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December 31, 2006
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The Granddaddy of Them All, while a very nice bowl game, is more like the ugly stepsister for its participants this season.
Michigan and Southern California both had their sights set higher entering their final regular-season games - only to stumble and wind up in the Rose Bowl.
The Wolverines fell to top-ranked Ohio State 42-39 in Columbus on Nov. 18.
USC, almost assured the spot against the Buckeyes in the national title game Jan. 8 at Glendale, Ariz., had only to beat unranked UCLA to play for it all. But the Bruins put up a stunning defensive effort and took down Pete Carroll's team 13-9 on Dec. 2.
So the Rose Bowl winds up a consolation prize for two of college football's most storied programs. Can both teams overcome the disappointment of being a couple of plays away from playing for it all?
"I think you just kind of put it out of your mind," Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable said. "At this point, if you concentrate on being in Glendale, then you know you're really not going to play well here because here is where we are."
USC linebacker Dallas Sartz indicated the Trojans are taking a similar approach.
"It's tough after any loss, especially against a cross-town rival (when you're) fighting for the national championship game," Sartz said. "But what's done is done, and this is a great bowl game to play and a great team to play against. People would kill to be in the position we're in, to be able to play in the Rose Bowl here in L.A. with all our fans supporting us. So it doesn't get much better than that."
The manner in which both teams lost in their final games came as even more of a surprise. The Michigan defense, one of the biggest stories of the season, was a virtual no-show against Ohio State. The Wolverines surrendered season highs in points, rushing yards and passing yards. You can't do that and hope to win.
The Trojans, who hadn't scored fewer than 20 points in a game all season, managed only 55 rushing yards and nine points against UCLA. Even if you have a defense as good as USC's, you won't win a lot of games in which you score fewer than 10 points.
Which unit will bounce back the best, the Michigan defense or the USC offense? They'll be sternly tested against each other, and their battle will go a long way toward determining who comes out of the Rose Bowl smelling the sweetest.
USC's star-studded passing attack features John David Booty throwing to Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Michigan cornerback Leon Hall believes USC's receiving corps could offer an even bigger challenge than Ohio State's talented wideouts.
"Ohio State didn't have a Jarrett-type of receiver who could go up and get the ball," Hall said. "He and Smith complement each other very well. Jarrett can put himself between the ball and the defender. And if he gets that position, then it's almost 100 percent that he's going to get the ball."
Michigan's offense has more balance than USC's, particularly with a healthy Mario Manningham. The Wolverines hope to feed the Trojans a steady diet of Mike Hart, and that can only open things up for Chad Henne to throw to Manningham, Adrian Arrington and Steve Breaston.
"These guys are great," USC linebacker Oscar Lua said of Michigan's offense. "You watch film of these guys, and they check off from one thing to another. That's the confidence they have in their quarterback, and Hart does an amazing job running the ball. He looks practically untackleable sometimes when he's in the hole. They swarm on him, but he just bounces off like a pinball."