PASADENA, Calif. — Urban Meyer sees the Rose Bowl nestled in verdant Arroyo Seco on a sunny winter day and thinks back to the formative days of his coaching career.
When he was a 20-something wide receivers coach for Colorado State back in the 1990s, Meyer interrupted a recruiting trip to the Los Angeles area to visit the iconic college football stadium. He tried to sneak inside to get a look at the turf, but was asked to leave by a security guard.
“Guy was really rude, too,” Meyer said with a chuckle.
Meyer never got to see that famous field until this week, when he returned to Pasadena for what he says is the final game of a remarkable coaching journey.
The three-time national champion will lead Ohio State (12-1) into the Rose Bowl on Tuesday to face Washington (10-3), and then he will retire from coaching at just 54 years old.
Meyer is stubbornly resisting the temptations of career reminiscence or legacy evaluation this week, saying it isn’t fair to the Big Ten champion Buckeyes while they attempt to cap their remarkable season with a win over the Pac-12 champion Huskies.
But the coach can’t help noticing the symmetry in closing his career in a game and a stadium representing the pinnacle of college football for millions of Midwestern kids with a dream.
“I dreamed a lot about Ohio State, the rivalry game, the Rose Bowl,” Meyer said. “Seems like every year in the ’70s, when I was at that age where everybody is watching it, the parade, the game, and then watching Archie Griffin score touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. ... This has been a bucket-list item for as long as I’ve been coaching.”
Before Meyer ends his seven-year tenure by turning over the Ohio State program to Ryan Day, the Buckeyes must contend with a program in its prime.
Chris Petersen is just three months younger than Meyer, and he has built a powerhouse in his half-decade in Seattle, highlighted by a College Football Playoff semifinal two years ago and this trip to the Huskies’ first Rose Bowl in 18 years.
Meyer and Petersen have the two best winning percentages among active FBS coaches. While Meyer is walking away with his wins and trophies, Petersen is seeking another defining victory for a school that had stumbled through the 21st century until he transformed the Huskies into Rose Bowl contenders again.
“I’ve had an opportunity to go to a lot of different bowl games, and I’ve never been to this one,” Petersen said. “But this is the one I did watch as a kid growing up. This is the one. And we’ve been close a couple of times in my career. Really close, and we have not got here. It means a lot because of how hard it is to get here.”
More things to watch in the 105th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All:
STRENGTH ON STRENGTH
The game should be fascinating when Ohio State’s high-powered passing attack goes against the Huskies’ vaunted secondary. The Buckeyes ranked second in the FBS with 373.0 yards passing per game, but the Huskies’ secondary allows an FBS-low 8.93 yards per pass attempt. The Dawgs even held star Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew to 152 yards passing in the Apple Cup, shutting down the nation’s top passing offense in the snow. Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins and his receivers cut up the respected pass defenses of Michigan and Northwestern in their last two games.
Speaking of Haskins, he has set a slew of school records and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in his only season as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback. The sophomore hasn’t said whether he’ll jump to the NFL, where he’s a likely first-round pick, but he has already earned the respect of Meyer and the Buckeyes by electing to play instead of preserving his draft stock, as Nick Bosa and Denzel Ward have recently done. “He’s definitely the best quarterback we’ve faced all year long,” Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said.
The Rose Bowl is the big finish to the remarkable four-year Washington careers of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. Browning is the career leader in yards passing and TD passes, while Gaskin is the Huskies’ career leader in yards rushing. Yet for all their accomplishments, both stars feel somewhat taken for granted by a segment of the Washington fan base that isn’t satisfied with the Huskies’ achievements during their tenure (Browning calls it “Jake-lash”). A win in Pasadena would be an incredible cap to two groundbreaking careers — and a strong response to the haters.
The quarterbacks might have another opponent by game time in Arroyo Seco: High winds are predicted for the afternoon, perhaps gusting up to 45 mph. Weather is rarely a factor at the Granddaddy, but both of these offenses have excelled in adverse conditions this season.
UP HIS SLEEVE
Meyer’s wife punched him in the side 12 years ago when Boise State dialed up its famous Statue of Liberty play to beat Oklahoma in that spectacular 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Shelley Meyer asked her husband why he wasn’t as creative as Petersen. “I still hold that against Chris,” Meyer said. Petersen’s most memorable coaching moment is still probably that game, but he doesn’t like being known as a trick-play aficionado. When asked if the Huskies have any shenanigans in store for the Rose Bowl, Petersen said: “No.” Meyer didn’t appear to believe him.