The Five Best Rose Bowls of the Last 20 Years
College football bowls mean one thing to me: the Rose Bowl.
Every year, this is the game I look forward to more than anything else. The Pac-10 champion vs. the Big 10 champion. Two schools that would likely never meet in a game, unless it was for all the roses.
There have been some great Rose Bowl games over its history, but I want to focus strictly on the last 20 years.
I have chosen five Rose Bowls I feel capture the essence of the game and display the pageantry and passion of college football.
I'd love to hear any other thoughts and opinions on Rose Bowls that should be on this list.
No. 5: Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31, Jan. 1, 1999
As the picture would indicate, this was Ron Dayne's Rose Bowl.
The former Heisman winner had four touchdowns in a true shootout between teams with different styles of play.
In Wisconsin, you had the slow-and-steady, Big 10-style ground game, and, with UCLA, it was Air McNown whizzing the ball across the field.
UCLA actually was ranked No. 2 in the nation a month earlier, but choked against the Hurricanes of Miami and were relegated to the Rose Bowl matchup against the Badgers.
In terms of excitement and opposites attracting, this game had it all.
No. 4: USC 41, Northwestern 32, Jan. 1, 1996
If you like David vs. Goliath, then you likely loved every minute of this game.
Though Northwestern came into the game ranked in the top five, they had the definite feel of an underdog going against the USC Trojans, one of the nation's premier college football programs.
That year, Northwestern put themselves on the map with a win at Notre Dame to start the season. They eventually beat other top dogs like Michigan and Penn State, and went to their first Rose Bowl since 1949.
What's even more remarkable is that this season was Northwestern's first winning record since 1972.
Announcer Keith Jackson knew how rare it was for the Wildcats to be in this position.
Jackson's famous comment, "We've had all the romance, now let's find out if she can dance" summed up their season perfectly.
However, this would not be Northwestern's day.
Keyshawn "Just Gimme the Damn Ball" Johnson stole the show in Pasadena. He grabbed 12 balls and racked up 212 yards against the porous Wildcat secondary.
His 56-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter gave the Trojans a comfortable 12-point lead, but Northwestern would eventually crawl back to within one point.
This game started my love for the Rose Bowl.
Being from Chicago and seeing the Northwestern-mania growing with every day made this Rose Bowl truly special.
Goliath may have won this game, but David stole the hearts of many.
No. 3: Michigan 21, Washington St 16, Jan. 1, 1998
In another true David vs. Goliath game, the 1998 Rose Bowl was a thriller.
No. 1 Michigan, led by Heisman Trophy-winner Charles Woodson, edged a come-from-nowhere Cougars team led by Ryan Leaf (you all remember him, don't you?).
This was Washington State's first Rose Bowl appearance since 1931, so you can imagine the surprise of Big 10 nation to see this team going against the mighty Wolverines.
Washington State gained fame that season for their five-wideout set and their gun-slinging mentality on offense.
But when you're facing a Heisman Trophy-winning cornerback, you'd better pick your battles wisely.
Ryan Leaf didn't in the end zone, and the Wolverines would eventually hold off the Cougars to claim a national championship.
For me, the David vs. Goliath story never gets old, and the 1998 Rose Bowl was everything I hoped it would be.
No. 2: Texas 38, Michigan 37, Jan. 1, 2005
Whenever a game comes down to a last-second field goal, you know you've got a memorable game.
The 2005 Rose Bowl featured two of the nation's top programs, though this was the first time they had met on a football field.
Texas was given the invite to this game, but not without controversy.
The California Golden Bears were a mere .0102 points behind Texas in the final BCS polls and, therefore, were not selected for the game.
Cal, from the Pac-10, would have given the game its traditional Big-10/Pac-10 battle, but the powers-that-be decided otherwise.
Nevertheless, this game was a classic.
Michigan led by as many as 10 points in the second half and had a two-point lead late, but Vince Young led the Longhorns on a classic march down the field, setting up Dusty Mangum's 37-yard field goal to win it as time expired.
This game would be hard to top, but a year later, we would see the best Rose Bowl of the last 20 years.
No. 1: Texas 41, USC 38, Jan. 4, 2006
The 2006 Rose Bowl was the granddaddy of them all and for good reason.
USC's 34-game winning streak was on the line as they eyed their third-consecutive national championship.
Texas was not too shabby either; they had been ranked No. 2 the entire year, featured a future NFL star at quarterback, and were defending Rose Bowl champions.
The game had dozens of intriguing story lines, but one of the most intriguing was that USC running back Reggie Bush had won the Heisman Trophy a month earlier, edging Texas quarterback Vince Young.
Having the two best college football players on the field at the same time was almost too much to take.
Did I mention that Matt Leinart won the Heisman the year before, and would be on the field as well?
Leinart finished third in the voting behind Bush and Young. Now, we had the three best college football players anywhere, on the greatest stage of them all, the BCS National Championship.
Vince Young's remarkable performance earned him his second MVP award in the Rose Bowl, and this victory gave Texas their 800th win in school history.
Literally, dozens of Rose Bowl records fell, as the points and yards continued to add up for both schools.
This game will go down as one of the best in college football history and is certainly the best Rose Bowl game of the last 20 years.