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A Rose Bowl of a different color

You can deny the existence of UFOs and Bigfoot but not that the Rose Bowl has changed since joining the Bowl Championship Series in 1998.

Whether it has changed for better or worse remains an open discussion.

The BCS needed the Rose Bowl’s inclusion to release the champions of the Pacific 10 and Big Ten conferences, if they were ranked No. 1 or No. 2, to a newfangled system that would pair the top teams in a “national title” game.

So the Rose Bowl relented.

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It’s been different.

And, at times, it’s been weird.

And?

“It was inevitable,” Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger insisted this week.

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The Rose Bowl post-1998 should be sponsored by a nut company, because it has definitely been a mixed bag.

Take Year 1, when the white coats watched in horror as UCLA players cried in the locker room after a loss to Miami knocked the Bruins out of the national title game and into the Granddaddy.

The Rose Bowl has hosted Miami and Nebraska, on a Thursday night, two days after the parade.

The Rose Bowl has handed out an invitation (to Miami) in Blacksburg, Va.

In 2002, the Rose Bowl couldn’t stop the Orange Bowl from staging Iowa versus USC as the Tournament of Roses put on Oklahoma versus Washington State at the Pasadena play house.

Today, USC and Penn State, two 11-1, top-10 conference champions, meet in the 95th Rose Bowl.

What would have been -- before the BCS -- a classic, is now a classic with strings attached.

A terrific matchup between perennial top programs is also a consolation for teams that hoped to be playing in next week’s BCS national title game in South Florida.

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“That’s the times we live in right now,” USC defensive tackle Fili Moala said. “The Rose Bowl is still going to be what it is, still going to have great teams. The matchup is still going to be there. But I think everyone’s just waiting for the national championship.”

Of course, you can’t ignore the positive flip side.

Joining the BCS has also allowed the Rose Bowl to host Texas versus Michigan after the 2004 season, a game that produced an all-time ending with the Longhorns winning on a last-second field goal.

“The clock hit zero,” Dorger recalled of the game. “I was in a perfect position; I could see the scoreboard at zero, I could see the football in the air, and I didn’t know who had won the game at that point. Now that’s an exciting finish.”

A year later, as part of joining the BCS, the Rose Bowl was handed maybe the best national title game ever played: Texas 41, USC 38.

That game could not have been played in Pasadena before 1998.

Dorger understands why some people want to turn back the clock, including some who work for the Tournament of Roses.

Really, though, what options did the Rose Bowl have?

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The Pac-10 and Big Ten wanted to help unify a sport that did not want a playoff but did want to pair the top-ranked teams for a championship. That couldn’t happen in years when No. 1 or No. 2 was contracted to play in Pasadena.

What was the Rose Bowl going to do, swap out the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions for Conference USA versus the Mountain West?

“We’re a partnership,” Dorger said. “We have to evaluate the interests of all the members of that partnership. And the conference members of that partnership were extremely interested in what [the BCS] could do for college football and what it could do for them. And I think it’s definitely helped college football, and I think it’s definitely helped the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences.”

Joining the BCS, Dorger said, has not measurably changed any facet of the event in terms of attendance, interest or television ratings.

“I think the big thing has to do with the teams, and keeping the motivation of the teams, and the players and the fans,” Dorger said. “That’s the key thing. If they feel disappointment, I can’t help that.”

The Rose Bowl certainly has become more inclusive.

Dorger is now monitoring schools that would have never previously been considered for an invitation.

Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden, who turned 79 this year, still pines for one day taking his team to Pasadena.

“It’s on his ‘bucket list,’ ” Dorger joked.

Rutgers was on the short list a few years ago, and someday soon, a team from the Southeastern Conference will make its way west.

“It’s a great thing to have people in other parts of the country excited about maybe coming to the Rose Bowl,” Dorger said.

The Rose Bowl will make another dramatic departure next year when it takes its turn hosting two games -- the traditional Jan. 1 event followed a week later by the BCS title game.

Dorger’s already dreaming of “1-2-3-4,” in which his two games draw the top four teams in the BCS standings.

He’d gladly take this year’s lottery numbers: 1-2-5-8 (Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Penn State).

Dorger is concerned that a weakened economy might have an impact on hosting two games, but he said the Rose Bowl is ready for the challenge.

Double hosting has already been staged, mostly without a hitch, by the Fiesta and Sugar bowls.

“It’s going to work; it’s worked every place else,” Dorger said. “There’s no reason why it’s not going to work here. It’s going to be very hard. Our people are going to be physically worn down and exhausted.”

It’s time to face facts: The Rose Bowl will never be what it was.

It used to be an exclusive club; now it pays dues to another.

It has had to conform and, in some cases, capitulate.

The BCS is not going away.

ESPN just agreed to take over the BCS package for four years starting in 2011. ABC’s separate contract with the Rose Bowl expires with the game of 2014.

This isn’t, for sure, your granddaddy’s bowl.

But USC is playing Penn State today, in a sold-out stadium, beneath snowcapped mountains.

“This is about as good as you can get,” Dorger said.

USC and Penn State would rather be there (in Florida), playing for the national title.

But here isn’t bad.

“This is really the bowl,” Penn State’s grand marshal, Joe Paterno, said.

Over on Colorado Boulevard, time and marching bands march on.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Different look

Results since the Rose Bowl became part of the BCS in the 1998 season:

*--* 2008 USC 49, Illinois 17 2007 USC 32, Michigan 18 2006* Texas 41, USC 38 2005 Texas 38, Michigan 37 2004 USC 28, Michigan 14 2003 Oklahoma 34, Wash. St. 14 2002* Miami 37, Nebraska 14 2001 Washington 34, Purdue 24 2000 Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9 1999 Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31 *--*

* -- National championship game. The 2006 game was played Jan. 4; the 2002 game was played Jan. 3.


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