Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer slaps hands of fans as he enters the stadium for the Buckeyes' game against Michigan on November 24 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Washington have played in 15 Rose Bowls apiece, but never against one another. That will change on New Year's Day when the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions meet in Pasadena, Calif.
The Rose Bowl is one of college football's storied traditions, but it's not exactly where the two teams wanted to end up this season. Both had national championship aspirations that were derailed during the regular season.
Ohio State (12-1) stumbled against Purdue in October with a 49-20 loss that was too egregious for the College Football Playoff selection committee to overlook.
Washington (10-3) lost three regular-season games but bounced back to win the Pac-12 North title and then beat Utah 10-3 in the conference championship game.
"It has been rocky. It has been tough. It has been hard. And that's why I have a lot of respect for these kids," Washington head coach Chris Petersen said. "They've been through a lot. There was a lot of expectations put on them.
"At times, we've played really well, and, at times, we haven't played as well as we think we can."
There are several story lines from the Ohio State side surrounding the game.
The biggest is Urban Meyer's retirement after the Rose Bowl. He announced several days after Ohio State's 45-24 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game that he was stepping aside after seven seasons in Columbus.
This will be the first and supposedly last Rose Bowl in Meyer's coaching career. He has an 11-3 record in bowl games for a .785 winning percentage, the second best in college football history.
"I grew up in the state of Ohio watching the Rose Bowl for many, many years," he told reporters. "And it's been a bucket list and a dream to go coach out there."
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day was named Meyer's replacement and he will take over officially as the head coach after Jan. 1.
Meyer will stay connected to Ohio State as an assistant athletic director. He also plans to teach a leadership class at the university's Fisher College of Business.
Then there's the uncertainty about the future of Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. The redshirt sophomore, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, hasn't announced whether he'll remain in school for another year or leave for the NFL Draft.
After the greatest season by a passer in Ohio State football history, Haskins is rising into the top 10 on many draft boards because of his arm talent.
Haskins set a Big Ten championship game record with 499 passing yards and five touchdown passes, elevating his season totals to FBS bests of 4,580 passing yards and 47 touchdown passes. He broke 20 school and Big Ten records this season.
"Rose Bowl has a great history. A lot of quarterbacks play in that game," Haskins said. "It's a very rich tradition game. And looking forward to competing with my teammates."
Teammate Dre'Mont Jones already announced that he'll forgo his final year to enter the NFL Draft. And so did running back Mike Weber.
Jones, a defensive tackle, is projected as a first-round pick, but neither he nor Weber will sit out the bowl game, which has become more commonplace for college players entering the draft early to do.
"Our players know all about the Rose Bowl, they appreciate and respect the tradition, and I'm sure that's why all those guys are playing," Meyer said.
If Ohio State's players were disappointed by the CFP snub, they aren't showing it. They appear motivated to play in the Rose Bowl and help Meyer go out with a victory.
"I think I'd be shocked if our guys didn't play well," Meyer told reporters. "We're playing a very good team. And I've been a part of some teams where you're worried about that. I think our guys, because they really truly care about each other, they want to win this game."
Washington's challenge will be to slow down Ohio State's prolific offense, which ranks second nationally in total offense (548.8 yards per game) and in passing (373.0 yards per game) and eighth in scoring (43.5 points per game).
The Huskies' defense is anchored by Ben Burr-Kirven, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year and first-team All-American who leads the country with 165 total tackles.
Washington allowed just nine passing touchdowns this season, the fourth fewest in the nation, and 15.5 points per game, which ranks fifth in FBS.
Petersen also will be coaching in his first Rose Bowl and saying goodbye to several key performers from the past few years.
Quarterback Jake Browning threw for 2,879 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Senior running back Myles Gaskin is the school's career rushing leader with 5,202 yards and 55 touchdowns.
Browning doesn't think Meyer's retirement will have any bearing on the outcome of the first meeting between Washington and Ohio State since the 2007 season.
"Even if he was still going to coach another 20 years I'd still want to beat him," Browning said. "It doesn't really affect my game at all.
"Obviously, he wants to go out on top and so do we. It's my last game, too, and so I'm preparing really hard and hopefully we'll go out and win."