On Monday night, Oregon and Ohio State will play in the first College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Arlington, Texas. It will be the first time since the 1968 season a team from the Big Ten and the Pac-12 (or the Pac-8 in this case) battled for college football’s top honor.
Somehow, the Big Ten and Pac-10/Pac-12 missed each other during the BCS Era. The Big Ten and Pac-10 combined for six BCS championship game appearances (SEC fans laugh at that stat, probably), including a string of four straight years at one point, but the two never overlapped on the biggest of stages. Until now.
In 1968, the Rose Bowl just happened to have a dream match-up in Pasadena with No. 1 Ohio State representing the Big Ten against No. 2 USC from the Pac-8. Woody Hayes and his Buckeyes pulled away with Ohio State quarterback Rex Kern winning game MVP honors following the 27-16 victory over John McKay and his Trojans, with 1968 Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson (that Heisman Trophy was just recovered following a 20-year search).
The 1969 Rose Bowl between Ohio State and USC was the second Rose Bowl to be played between top two teams. No. 1 USC defeated No. 2 Wisconsin in the 1963 Rose Bowl in the other. The 1980 Rose Bowl featured No. 1 Ohio State losing to No. 3 USC, which gave Alabama the national title as a result. USC also claimed the national title after defeating No. 3 Ohio State in the 1973 Rose Bowl, with the Trojans ranked No. 1 going in. So championships have been on the line, but very rarely were they the definitive national championship game between the two power conferences.
There have also been other seasons in which one of the top two teams in the country played in the Rose Bowl Game with a hope to win a share of the national championship. USC laid claim to a split of the 2003 season’s national title with a win over Michigan in the 2004 Rose Bowl. Michigan earned a share of the 1997 national championship, but Penn State was left with nothing to show for a 12-0 season ending with a victory in Pasadena against Oregon in the 1995 Rose Bowl.
Still, considering the traditional strength of each conference, it is amazing to think it has taken this long for both conferences to be represented in a no-questions-asked national championship game.
Maybe it will be worth the wait.