Rose Bowl Gets Its Wish, A Big Ten-Pac-10 Matchup
With Illinois meeting USC, Rose Bowl gets its wish after all
Dec. 2, 2007
The Rose Bowl got its traditional matchup, after all.
Southern California is going back to Pasadena for New Year's Day for the third straight year, and fourth time in the last five seasons. The Trojans will play Illinois, which made it back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1983 after Ohio State earned a spot in the national championship game.
"If you're a competitor, you want to play the best. Obviously, this is one of the best teams in the country," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "So we'll have our hands full."
Indeed the Illini will.
Pete Carroll always insists that Southern Cal's primary goal is to get to the Rose Bowl, but the Trojans (10-2) are one of several teams that can gripe about not being in the national championship game on Jan. 7. Though USC's chances were probably doomed back in October with that ugly loss to 41-point underdog Stanford at home, the sixth-ranked Trojans are playing as well as anyone in the country right now.
"I don't think you can help but think about that," USC nose tackle Sedrick Ellis said. "But that was in the past, and there's nothing we can do about it now."
They won four straight to end the season and take the Pac-10 title for the sixth straight year. They allowed just 51 points over those last four games, including an impressive 44-24 victory at Arizona State.
While the Rose Bowl is rival UCLA's stadium, the Trojans have made themselves feel right at home there the last few years. They beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl in 2004 and 2007, and lost to Texas there in the national title game two years ago.
"It is their home field, but I bet you there's going to be a lot of orange in that stadium as well," Zook said. "We've been in that environment before, been in that situation before, and our guys kind of thrive on that kind of thing."
Just look at what the Illini did this season, when they orchestrated one of the best turnarounds of the year after going 2-10 last season. Illinois (9-3) knocked off Wisconsin when it was ranked No. 5, and then stunned No. 1 Ohio State - doing it at The Horseshoe, no less.
This is Illinois' first trip to the postseason since the 2001 season, when it played in the Sugar Bowl.
"I'm just very excited for this opportunity," Illinois quarterback Juice Williams said. "I don't think I'm going to throw this rose away for a couple of weeks."
While Southern Cal knew it was in the Rose Bowl after beating UCLA on Saturday, Illinois wasn't sure where it would end up until Sunday afternoon. Ohio State, which was idle this weekend, climbed back to No. 1 and into the national title game after both Missouri and West Virginia lost.
That put the Rose Bowl's traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup into question. But organizers decided to stick with tradition and invite the Illini, who are sure to travel well for their rare trip to Pasadena. This is only the fifth Rose Bowl appearance for Illinois.
"We're thrilled to be going to the Rose Bowl," Carroll said. "Frankly, I like that it's Pac-10-Big Ten. We're fired up. It's nothing but good stuff."