 in bowls last season. A marquee win against Ohio State would be a valuable part in the process to restore the conference's credibility. Especially considering the Huskies' season-opening loss to Auburn, which finished fifth in the SEC West and had one of the worst records in SEC play (3-5), ended up as a major stain.
Key player for Washington: RB Myles Gaskin. The third-leading rusher in Pac-12 history (5,131 yards), Gaskin became the conference's first player to ever rush for more than 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. With the Huskies' passing attack not as threatening as it has been in recent years, Gaskin's importance is magnified, and if he's unable to get going against Ohio State, it will spell a long day for UW.
Key player for Ohio State: In just his last two performances, quarterback Dwayne Haskins has thrown for 11 touchdowns and 895 yards. The nation's most productive passer has been firing on all cylinders behind an offensive line that has done a better job of giving him space, and he's surrounded by a corps of receivers that can all turn a shovel or screen pass into an 80-yard touchdown if given the opportunity. Haskins said he will wait until after the Rose Bowl to make a decision on his future, but Ohio State fans ought to enjoy him while they still can.
Most important matchup: Who is going to make more big plays? Or perhaps more importantly, who is going to be able to prevent them? Gaskin has to be licking his chops while watching an Ohio State defense that has allowed six rushing touchdowns of at least 75 yards this season, which is more than any FBS defense in the past 15 years. Of course, Buckeyes receivers like Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin are no strangers to long, quick strikes, either. A couple of those types of plays for either side could swing the balance of this game.
X factor: Ohio State doesn't need to grind out a win on the ground, but the offensive line and running backs have to do enough to at least keep Washington's defense honest and open up passing lanes. The Huskies had the Pac-12's best rushing defense (116 yards per game) in 2018. If they can make the Buckeyes a one-dimensional offense, pulling a slight upset seems much more likely.