Stories You Should Know: Ohio State and USC at the Rose Bowl

Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs USC:


The College Bowl Season is upon us. With it, the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. Usually the Rose Bowl hosts the Big 10 Champion and the PAC-12 Champion. This year, the winners of their respective conferences are Ohio State and USC. They have met each other multiple times in New Year’s Day.


The First Meeting of these two teams was in 1956, Ohio State (9-0) ranked #1 in the Association Press Poll, second in the UPI faced USC (8-3) ranked #17. It was played before 89,191 spectators at the Rose Bowl. USC only made the game, because the Rose Bowl had a rule that no team could play in the bowl game in back to back years. The PCC (the pre-cursor to the PAC-10) Champion UCLA (also 9-0) was ranked #2 in AP Poll and #1 in UPI poll, but was ineligible because they had played in game the year before.


Woody Hayes
Woody Hayes was the Head Coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes for 28 seasons. He won 3 National Championships and 13 Big Ten Titles.

Buckeyes, coached by Woody Hayes, dominated the first meeting. Led by Howard “Hop-a-long” Cassady, Ohio State rushed for 304 yards and out-gained USC 360 total yards to 206. USC could only score on a punt return as Ohio State cruised to a 20-7 win and a share of the “National Championship”. Yet it could have been a match-up of the first and second ranked teams, Ohio State and UCLA. It could have been important, the best of two conference and the best in the country. Instead, the powers that be made it just another game. Ohio State would take a 1-0 lead in their Rose Bowl rivalry.


OJ Simpson
O.J. Simpson the running back for the Trojans won the 1968 Heisman trophy.

The second meeting of USC and Ohio State was a much more significant contest. In the 1969 Rose bowl, before 102,063 fans, USC (9-0-1) under John McKay was ranked #2 in the country, and were also the defending “National Champions”. First in both polls was Ohio State (9-0), led by Rex Kern and a stingy, fast defense. This was the first Rose Bowl to pit the #1 and #2 teams against each other. USC jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a spectacular 80-yard touchdown run by Heisman Trophy Winner O.J. Simpson in the second quarter, before five USC turnovers sparked a 27-0 run by Ohio State in the Buckeyes 27-16 victory and a “National Championship” for Woody Hayes’ Team. Ohio State had still not been beaten by the Trojans in the first two match-ups in the Rose Bowl.


A record Rose Bowl Crowd of 106,869 attended the third meeting in 1973 when #1 USC rolled into the game undefeated with an average winning margin of 28 points. They faced #3 ranked Ohio State (9-1) led by future two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. USC was a big favorite, this was clearly John McKay’s best team. Ohio State surprised the football world by being very much in the game, holding USC to seven first half points, the score being tied 7-7 at the half. USC then exploded in the third quarter, led by Sam “Bam” Cunningham (4 Touchdowns) and Anthony Davis they overwhelmed Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes in a 42-17 blowout. Washington State Coach Jim Sweeney summed up this Trojan Team best. “USC is not the Number One Team in the country…The (1972) Miami Dolphins are better.” Many consider the 1972-73 USC Trojans the best College Football Team of all time. The Trojans had notched one win in the first 3 match-ups with the Buckeyes.

1972 USC Team
1972 University of Southern California Trojans, one of the all time best college football teams.
Archie Griffeth
Archie Griffen, from Columbus, Ohio, was a 2-time Heisman winnter. As a running back for the Buckeyes he started in 4 Rose Bowls. He played 7 seasons with the Bengals in the NFL.

The following year the Buckeyes and Trojans met again in the 60th Rose Bowl Game. USC entered the season ranked first, but an early season tie against Oklahoma, followed by a 24-13 loss at Notre Dame left them 9-1- and a seventh ranking. Ohio State was ranked #1 going into their final regular season game against Michigan, but was forced to settle for a 10-10 tie that left them fourth nationwide entering the Rose Bowl. The two teams battled to a 14-14 tie in first half. USC scored first in second half, opening a 21-14 lead, before Ohio State completely took over game. Scoring the next four touchdowns capped by Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s 47-yard scamper, the Buckeyes routed the Trojans 42-21. Ohio State ended season ranked 3rd in the nation. The Buckeyes still held the 3-1 record against the Trojans in the Rose Bowl.


John McKay
John McKay was the Trojans Head Coach for 16 seasons. Together they won 4 National Championships.

New Years Day 1975 saw the same two teams meeting for the third straight year in the Granddaddy of Them All. This was USC’s Head Coach John McKay’s last team in the Rose Bowl. The Oklahoma Sooners, who finished first in the AP Poll,  were on probation, which complicated the college season. The Sooners were unable to play in a Bowl game because of the probation they were also not ranked in Coaches Poll due to the rule not allowing sanctioned teams in the poll. Oklahoma was going to wind up #1 in AP Poll no matter what the other teams did, but the Coaches Poll would be a different dynamic. 10-1 Ohio State was ranked second in Coaches Poll behind Alabama, with 9-1-1 USC #4. Archie Griffin (the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy) led the Buckeyes, while Pat Haden and Lynn Swan were key players for the Trojans. Ohio State led 7-3 after the 3rd Quarter, going into one of the most thrilling 4th Quarters in Rose Bowl History. USC scored to go ahead 10-7 only to see Ohio State score ten straight points to lead 17-10. In the closing seconds of the game, on USC’s final drive, Pat Haden hit USC wide receiver J.K. McKay (son of Coach John McKay) on a 38-yard touchdown strike bringing the Trojans within one.  McKay went for two-point conversion. When Haden hit Shelton Diggs in the end zone USC came away with an astonishing 18-17 victory. Alabama would lose to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, vaulting USC into the “National Championship”. Their Rose Bowl rivalry now stood 3-2, Ohio State still leading.


Charles White.jpg
Charles White from Los Angeles was the 1979 Heisman Trophy winner. He would play 9 seasons in the NFL.

The two teams would not meet again until 1980, five years later. USC was now coached by John Robinson, Ohio State by Earl Bruce. Ohio State was ranked #1 in AP Poll (#3 in Coaches). USC was #3 in AP and second in Coaches. Again some share of a National Championship was on the line. Before 105,506 fans the Buckeyes held a 16-10 lead late in 4th Quarter when USC’s Heisman winning running back, Charles White, capped a remarkable game (Rose Bowl Record 247 yards rushing) with a one-yard touchdown run with a little over a minute to make it a 17-16 Trojan victory. USC was not able to pass Alabama in either poll, however and finished second in both. But the USC/Ohio State Rivalry was now all tied up with 3 wins a piece.


The last meeting between the two schools in Pasadena was on January 1st 1985. Earl Bruce sill coached Ohio State (9-2) against USC’s (8-3) Ted Tollner. USC jumped off to a 17-3 first half lead and then held on for a 20-17 win before a crowd of 102,594.


That bring us to this 2018 Rose Bowl. The two storied franchises have met seven times in the Rose Bowl.  USC leads the series four games to 3. Only the 1985 Game had no “National Championship” ramifications. Ohio State won the BIG TEN, USC won the PAC-12. AP has Ohio State (9-2) ranked five, while USC (also 9-2) is ranked #8, but neither made the Playoff Selection Committees top four. So you would think a trip to the Rose Bowl would be a fine consolation….but NO! The Rose Bowl in is now part of the College Football “Playoff” system, so they get one of the semi-final games, Georgia and Oklahoma, while the Big 10 Champion will play the PAC-12 Champion in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. Go Figure.


If you would like our solution to the College Football Playoff system, check our post here.




  1. This website is a sports lover’s buffet. I’ve enjoyed reading many of the articles, some of which seem to bring back childhood memories. Case in point is this one, as nothing gave me more pleasure in the 1970s then the Rose Bowl games. I remember the NBC New Year’s Day lineup always featured the Rose parade, an appetizer bowl game (Fiesta?) at 1pm, main event Rose Bowl at 4pm and then for desert, the Orange Bowl (with its’ then can’t miss halftime show). It did seem like USC was in the Grandaddy every year, the only question was their opponent (Michigan or Ohio State). Even though I was / am a USC Trojan fan, I always thought the California teams had an unfair advantage as it seemed more like a home game for them. Best teams I saw in the 1970s in this game ….
    3) Ohio State 1973-74
    2) USC 1972-73
    1) USC 1979-80


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