A little more than 35 years after the programs met for the first and only time, Ohio State and Utah are both heading to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
And while it would be easy for the Buckeyes to be disappointed after failing to win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff, they still appreciate the historical significance of the Rose Bowl – also known as The Granddaddy of Them All.
“The goal that we have here is to win championships,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said on Sunday. “We didn’t reach that goal, but we have an opportunity to go play in a tradition-rich bowl, and that means a lot. It’s a New Year’s Six bowl, the 16th time Ohio State’s been in the Rose Bowl. There’s a lot of tradition that’s led up to that, and I know our guys are going to want to play hard and win that game.
“We want to finish this thing the right way, and that’s really what the focus is on right now. I think there are a lot of lessons that have been learned from the (loss at Michigan), and that will obviously motivate us moving forward. But right now, the focus is on this Rose Bowl and sending the seniors out the right way. I know everybody in the program wants to do that.”
The Utes, on the other hand, will be playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in program history after winning their first-ever Pac-12 title with a blowout of Oregon on Friday night. A win over Ohio State would be the perfect ending to a historic season and show just how far Utah has come since that 64-6 beatdown in 1986.
“This is just a great opportunity for our program and the next step in the evolution of our program,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said during a teleconference on Sunday evening. “We’ve been to the Pac-12 Championship Game three times, but this is the first time we were able to get over the hump. It was something we had been shooting for and had our sights set on for a number of years.
“We’re really looking forward to it. The entire Salt Lake (City) community will travel well. It’s something that the community is very fired up about. It’s going to be a great experience for our players.”
Interestingly,Day and Whittingham both had the unenviable task of following legendary head coach Urban Meyer, who was at Utah from 2003-04 and led the Utes to an undefeated season and win in the Fiesta Bowl before leaving for Florida. He was also at Ohio State from 2012-18, leading the Buckeyes to three Big Ten titles and a victory in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship
“I had been at Utah for eight or nine years. We had a coaching change and I thought I should be the guy,” Whittingham said. “I was very disappointed Urban got the job, but it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me in my coaching career. Just being able to see how he ran the program and being able to absorb all that knowledge and the way that he did things was invaluable to me.”
Surely, Meyer – who is now the head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars – will be tuned in when his coaching disciples go head-to-head in Pasadena next month.
“I’m forever in debt for what he’s done for my family and I,” Day said. “When you just think back on those times and your legacy in college football, I hope someday there’s somebody that I’ve done the same thing for in this profession.”
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