Saying goodbye to ‘traditional’ Rose Bowl: Penn State prevails over Utah as historic game enters new era
PASADENA, Calif. — In the end, the sky opened up and it rained on the Rose Bowl. Some would say that he cried.
Just don’t try to sell that to the smiling, dancing, happy Nittany Lions (from the valley) who practically float off the field at the end of the program’s first Rose Bowl win in 27 years. (It is only the second).
“It means the world,” said redshirt freshman linebacker Dominic DeLuca, blessed by fate to wear Franco Harris’ No. 34.
“Hopefully, somewhere up there, he’s smiling,” DeLuca added.
Elsewhere, outside the competitive confines of the hallowed stadium, it meant closure. Not the kind you’d want to consider if lore and Keith Jackson mean anything.
No. 11 Penn State’s 35-21 victory over No. 8 Utah marked the end of an era. It’s the last time the traditional Rose Bowl combatants will meet for the foreseeable future. In fact, if the Big Ten and Pac-12 ever meet again in Pasadena it will be a coincidence.
After the 2023 season, the Rose Bowl will be a college football playoff semifinal. So only by chance will a Big Ten and/or Pac-12 team play in the game. For different reasons, starting with the debut of the 12-team playoff in 2024, the same circumstances will apply.
“That’s what we realized … that we would be playing each other in the last ‘traditional Rose Bowl,'” Penn State athletic director Pat Kraft told CBS Sports. “For someone who grew up in the Midwest and the Big Ten, this is it. He really is grandpa. So to have this kind of moment is surreal.”
However, the finality was palpable: this was definitely not your grandfather’s grandfather.
Ever since the Rose Bowl reluctantly joined the BCS in 1998, there has been an uneasy relationship between tradition and evolution. Above all else, Rose Bowl traditionalists valued that Pac-8/10/12 vs. Big Ten game. For 54 consecutive years (1947-2000), the conference champions met here.
Then BCS intervened. To participate in it, the Rose Bowl, Big Ten, and Pac-12 agreed to give up their exclusivity to be a part of the first college football championship decided on the field. Rose’s first break in the BCS rotation came in 2002. Miami faced Nebraska for the national championship. People from both schools returned from Pasadena talking about how the welcome had been less than cordial.
That manifested itself further the following year when Oklahoma played Washington State in front of just 87,000 fans, 6,000 under capacity. Since the College Football Playoff debuted in 2014, the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions have met only once (2020, Ohio State vs. Washington).
In the 16 years leading up to 2014, the Rose Bowl had its traditional matchup 10 times. That proportion will be substantially reduced in the future.
The issue came to a head late last year when the Rose Bowl reluctantly agreed with the CFP to the parameters of the expanded 12-year playoff in 2024. It had run out of leverage in a sport that has grown bigger than the first older bowl. in existence.
The Rose Bowl had held on to play in its traditional January 1, 5 pm ET, start time. It was said no. As of 2026, it will be filled with the equipment that is in the system on the date and time that the CFP deems necessary.
“I don’t mean this with insults, but we’re not the Guaranteed Bowl,” Laura Farber, chairwoman of the Tournament of Roses Management Committee, said before the game. “I had to look up where that bowl was taking place. We will always be the Rose Bowl.”
You wouldn’t get any argument from the Nittany Lions. As a young manager, Kraft, a former Indiana player, vowed never to set foot in the Rose Bowl unless the team he worked for was playing in it.
“No, it’s too special,” Kraft told CBS Sports. “I have to earn it.”
On the holiest of grounds, Kraft got his wish. Never mind that, at the turn of the century, Utah was in the Mountain West or that Big Ten flagships Michigan and Ohio State, who defeated Penn State, were eliminated from the CFP on Saturday.
But it was history with a side of melancholy. For the first time since 2017, the game did not start in sunlight.
Again, try telling Penn State that this meant nothing. The Nittany Lions won the game for the first time since 1995. This was his fifth Rose Bowl appearance since 1923.
On the 100th anniversary of that appearance, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford reminisced about his first time on the West Coast in fourth or fifth grade. His dad surprised him with a trip to a soccer camp.
“I just remember really falling in love with football, specifically falling in love with the quarterback position,” Clifford said.
In the final game of his college career, Clifford was the Rose Bowl offensive MVP, throwing for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
There is a lifeline for tradition. After the 2024 and 2025 seasons, if the Pac-12 and/or Big Ten champions are ranked in the top four and earn a bye, the higher ranked of those two will be guaranteed a spot if the Rose Bowl is a quarterfinal that year. . Had that been in place this season, Michigan would have played in Pasadena as the Big Ten champion against the winner Ohio State and Kansas State.
“The Rose Bowl is iconic,” said CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock.
Monday was another reminder that it’s not exclusive.
Essentially, by giving the Rose Bowl an ultimatum, CFP stakeholders bolstered what had become a 12-team playoff. The games themselves matter more than when or where they are played.
Farber was asked if the likes of a playoff game between Alabama and Cincinnati in the Rose Bowl will be important to his grand tradition.
“That’s a great question,” he said. “You know we’re in Alabama fight song?…Tradition is what you make of it. We need to evolve too. We need a balance between tradition and innovation.”
The rain couldn’t dampen the Penn State party. He heralded that new era where the sun may not shine on the Rose Bowl all the time, in terms of their traditional matchup.
“I’m not trying to sound snotty or whatever,” Farber said. “But we are the ‘granddaddy of them all’.”
Yes, but for how long?