No, this is not an off-field treatment of Urban Meyer. When the Rose Bowl arrives, the play's the thing.
This latest edition of The Granddaddy between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Washington Huskies is prominent because it will be Meyer's last game at Ohio State, possibly his coaching career. Many people will assess Meyer's legacy when this game ends. Many more will speculate on whether he will want to coach again, and if so, where.
My focus before the 2019 Rose Bowl is on another fact worth discussing: This is Meyer's first (and presumably last) Rose Bowl.
Jim Tressel dominated the Big Ten at Ohio State, but because of the BCS, he coached in the Rose Bowl only once, in 2010 against Chip Kelly and Oregon. Lloyd Carr of Michigan was consistently outcoached by Tressel, but he made more Rose Bowls than Tressel, and to be clear, that is not due to Rose Bowls made before the BCS began in 1998. Carr made three Rose Bowls in four seasons from 2003 through 2006. Tressel made Fiesta Bowls and BCS National Championship Games more than Rose Bowls. Such was the architecture of the BCS, and the College Football Playoff is fundamentally the same, in that a conference champion is supposed to go to the semifinal bowl and not the traditional bowl. Last season, though, there was a twist: Ohio State didn't go to the Rose Bowl despite winning the Big Ten precisely BECAUSE the Rose was a playoff semifinal.
Only this year did ALL the stars align for Meyer to coach in The Granddaddy. Ohio State won the Big Ten and the Rose was not a semifinal. In previous years, OSU made the playoff and missed the Rose. Last year, as noted, OSU missed the Rose because it didn't qualify for the playoff.
This used to be a lot less complicated.
Woody Hayes or Michigan's Bo Schembechler would fly to Pasadena in late December and revel in being part of that game. Making the journey to Southern California for New Year's Day afternoon was a spiritual pilgrimage for a Big Ten fan base. Hayes would put his OSU teams in monasteries, adding to the spiritual imagery surrounding the Rose Bowl.
Pac-8 and then Pac-10 fans treated The Granddaddy with great respect in their own right. John McKay, John Robinson, Don James, and Terry Donahue are all fondly remembered at USC, Washington and UCLA because they regularly made the Rose Bowl. They coached against Woody or Bo or Earle Bruce or Hayden Fry. Coaches were defined by the big bowls they made -- or didn't make.
Not every conference or coach was measured by national championships. The old bowl setup preceding the BCS enabled several teams to end their seasons with victories in games they cherished and were excited to play.
Yes, I welcomed the BCS in 1998, but I welcomed it hoping that it would objectively and clearly settle the national title debate. As early as 2000 -- when Miami's head-to-head win over Florida State was disregarded -- I worried about the system. The next year, 2001, shattered my faith in the system, since a Nebraska team which lost the Big 12 North Division in a 62-36 defeat at the hands of Colorado was still allowed into the Rose Bowl for the BCS title against Miami. Yes, 17 years ago it was already apparent that the BCS had eroded the classic bowl traditions which made college football great... without delivering a manifestly improved national championship process.
This 2019 Rose Bowl -- with Urban Meyer finally coaching in the game, nearly a decade after Tressel made his only appearance for OSU -- is a story not just of a coach getting to participate in a classic game which is a central part of the history of college football. It is a story of what has happened over the past 20 years.
Urban Meyer is happy to be coaching in this game. There is something which feels right about a coach of his stature getting to be a part of this event. There is also something which feels perfect about Meyer getting to coach against Chris Petersen, another of this generation's best football coaches. Washington fans haven't been to this game in 18 years. They are happy to be here.
See -- you can be happy to participate in a non-playoff bowl game. Ohio State-Washington is a reminder of what college football once had... and never needed to lose.