This article was originally published on Jan. 3, 2017, after USC's dramatic win over Penn State. It has been updated and republished following our summer ranking of the best 100 college football games ever and Georgia's double-OT win over Oklahoma on Jan. 1, 2018.
The first Rose Bowl Game was played on Jan. 1, 1902, and after Fielding Yost's Michigan Wolverines beat Stanford 49-0, another game wasn't held until Jan. 1, 1916. Since then, the Rose Bowl has become college football's grandest tradition, played at its most historic stadium. On Monday night, Georgia beat Oklahoma 54-48 in a thrilling College Football Playoff semifinal filled with big plays, one that stands up with the greatest of the 104 Rose Bowls.
Where does it rank? Let's take a look back at the 10 best Rose Bowls ever.
Dates listed refer to the actual year the game was played; Georgia-Oklahoma was the 2018 Rose Bowl, even though it was played during the 2017 season. Special thanks to the official Rose Bowl media guide as an indispensable resource for compiling this list.
10. 1980: No. 3 USC 17, No. 1 Ohio State 16. Heisman Trophy winner Charles White set a Rose Bowl record with 247 rushing yards, and he needed every one of them to finish an 83-yard game-winning drive. With the clock running under two minutes, USC down by six, White took a pitch to the right and was dragged down with the ball inches short of the goal line. On the next play, White went over the top, leaping over the Buckeyes defense and into the end zone. An extra point gave the Trojans the lead. The Buckeyes' attempt to win the game failed, and USC denied Ohio State -- in its first season under coach Earle Bruce -- a national title and finished the year ranked No. 2 behind Alabama.
9. 2005: No. 4 Texas 38, No. 13 Michigan 37. It's a game that gets overshadowed because of what happened a year later. Texas made its first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl as a replacement team because of USC's inclusion in the BCS championship. Vince Young got his first taste of Pasadena success, rushing for 192 yards and throwing for 180 to lead the Longhorns to a dramatic victory that set the stage for a preseason No. 2 ranking and ultimately a national title the next season. The score was tied at 14 at halftime, but after a long Young touchdown run, Michigan answered and led by 10 in the fourth. Just like what would happen a year later, Young took over. He had TD runs of 10 and 23 yards in the fourth quarter, while Michigan settled for two field goals, including one to lead 37-35 with three minutes left. Texas, of course, answered, and Dusty Mangum kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Longhorns the win.
8. 1966: No. 5 UCLA 14, No. 1 Michigan State 12. Two years in a row, the Rose Bowl came down to a missed two-point conversion. In the 1965 season, Michigan State claimed its first of two straight split national championships. In that time, the final UPI poll was still released before the bowls, rendering the Rose Bowl result moot, at least in that poll. (The AP did conduct a postseason poll that year, boosting Alabama to No. 1.) After a 10-0 regular season, Michigan State trailed 14-0 in the fourth quarter thanks to two TD runs by UCLA QB Gary Beban, who would win the Heisman two years later, after a muffed punt and an onside kick. The Spartans stormed back, though. Bob Apisa scored a 38-yard TD, but a two-point attempt failed. They punched in another TD with 31 seconds left and had to go for two and the tie, but Apisa was stuffed by UCLA's Bob Stiles to preserve the win for the Bruins.
7. 1997: No. 4 Ohio State 20, No. 2 Arizona State 17. A game dominated by defense came down to big plays by both offenses in the final moments. Trailing by four, Jake Plummer led the No. 2 Sun Devils on what looked like a possible game-winning drive, finished off by his 11-yard scramble from pressure for a touchdown with 1:40 left, giving Arizona State a 17-14 lead. But Ohio State responded, and it did more than just tie. With 19 seconds left, Joe Germaine found David Boston short of the end zone, and he easily scored. The PAT was blocked, but Ohio State held on for the three-point victory after time ran out when the Sun Devils got all the way to the 35-yard line. Arizona State hasn't been back to the Rose Bowl since then.
6. 1926: Alabama 20, Washington 19. Southern football was looked down upon in the early days of the sport … at least until the Crimson Tide made the journey to Pasadena and beat Washington. Down 12-0 at halftime, Alabama staged a furious third-quarter rally, with a short run by Pooley Hubert and two long passes of 30 and 59 yards caught by Johnny Mack Brown. Washington threw a 27-yard touchdown pass of its own in the fourth quarter, but two early mixed extra points and an injury to George Wilson, who dominated the first half, cost the Huskies. The Crimson Tide emerged victorious, and so began their rise to college football powerhouse status.
5. 1963: No. 1 USC 42, No. 2 Wisconsin 37. During the 1962 season, no team in college football averaged even 200 passing yards per game. It was, of course, a much different sport then. During an 8-1 season that earned it a No. 2 ranking entering the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin averaged 160 passing yards per game. In Pasadena, against the No. 1 Trojans -- in the first-ever bowl matchup of the top two teams -- the Badgers passed for 419 yards, led by QB Ron Vander Kelen … and they lost. USC owned a commanding 42-14 lead after a Pete Beathard TD pass early in the fourth quarter. Written off, Wisconsin responded with a furious, historic rally, recording three touchdowns and a safety, with a Vander Kelen TD pass cutting the lead to five points with 1:19 to play. USC recovered an onside kick, and time ran out on its punt a few plays later.
"The game lasted only slightly less long than the War of 1812," wrote legendary sports writer Jim Murray in the Los Angeles Times. "It started in broad daylight but it ended up under conditions so dark a man would bump into an elephant. The official timer needed a calendar. If the game lasted one more quarter they would have run into next year's Rose Parade traffic."
4. 1975: No. 5 USC 18, No. 3 Ohio State 17. The previous two years had been blowouts in the same matchup: USC beat Ohio State 42-17 to win the national championship, then Ohio State beat 42-21 after being voted into the Rose Bowl by Big Ten athletic directors following a tie with Michigan. In the 1974 season, the two played the rubber match of what turned into a three-game series. Both teams were ranked in the top five, and the win allowed USC to claim a share of the national championship, voted No. 1 in the UPI poll. Whereas the Trojans had failed to win on a two-point attempt eight years earlier, this time McKay's gamble paid off. Ohio State led 7-3 after three quarters, but there was a scoring surge, relatively speaking, in the fourth. With Ohio State ahead 17-10, USC's Pat Haden threw a perfect 38-yard strike to the coach's son, Johnny McKay, in the end zone with just over two minutes remaining. Rather than settle for a tie, McKay opted for a two-point attempt that ultimately won the Trojans another national title, with the help of an Alabama loss to Notre Dame, and Oklahoma's sanctions-related probation. Haden rolled right, and just as he was about to get hit, he found an open Shelton Diggs in the end zone, giving USC the go-ahead points.
3. 2017: No. 9 USC 52, No. 5 Penn State 49. We spend so much energy debating the playoff, and yet the non-playoff bowls can still deliver in monumental ways. Last year's Rose Bowl was infinitely more fun than either of the playoff semifinals. An all-time great game started so innocuously, too, with Penn State making bad mistakes and USC missing a couple long field goals. And then it turned into a spectacular back-and-forth game featuring countless big plays, big throws and big catches. Penn State scored touchdowns on seven straight drives and four straight offensive plays, including Saquon Barkley's dazzling 79-yard touchdown run and Chris Godwin's 72-yard touchdown catch that bounced off a defender. Barkley, Godwin, Mike Gesicki and QB Trace McSorley all made thrilling plays. USC had answers, thanks to star redshirt freshman QB Sam Darnold and his receivers, including a spectacular game-tying touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett with 1:20 left. McSorley then threw a third-down interception that Leon McQuay returned to field goal range, and Matt Boermeester made up for the earlier long misses by connecting on a 46-yard field goal as time expired for USC to survive Penn State's middle-of-the-game scoring onslaught, erase a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and win on the final play of a Rose Bowl thriller.
2: 2018: No. 3 Georgia 54, No. 2 Oklahoma 48. It seems crazy that last year's Rose Bowl could be topped by the very next one, but here we are. USC 52, Penn State 49 set the record for most Rose Bowl points with 101; Georgia and Oklahoma totaled 102. USC beat Penn State on a walk-off field goal; Georgia beat Oklahoma on a walk-off touchdown in the second overtime, in the first overtime game in Rose Bowl history. Penn State erased a 13-point deficit, then blew a 14-point lead; Georgia came back from down 17 points, the largest comeback in Rose Bowl history. And for as big and memorable as last year's game was, with a traditional Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup, it did not have national championship implications. The 2018 Rose Bowl decided a spot in the national title game, with Georgia outlasting Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield to win a College Football Playoff semifinal. The first-ever meeting between the Bulldogs and Sooners proved to be a classic, the clear-cut game of the year in the 2017 season. Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma surged to a 31-14 lead in the first half, but Georgia responded with unstoppable running by Sony Michel (181 yards) and Nick Chubb (145 yards) and perhaps the most impressive defensive performance of the season during the third quarter. Michel won the game on a 27-yard double-OT touchdown run after Lorenzo Carter blocked a Sooners field goal.
1. 2006: No. 2 Texas 41, No. 1 USC 38. Last year's Rose Bowl was a spectacular game, one of the most entertaining we've ever seen. This year's was arguably more spectacular. But the 2005 national championship game has an argument for greatest college football game ever, when combining the flow of the game itself, importance and the talent on the field. USC was voted AP national champion in 2003, then won the BCS in 2004. It had back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. It was at the height of its power under Pete Carroll, amassing staggering amounts of talent on the recruiting trail. The build-up to the BCS title game in Pasadena featured lots of debate about USC's place among the best teams of all time. But then there was Texas, led by Heisman runner-up Vince Young, who had one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had.
The Longhorns and Trojans, the nation's lone remaining undefeated teams, combined for 1,130 total yards. Leinart threw for 365. LenDale White ran for 124 yards and three TDs. Young completed 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards and rushed for 200 yards and three TDs. Bush … ran for 82 yards and had his night marred by attempting to do too much by losing an ill-advised lateral on a big run, then being relegated to the bench when White was stuffed on fourth-and-two at the Texas 45-yard line with a five-point lead and 2:13 left on the clock.
It was a dramatic back-and-forth game featuring two of the best college football teams of the BCS era. After White was stopped, Young and Texas got the ball back, and he proceeded to lead a legendary drive that ended with him tucking it and running to the right on fourth-and-five from the eight, beating the Trojans to the first-down line, then to the corner of the end zone for the game-winning score.
There have been a lot of great games at the Rose Bowl. The last two games have been as good as any of them … except for Texas-USC, a national championship matchup, in a game that may never be topped and stands as the best college football game of all time.