Ohio State and Washington both started the season considered candidates to represent their conferences in the College Football Playoff.
Instead, they will play each other in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
>>READ MORE: Big Ten champion Buckeyes miss final four again
Urban Meyer, the coach of the Buckeyes, and Washington mentor Chris Petersen both said Sunday night they had not had a chance to look closely at the other’s team yet.
When they do, they will probably see some of the same themes they have been living most of the season.
“It has been rocky,” one of the coaches responded when asked to sum up his team’s season. “It has been tough. It has been hard. That’s why I have a lot of respect for these kids. They’ve been through a lot. There were a lot of expectations put on them, and at times we played really well and at times we haven’t played as well as we think we can.
“A month ago, things were not looking so good,” he continued. “We played a game where we played well on defense but not so well on offense. I think everybody counted us out from doing anything in our league, but the kids worked hard. They stay focused. They battled. They're tough guys. I’m just pleased they figured out a way to get this thing done.”
Ohio State fans probably figured out it wasn’t Meyer speaking when he said they had a good day on defense, but Petersen’s message otherwise could have just as well applied to the Buckeyes as it did the Huskies.
Ohio State began the season ranked No. 5 and rose as high as No. 2 before an Oct. 20 loss at Purdue knocked them sideways.
Washington was No. 6 in the preseason but lost to No. 9 Auburn in Atlanta on opening day.
After winning five in a row, the Huskies lost in overtime at Oregon, beat Colorado then suffered a head-scratching 12-10 loss to Cal.
Rather than pack it in, though, Petersen’s crew beat Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State to earn a spot in the Pac 12 championship game, where they beat Utah 10-3 on Friday night.
“You’ve got to figure out how to still win at the end of the day,” Petersen said. “At times it hasn’t been pretty, but that’s why I have a lot of respect for these kids. They keep battling. It would be easy to throw up their hands and move on but they’ve never done that. They’ve always showed up for work and competed very hard. A lot of respect for these guys.”
Ohio State has not played in the “Granddaddy of Them All” since Jan. 1, 2010, but it’s been even longer for Washington. The Huskies last appeared in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2001, when they beat a Purdue team quarterbacked by Drew Brees.
Both coaches grew up admiring the Rose Bowl — Meyer in Ashtabula, Ohio, and Petersen in Yuba City, Calif. — and are also happy to be putting long Rose Bowl droughts to an end.
Neither expects his team to have a hard time getting fired up to play the other.
“I think from both sides there’s going to be a lot of excitement to go down to Pasadena,” Petersen said. “I think the Rose Bowl carries that much weight, i really do, but in general I think you’re correct. Ohio State could easily with that resume be in that four-team tournament and that’s hard, that’s disappointing to not have that opportunity when it really becomes a subjective beauty pageant from there.
“It’s hard to win every single weekend. It just is. Look at everybody’s record. It’s almost impossible as you look at everybody’s record and who got it done, but that doesn’t mean there are not more teams that are peaking and playing at a high level at the end of the season.
“I think everybody wants that thing to get expanded, and hopefully it will soon.”
After seeing his team win the Big Ten and get passed over for the playoff two years in a row, Meyer sounded like he is warming to the idea of expanding the four-team field as well.
“At first I said no, then when you finish five or six or whatever it was and we’re out...” he said before noting a larger playoff would require a significant change to the structure of the college football season.
That isn’t happening this year, and Meyer sounded at peace with it.
“We’re not worried about it,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the Rose Bowl. I know our players are very excited about it.
“We talked about it. If you’re in the playoff, great. If you’re not and you get a chance to go play in the historic Rose Bowl, we’re all excited to go do it.”