PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: A general view as the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Oregon Ducks at the 98th Rose Bowl Game on January 2, 2012 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
College football began last night. Nebraska takes the field tomorrow. In case you didn't catch that, NEBRASKA PLAYS TOMORROW! With that, this is the final installment in our countdown to the start of the season. We're talking Rose Bowl again, because, yes, it's ONE big deal in the B1G Conference.
The Big Ten has a love affair with the Rose Bowl the likes of which most Nebraska fans have a difficult time understanding. Perhaps the best analogy out there to describe it is it’s like an old pair of jeans. You know the one you got several years ago. The ones that used to be stylish and hip and over time grew to fit juuuuust right. You became so comfortable in them that they became part of your identity. You wore them everywhere. You wore them to the gas station, on dates, to church, to the game. Everywhere but funerals and weddings. Sure, they faded and wore holes in unsightly places; you’d just patch them up and go on like new. Then you got married. And your wife (or husband, though I doubt he’d actually care all that much so I’ll stick with wife) insisted that they must go. You can get new jeans she said. These have worn out their usefulness. Do you just let her throw them out? Of course not. Why would you do that? First you get defensive,
"They’re not that bad" you say. She just gives you the look.
"There’s no way I’m just going to throw these jeans out" You snarl. She’s still got that look on her face. It is somewhat endearing, though.
"Well, well…well, how about if I just wear them around the house?" you plead.
"Fine, but we’re getting you some new jeans; you can never be seen with me in these in public again." She says. Your face shows relief. Hers: annoyance and a little disgust. You think you’ve won. Everyone else knows better.
This commentary shouldn’t be viewed as a Rose Bowl bash fest, hopefully it’s more of an explanation to those who didn’t grow up on it what it means to the Big Ten. It’s probably a feeble attempt, but that’s the aim here. Nebraska would be nothing short of thrilled to find its way to Pasadena this season, but it’s not because they want to play in the Rose Bowl. They don’t, they want to play in the National Title game, but a trip to Pasadena would be a signal that Nebraska is back. Or at least really close to being where they want to be. We’ll call it movement in the right direction. An Outback Bowl appearance wouldn’t provide that. Nebraska views the Rose Bowl as a measuring stick, not the crème de la crème.
Every year from 1947 when Illinois defeated UCLA 45-14 through the 2001 Rose Bowl between Washington and Purdue was pitted between a Pac-10 and Big Ten School until that streak was broken for the 2002 National Title game. If you don’t know what happened in that game, I’ll let you fire up your Google machine and figure it out for yourself. Every year for 54 years the Big Ten, Pac-10 met in Pasadena, CA for their annual showcase. If you do something for 54 years, it becomes part of you. In many ways it becomes your identity. So, it should really come as no surprise that the Big 10 fought tooth and nail to keep itself aligned with the Granddaddy of them all! And here’s the thing. It really is a sight to behold. The field seems greener, he helmets shinier and the game more important than all the others. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable. But it’s not what it used to be. The college football world has changed. Some for the better, some not, but the Rose Bowl was becoming more and more irrelevant as the Big Ten wasn’t competing for national titles as of late and the Pac-10 was sending USC and Oregon to the title game at least semi-regularly. The Rose Bowl suddenly has holes. But it’s still really comfortable. It’s always there. As the landscape of college football has shifted and will continue to shift, the Rose Bowl has remained. But it will be wearing a new pair of jeans. It will still feature the Big Ten and Pac-12 most years but will also be a part of the new playoff rotation. And that’s a good thing. College football and New Year’s Day are better when the Rose Bowl is part of it.