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2010 Rose Bowl Preview

#7 Oregon Ducks (10-2, Pac Ten Champions) versus #8 Ohio State (10-2, Big Ten Champions)

January 1st, 2010 4:30 PM EST in Pasadena, California

The Rose Bowl is rightfully known as the ‘Granddaddy of them All’ as it is the oldest bowl game and is the most prestigious outside of the BCS National Championship. The first Rose Bowl Game took place in 1902 and has been played continuously since 1916. This year will mark the 96 th renewal of the Tournament of Roses’ signature event and as usual the entire country will be watching.

While most people associate the Rose Bowl with the Pac Ten and Big Ten, the Rose Bowl’s traditional matchup between the two leagues didn’t actually come into effect until 1947. The conferences had met before but the game had featured many other teams from around the country. The most prolific non-Big Ten or Pac Ten team in the Rose Bowl is Alabama, who played in six Rose Bowls and actually references it in their fight song.

However, since 1947 the Rose bowl has become synonymous with the two leagues and this year’s game will be their 63 rd meeting. The Pac Ten holds the all-time lead in the showdown with a narrow 33-29 record against the Big Ten, making the Rose Bowl one of the most exciting games every year.


#7 Oregon (10-2) The Oregon Ducks are making their 5th appearance in the Rose Bowl and their first appearance in 15 years. Oregon’s record all time is 1-3 in the ‘Granddaddy of them All’. This is Oregon’s 2nd BCS bowl (since the BCS began in 1998), their first being a 38-16 victory over Colorado in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.

The Ducks are coached by Chip Kelly, who is in his first season in charge in Eugene. Kelly led the Ducks to a 10-2 record, including an 8-1 mark in the Pac Ten, after serving as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator for the previous two seasons.

After Murphy’s Law reigned supreme in their season-opening loss at Boise State, the Ducks turned around their year in a major way and their only blemish throughout the rest of the season was a 51-42 loss at Stanford. The Ducks’ season was highlighted by a dominating 47-20 win over USC on Halloween and a stirring 37-33 victory over Oregon State on the final Thursday of the season in a game which served as the de-facto Pac Ten Championship Game.

Oregon is best known nationally for their explosive offense. The Ducks run an innovative spread option offense that has racked up an average of 37.7 points per game! Senior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is the perfect pivot for their offense as he has passed for over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 659 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s joined in the Oregon backfield by star freshman LaMichael James, whose 1,476 rushing yards set a Pac Ten record. Oregon has rushed for over 2,833 yards this season, which is the 8 th best total in the country! Their offense averaged 42.8 points per game in the second half of the season, so it is safe to say that the Ducks are one definitely one of the country’s hottest units.

However, Oregon’s defense doesn’t stack up as well. While they’re allowing an average of 23.6 points per game on the year, their defense struggled severely down the stretch, giving up an average of 36.5 points per game after Halloween. The Ducks have also only created 15 turnovers on the season, 13 of which were interceptions, so they’re no better than average at forcing opponents into mistakes. Oregon has had some unfortunate injury issues, especially in their secondary, and their defense is certainly not the reason that they won the Pac Ten.



#8 Ohio State (10-2) The Buckeyes are making their 14th Rose Bowl appearance, which will tie them with the Washington Huskies for 3 rd all time. However, this is their first appearance since 1997! Ohio State’s record on New Year’s Day in Pasadena is 6-7 in the ‘Granddaddy of them All’. The Buckeyes have significantly more BCS appearances than Oregon and they have missed the Rose Bowl three times (2002, 2006, 2007) because they were playing in the National Championship Game. Ohio State is 4-3 in BCS bowls, highlighted by their 2002 Fiesta Bowl victory for the National Championship.

The Buckeyes are coached by Jim Tressel, who is in his 9 th season in charge in Columbus. Ohio State’s 10-2 record produced Tressel’s 6 th Big Ten title and 7 th ten win season. The sweater vest-loving coach has an impressive career record of 93-21 at Ohio State, which is the highest winning percentage of coaches with three or more years of tenure in the school’s illustrious history! Tressel led the Buckeyes to the 2002 National Championship and his teams are 3-3 in BCS Bowls and 4-4 overall in bowl games.

Ohio State’s early season was defined by a heartbreaking defeat at home against USC, who rallied late to take an 18-15 decision in Columbus. However, the Buckeyes finished the season on a 9-1 run, the only blemish being a turnover-ridden defeat at Purdue. Ohio State’s year was highlighted by an impressive closing kick in November, which saw them win at Penn State, home against Iowa (to clinch the Big Ten in overtime) and at Michigan to finish the year. The Buckeye victory over the Wolverines moved Tressel-led teams to 8-1 against their hated rivals.

Ohio State’s offense is very young and spent much of the season trying to find an identity. While the Buckeyes are best known for their sophomore quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, their five game winning streak to close out the season was largely the byproduct of a resurgent rushing attack. The Buckeyes rushed for over 200 yards in each game during that stretch, highlighted by a 251 yard effort against Michigan. While an injury to Pryor’s ankle might have been a factor in Tressel’s decision to revert to his well-known Tresselball strategy (ball control and opportunistic defense), the Buckeyes were absolutely dominant on the ground. Despite their struggles, Ohio State still managed to finish the season averaging 29.3 points per game and their rushing attack finished 19 th in the country with 2,387 yards, an average of 199 yards per game! The Ohio State offense of the final five games was extremely effective (31 points per game) and will pose a big challenge behind a very strong run-blocking line.

However, there is no doubt that Ohio State’s strength lies with their defense. The Buckeyes have allowed an average of 12.2 points per game this year, good for 5 th best in the country. Even more dangerously, Ohio State leads the nation in interceptions with 23, so this defense makes a lot of game-changing plays. The Buckeyes might have the deepest defensive line in the country, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle are mobile and hit like a brick wall and their secondary can cover one on one as well as any team in America. The vaunted Duck rushing attack will have to deal with a unit that has allowed the 4th lowest number of rushing yards in the country! The Buckeye defense will be the best defense, by a wide margin, that Oregon has faced this year.





This will be a classic showdown between a prolific offense and an exceptional defense. Both units are among the elite when it comes to the ground game and if one side can emerge victorious then it will almost surely decide the outcome.

Normally, when you look at this kind of matchup, you immediately gravitate towards the offensive and defensive lines. However, this matchup isn’t that simple: Oregon runs so much misdirection that it really takes a complete defensive effort on all three levels of the defense to slow down the Ducks.

Oregon does a few things really well. First off, Jeremiah Masoli is one of the best in the country at faking a handoff and that usually leads to opponents chasing after ghosts. But it gets even more interesting if he doesn’t hand the ball off to one of his extremely capable backs. Masoli is a big man who runs very well and can power through a lot of tackles. However, he doesn’t always run the ball after the initial fake: Oregon’s wide receivers often get the ball pitched to them! Needless to say, play action is extremely effective for the Ducks and they’ve hit a lot of deep passes because defensive backs cheat up to defend the run.

So that means that Ohio State’s defense has to be extremely disciplined in terms of carrying out their assignments. The exceptional Buckeye defensive line should win the majority of one on one battles against Oregon’s linemen, who are typically smaller but more mobile (though center Max Unger was a top NFL draft pick last year). Expect Cam Heyward and company to make some plays but the vast majority of Ohio State’s stops should fall to their back seven. One of the worst things that a team can do against Oregon is miss tackles and rival Oregon State’s inability to wrap up the Ducks was the biggest reason that the Beavers aren’t in Pasadena for this game!

Luckily for the Buckeyes, they are very strong tacklers, even in the secondary. Expect Ohio State to cheat safety Jermale Hines up to the line to help mobile linebackers Homan and Rolle and put the Duck receivers into man coverage. While it would be improbable to suggest that Ohio State will make every tackle, they’re almost certainly the best tackling team that Oregon will face in this season.

Who will win this matchup? I keep coming back to two games for Oregon: Their 19-8 loss to begin the year at Boise State and their 38-36 victory against Purdue. Both teams had a very solid defensive line and tackled well. In fact, both teams forced multiple turnovers because their line was disruptive and Oregon had two of their worst offensive games of the year (The Ducks had two return touchdowns against Purdue). However, neither line was nearly as talented and accomplished as Ohio State’s line, which leads me to believe that the Buckeyes will have a lot success in slowing the Oregon rushing attack. Expect Oregon to move the ball because they’re too good to be stopped outright but I think they’ll have to hit some big pass plays to win this game because Ohio State is just too strong against the run.

In the end, just like great pitching beats great hitting in baseball, a great defense will beat a great offense in football. With Ohio State’s clear advantage along the line of scrimmage and excellent tackling ability from their back seven, the advantage in this key matchup goes to the Buckeyes.


While the outcome of many bowl games can be dependent upon each team’s motivation heading into the game, this game simply doesn’t apply. Both teams are thrilled to be a part of it and both are ending Rose Bowl dry spells that are longer than a decade. Expect both teams to be hyped up and prepared.

On the other hand, let’s look at the recent bowl history of both teams. Ohio State has lost their last three postseason games while the Ducks have won their last two. However, all of Ohio State’s games were BCS bowls while Oregon’s last two bowls were the Holiday and Sun Bowls, so there is a significantly different level of competition. In fact, I would argue that Ohio State’s experience playing in big games (their seniors have been part of multiple national championship games) gives the Buckeyes an advantage in terms of bowl experience.

But this is 2010 and this season is where we really need to look for our trends. So here are a few:

  • Heading into championship weekend, Ohio State was the 23rd least penalized in the country while Oregon was the 23 rdmost penalized squad! The Ducks enter the Rose Bowl with 224 more penalty yards than the Buckeyes, so clearly Ohio State is the more disciplined team and that could make a huge difference.

  • While Oregon’s offense has been more explosive this season, Ohio State has actually been more productive in the clutch. The Buckeyes have converted on 3rd down 40. 7 percent of the time, good for 54th in the country. Meanwhile, Oregon only converted on 3 rd down 36.3 percent of the time, which was only 87 thoverall! The Buckeyes might only be an average team on 3rd down but Oregon is surprisingly among the worst in America.

  • When common opponents are looked at, Oregon has a clear advantage. Oregon beat Purdue and USC, who happened to provide the Buckeyes with their only losses on the season. While it isn’t the wisest strategy to employ transitive comparison in college football, it certainly bears out in Oregon’s favor.



After all of the smoke is cleared and the field is laid bare before both teams, who will emerge victorious? Oregon is certainly the darling in the national media due to their connection with Nike and their television-friendly offense. An early ESPN poll showed that 70% of the country was picking the Ducks! So clearly the nation favors Oregon.

Looking at both teams, there is one overwhelming reality: Regardless of which offense is on the field, Ohio State has a big advantage along the line of scrimmage. That’s usually a very telling advantage as most games are won in the trenches. Furthermore, Oregon has a number of negative indicators heading into this matchup. Their run defense is only ranked 36 th in the country and Ohio State’s strategy will undoubtedly be the same as their successful stretch drive: Run the ball and control the clock. Under Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes have never lost a game when they’ve run for over 200 yards and I will be surprised if the Buckeyes didn’t rush for that many against the Ducks in this game! After all, they rang up over 200 yards against Iowa and Penn State in November and both teams are ranked ahead of the Ducks in run defense.

On the other hand, Oregon has a quick-strike offense that can score from anywhere on the field. However, Ohio State is among the leaders in the country at preventing plays of more than 20 yards, so expecting the Ducks to rely on the big play seems to be a recipe for failure.

It is also very important to compare Ohio State’s performances against top offenses. The one truly comparable team that they’ve faced this year in terms of system is Michigan. The Wolverines threw for more yards than the Ducks and their running game was a little bit less effective, but Ohio State forced five turnovers and held Michigan to a mere ten points. On the season, Michigan was averaging 195 yards per game on the ground and only managed to rush for 80 against the Buckeyes! While no one is arguing that the Ducks are a significantly better oiled machine than Michigan, Ohio State has clearly had a lot of success against a very similar scheme this year.

On top of that, Oregon’s 3 rd down conversion rate is shockingly bad. While there is no doubt some credence to the argument that the Ducks has earned a lot of yards on their first two downs and aren’t as reliant on 3 rd down conversions, if the Ducks only convert a third of their 3 rd downs against the Buckeyes then they’re going to be in trouble. Their conversion rate has to make Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock salivate.

I think that a lot of the country has been wowed by Oregon’s great offense and turned off by Ohio State’s recent bowl struggles and that’s why there seems to be an overwhelming sentiment that the Ducks will win this game. However, here’s how I expect this game to go:

Ohio State will come out and control the clock and protect the football. Meanwhile, Oregon will hit some big plays and move the ball but I don’t expect them to move it with a lot of consistency. The Ducks also seem much more likely to turn the ball over as Masoli has a tendency to hold the ball away from his body while running and I think the opportunistic Buckeye defense will take advantage. The Buckeyes are also more disciplined and won’t but themselves in any self-inflicted holes.

Finally, the Ducks will get a taste of their own medicine as Ohio State’s Terelle Pryor should have a big day running the ball. Remember, Oregon dearly wanted him two years ago during recruiting because of his ability to run. This season, when you remove yardage lost due to sacks, Pryor has rushed for 922 yards! Expect Pryor’s legs (he leads the Buckeyes in rushing yards and touchdowns) to be the difference against the Ducks.

In the end, Ohio State’s ability to win the turnover battle and their dominance on the lines will be the biggest factors in the game and I think that Oregon won’t approach their season average in scoring. Oregon is going to need turnovers to put up a solid score and I just don’t see that happening against a Buckeye team that only turned the ball over twice in their final five games. Ohio State will slay the demons of their last three BCS games by winning the first Rose Bowl of Jim Tressel’s tenure.


Rose Bowl Pick: OHIO STATE 34, OREGON 24


by Matt Baxendell
Bax is’s football writer. Keep an eye out for all 34 of his bowl previews! If you want to get in touch with him, email him at or follow him on Twitter @MattBaxendell

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