The Granddaddy of Them All, while a very nice bowl game, is more like the ugly stepsister for its participants this season.
Michigan and Southern California both had their sights set higher entering their final regular-season games - only to stumble and wind up in the Rose Bowl.
The Wolverines fell to top-ranked Ohio State 42-39 in Columbus on Nov. 18.
USC, almost assured the spot against the Buckeyes in the national title game Jan. 8 at Glendale, Ariz., had only to beat unranked UCLA to play for it all. But the Bruins put up a stunning defensive effort and took down Pete Carroll's team 13-9 on Dec. 2.
So the Rose Bowl winds up a consolation prize for two of college football's most storied programs. Can both teams overcome the disappointment of being a couple of plays away from playing for it all?
"I think you just kind of put it out of your mind," Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable said. "At this point, if you concentrate on being in Glendale, then you know you're really not going to play well here because here is where we are."
USC linebacker Dallas Sartz indicated the Trojans are taking a similar approach.
"It's tough after any loss, especially against a cross-town rival (when you're) fighting for the national championship game," Sartz said. "But what's done is done, and this is a great bowl game to play and a great team to play against. People would kill to be in the position we're in, to be able to play in the Rose Bowl here in L.A. with all our fans supporting us. So it doesn't get much better than that."
The manner in which both teams lost in their final games came as even more of a surprise. The Michigan defense, one of the biggest stories of the season, was a virtual no-show against Ohio State. The Wolverines surrendered season highs in points, rushing yards and passing yards. You can't do that and hope to win.
The Trojans, who hadn't scored fewer than 20 points in a game all season, managed only 55 rushing yards and nine points against UCLA. Even if you have a defense as good as USC's, you won't win a lot of games in which you score fewer than 10 points.
Which unit will bounce back the best, the Michigan defense or the USC offense? They'll be sternly tested against each other, and their battle will go a long way toward determining who comes out of the Rose Bowl smelling the sweetest.
"Ohio State didn't have a Jarrett-type of receiver who could go up and get the ball," Hall said. "He and Smith complement each other very well. Jarrett can put himself between the ball and the defender. And if he gets that position, then it's almost 100 percent that he's going to get the ball."
"These guys are great," USC linebacker Oscar Lua said of Michigan's offense. "You watch film of these guys, and they check off from one thing to another. That's the confidence they have in their quarterback, and Hart does an amazing job running the ball. He looks practically untackleable sometimes when he's in the hole. They swarm on him, but he just bounces off like a pinball."
Rose Bowl: No. 3 Michigan (11-1) vs. No. 8 Southern California (10-2)
Time: 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 1 Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. TV: ABC Announcers: Brent Musburger, Bob Davie, Kirk Herbstreit and sideline reporters Bonnie Bernstein and Lisa Salters
Michigan Wolverines Conference: Big Ten Record: 11-1, 7-1 Coach: Lloyd Carr (12th season, 113-35) Passing leader: Chad Henne (177 of 287, 2,199 yards, 20 touchdowns, seven interceptions) Rushing leader: Mike Hart (301 carries, 1,515 yards, 14 TDs) Receiving leader: Mario Manningham (32 receptions, 624 yards, nine TDs), Adrian Arrington (36 receptions, 510 yards, seven TDs) Defensive leaders: LaMarr Woodley (15.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles), Leon Hall (15 pass breakups, three interceptions)
Southern California Trojans Conference: Pac-10 Record: 10-2, 7-2 Coach: Pete Carroll (64-12, sixth season) Passing leader: John David Booty (241 of 390, 2,919 yards, 25 touchdowns, nine interceptions) Rushing leader: Chauncey Washington (155 carries, 736 yards, nine TDs) Receiving leaders: Steve Smith (64 receptions, 975 yards, eight TDs), Dwayne Jarrett (58 receptions, 773 yards, 10 TDs) Defensive leader: LB Rey Maualuga (76 tackles, five tackles for loss), DE Lawrence Jackson (11 tackles for loss, four sacks, two blocked kicks)
Michigan running game vs. Southern California run defense: This could be one of the best matchups of the entire bowl season. The Wolverines have every intention of getting the ball to Mike Hart about 30 times, and they have one of the best lines in college football. Michigan ranked 11th in the country in rushing with 189.2 yards per game. The Trojans ranked 17th against the run, yielding 97.7 yards. Hart had nine 100-yard games, and had at least 90 in the other three games.
Michigan passing game vs. Southern California pass defense: Chad Henne was superb for most of the season, but the Wolverines passing game suffered when Mario Manningham missed four games because of a knee injury. Manningham had nine TD receptions in Michigan's first six games. He looked to be rounding back into early season form with six receptions for 86 yards against top-ranked Ohio State. The Trojans have a young secondary that did give up some yardage this season, but sometimes that was misleading because a lot of that came in games in which the Trojans held a significant lead. USC junior cornerback Terrell Thomas is an emerging cover corner with a big chance to prove himself to the country against Manningham. Edge: Michigan
Southern California running game vs. Michigan run defense: The Trojans couldn't settle on a tailback this season and didn't have the kind of success on the ground to which they've grown accustomed. They finished 59th nationally in rushing, with 134.7 yards per game. The Wolverines led the nation in rush defense, yielding just 43 yards per game. Edge: Michigan
Southern California passing game vs. Michigan pass defense: The Trojans plugged in John David Booty and threw the ball almost as well as they have the past several seasons. Booty had 25 TD passes and just nine interceptions. It doesn't hurt to have receivers like Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, either. USC ranked 17th nationally and Michigan gave up 211 yards per game through the air to rank 75th nationally. Granted, if you wanted to move the ball on the Wolverines this season you pretty much had to throw, but they also are susceptible on the side opposite All-American corner Leon Hall. Edge: Michigan
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr vs. Southern California coach Pete Carroll: Carr and defensive coordinator Ron English have done a terrific job this season. Carroll and his staff were stellar again as well, coaxing a young bunch to the verge of the national title game. The loss to UCLA, though, was inexplicable. Carr's team has more balance and more seasoned talent, while Carroll's team is a year away. Edge: Michigan
Michigan will win if: It pressures Booty and can cover Smith and Jarrett. It will help a great deal if Hart gets 25-plus carries.
Southern California will win if: It can stop Hart, and it can avoid negative plays on offense - particularly on early downs.
Worth noting: USC is 28-16 in bowl games, including 21-9 in Rose Bowls. … Michigan is 18-19 in bowl games, including 8-11 in Rose Bowls. … The Wolverines are making their 32nd consecutive bowl appearance, tops in the nation. … Pete Carroll is 3-1 in bowl games. … Lloyd Carr is 5-6 in bowl games. … USC leads the series against Michigan, 5-4. … USC is making an unprecedented fifth consecutive BCS bowl appearance. … The Trojans start just four seniors, including one on defense. … Michigan committed only 10 turnovers (three fumbles and seven interceptions) this season, the fewest in the nation. … Both teams rank in the top 12 nationally in scoring defense. … The Trojans had three receivers (Jarrett, Smith and Patrick Turner ) who caught at least 11 passes in a game this season, a first in team history. … Wolverines running back Mike Hart has scored at least one touchdown in his past six games. … Michigan is 17-2 when Hart tops 100 yards, including 8-1 this season.
Line: Southern Cal by 1
McClellan's pick: Michigan 30, Southern California 26
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Michigan 31-27
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Michigan 31-14
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Michigan 27-25
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Michigan 24-23