College football bowl season owes its existence to the Rose Bowl Game.
Dubbed the Granddaddy of 'Em All, the venerable postseason spectacular is the first bowl game. The 2019 installment marks the 105th, and over the previous 104 installments, everything from national championships to the political climate of World War II has set the Rose Bowl's scene. The bulk of its history also includes representatives from the Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences squaring off before the majestic backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.
However, the introduction of the College Football Playoff has altered the face of the Rose Bowl Game somewhat. This year's meeting between Washington and Ohio State marks the first showdown of Pac-12 and Big Ten champions since Michigan State knocked off Stanford in January 2014 — the last year of the old Bowl Championship Series.
Despite the deviation from history, the Rose Bowl has maintained its place as one of the most exciting landmarks on the college football calendar. The 2017 edition between USC and Penn State was a game for the ages, only to be outdone a year later when Georgia beat Oklahoma in an overtime thriller as part of the College Football Playoff.
The benchmark to meet recent installments is high for Washington and Ohio State, two programs at the final stage of different eras. For the Huskies, the Granddaddy is a farewell to an elite class of seniors; for Ohio State, it marks the end of Urban Meyer's tenure as head coach.
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Washington (10-3) vs. Ohio State (12-1)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl Stadium (Pasadena, Calif.)
Spread: Ohio State -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Emptying out the playbook
Both Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Washington head coach Chris Petersen cultivated reputations for their willingness to innovate on offense. Both of their unique play-calling philosophies have been at their most inventive and successful in the postseason.
Meyer ends his career at the Rose Bowl Game, making it the prime opportunity for one of the most successful adopters and forerunners of the spread offense to tinker with unusual play-calls. Doing so might also be a necessity; Washington's defense is one of the stingiest in college football, coming in with a 15.5-point per game yield (No. 5 in the country) and a deep, talented secondary.
Conversely, Washington's offense has struggled at times to establish consistency on offense. The Ohio State defense has been vulnerable at times this season, particularly seeing unexpected play-calls resulting in explosive gains. Such was the case in a loss to Purdue, and near-miss, overtime win against Maryland.
2. Emphasis on explosive plays
Key to any trickery either Meyer or Petersen might give the go-ahead to offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Bush Hamdan is reeling off big yardage as a result. Explosive plays should in general dictate the pace of the Rose Bowl.
Washington and Ohio State's defense have been on polar opposite sides in terms of allowing such plays. The Huskies rank fourth in the nation in gains of 20-plus yards from scrimmage and are tops in college football giving up gains of 30-plus. Ohio State, meanwhile, ranks No. 96 in 20-plus yards surrendered; No. 117 in 30-plus; and No. 122 in 40-plus.
Although Washington's offense has not been particularly consistent, quarterback Jake Browning has big-play potential targets in wide receiver Ty Jones (16.8 ypr) and recently returned tight end Hunter Bryant (26.7 ypr). Both complement the steady Aaron Fuller in the passing game.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has made a habit of rolling up long gains — including against defenses that don't often surrender them, as was the case vs. Michigan. The Washington secondary of Taylor Rapp, Jojo McIntosh, Byron Murphy, Jordan Miller, and Myles Bryant faces a tall task slowing Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. All four posted more than 600 receiving yards for the Buckeyes in the regular season.
Couple that with the dangerous run game of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, which will keep All-American linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven busy, and Ohio State has the potential to strike Washington like it hasn't been in 2018.
3. Similar but different
On the surface, Ohio State and Washington could not have any more different outward appearances in 2018. However, both surged to conference championships with surprisingly similar statistical output.
Ohio State's offense, behind Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Dwayne Haskins, dominated time of possession at 32:28 per game, despite a quick-strike style that averaged 6.6 yards per play. Washington also owned time of possession at 32:08, employing a more methodical approach — and yet, still accrued 5.8 yards per play.
Chase Young, Dre'Mont Jones, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner all individually tallied more tackles for a loss than Washington's leader in that category, Rapp. Ohio State used its pesky blitzing defense to generate 23 takeaways. The Huskies took a significant step backward in tackles for a loss and sacks racked up this season, with Pete Kwiatkowski sharing coordinating duties with Jimmy Lake, but Washington still generated 20 turnovers.
Different approach, similar ends.
Both Ohio State and Washington kicked off 2018 frequently mentioned in the College Football Playoff conversation. The Buckeyes missing the field as Big Ten champions for a second consecutive season might cast a pall of disappointment over their Rose Bowl trip, but appearances in the historic game have been fleeting for the program. Motivation should be no problem for Ohio State.
Washington's season endured more on-field ups and downs, but the Huskies hit their stride in the final month. Of no coincidence, Washington was the closest to full strength it had been all year with the returns of Hunter Bryant, D.J. Beavers and Trey Adams to the lineup.
Add a month for the always-creative Chris Petersen to game plan, and Washington will give Ohio State a fight. The Buckeyes have more difference-makers on offense than any opponent Washington's outstanding defense has faced this season, however.