Commentary

BCS prevents more Ohio State-USC matchups

Originally Published: September 10, 2008
By Brad Edwards | ESPN.com

There's plenty to know about Saturday's Collision at the Coliseum, but there's one note in particular that might surprise you.

Ohio State and USC will meet on a football field for the first time since 1990.

1990??!!

The Buckeyes and the Trojans have dominated the Big Ten and the Pac-10, respectively, over the past six years. So, how in the names of Woody Hayes and John McKay have they not met in the Rose Bowl during this stretch?

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesYou can thank Jim Tressel (and Pete Carroll) for the fact that OSU and USC haven't met since 1990.

The answer is quite simple, actually … as simple as three letters.

BCS.

"We knew when we agreed to sign up [for the BCS] in 1997 that occasions were going to come up when we'd lose our big game," Rose Bowl CEO Mitch Dorger said. "But we were not anticipating it would happen as often as it has."

If the pre-BCS bowl structure still were in place, this would be the third straight season with an Ohio State-USC showdown, because the Buckeyes and the Trojans would have met in the past two Rose Bowls. But as history was written, OSU went to the BCS National Championship Game both years, while USC was pitted against a different Big Ten team that met eligibility requirements for a BCS at-large berth.

Unfortunate for the Rose Bowl? Definitely. But who could have seen this coming?

From 1980 to1996, a Big Ten or Pac-10 team entered the bowl season ranked in the top two of the AP poll only three times. That's why research done by the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl indicated the BCS structure would keep the conference champs from meeting in "The Granddaddy" maybe once every three years.

But as it has turned out, each of the past six years, either USC or Ohio State has been ranked in the top two of the last regular-season AP poll -- and in all but one of those seasons (2003), the Rose Bowl has missed out on its most coveted matchup.

"Nobody planned on Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel," Dorger said.

But it's not all doom and gloom for the Rose Bowl these days. The addition of the fifth BCS bowl and the double-hosting model will make Pasadena a big winner next season. Instead of likely having to sacrifice a Big Ten versus Pac-10 matchup in order to host the BCS championship, the Rose Bowl stadium conceivably could host both within a seven-day stretch. The champs of the two conferences definitely will be present; the only question is whether they'll be playing in the same game.

Either way, the Rose Bowl is a winner, and officials seem to be quite content with this arrangement. Even the unseeded, plus-one playoff model, which would start with the conference champs being assigned to their traditional bowl tie-ins (meaning the Big Ten versus the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl every year), doesn't interest the Tournament of Roses administration.

"An unseeded playoff does not solve anything," Dorger said. "You'll have four teams [that] look pretty impressive while winning a BCS game, and there will still be controversy when two of them are left out of the championship game. That will lead to demand for a seeded model, which will start at four teams and increase to eight teams and maybe even to 16 teams. It's just not a positive step for college football.

"We'd love to have the best game possible every year, but we also believe the BCS is good for the sport, and we want to be a part of it and support it."

Even if that means Ohio State and USC will meet in September more often than in January.

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN.

• Analyzes college football and the BCS as part of ESPN's Stats & Information Group
• Analyst for both College GameDay on ESPN Radio and the ESPN College Football app