Michigan defensive tackle Grant Bowman wore a red rose on his lapel. Tailback Chris Perry had one tucked behind his ear. Linebacker Pierre Woods clenched another with his teeth.
While all three were busy celebrating UM s monumental 35-21 victory over rival Ohio State on Saturday in Ann Arbor - which gave the Wolverines the Big Ten title outright - thoughts of playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif., were dancing in their heads.
“When you come to Michigan, the expectation is for a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl,” Bowman said. “Finally, that s where we are.”
Rose Bowl officials extended Michigan (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) a conditional invitation and the Wolverines accepted after beating the Buckeyes for their 41st Big Ten championship.
The only way the Wolverines wouldn t play in the Rose Bowl is if some contenders fall and they move up from ninth to second in the Bowl Championship Series standings to earn a berth in the national championship game - the Sugar Bowl - on Jan. 4.
“We re excited about any opportunities we re presented with,” coach Lloyd Carr said.
Michigan, which beat Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl in 1997 to finish 12-0 and win the Associated Press national championship, would need a lot of help to get to New Orleans. The players are not counting on it.
“I think there s a chance we could play for the [national] championship,” Bowman said. “I couldn t care less, to tell you the truth. I m just happy the way it is.”
The Rose Bowl would prefer pairing Michigan - which moved up a spot to No. 4 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches polls released yesterday - with a Pac-10 team, even if Southern Cal winds up playing for the national title.
“We d love to go back to tradition,” Rose Bowl representative Mike Riffey said. “We had the national championship one year and last year we had Oklahoma, so I don t think we suffered at all. But we have a long-standing relationship with the Big Ten and the Pac-10 and that would be awful hard to give up.”
Michigan, which ended the regular season with a six-game winning streak and a 7-0 record at home, handed Ohio State (10-2, 6-2) only its second loss in 26 games and denied it shot at back-to-back national championships.
The setback evened OSU s road record at 2-2 and allowed USC and LSU, the two one-loss teams that trailed the second-place Buckeyes in the BCS standings, to re-enter the national championship race.
“Our main goal was to come in and get a win against Michigan,” OSU tight end Ben Hartsock said. “Now it will be interesting to see how the bowl situation pans out. A lot of people are going to be saying, I told you so. There s nothing we can do about it now.”
The Buckeyes best hope for a BCS game, when the final standings are released the first week of December, will be an at-large to either the Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl. However, after dropping four spots to No. 8 in the AP poll and three spots to No. 7 in the coaches poll, they very well could end up in the Capital One Bowl (formerly the Citrus Bowl) on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla.
“I m going to guess that we have a good chance to go to the Capital One Bowl if they want us,” OSU athletic director Andy Geiger said. “And depending on how the next many days go, we could still be in the hunt for a BCS berth.
“We re a fine 10-2 football team that is ranked in the Top 10. I don t know where we ll be in the BCS lineup. I don t know how the computer shakes it out.
“I thought that Michigan was so good that I can t walk out of here feeling badly or hanging my head or being down in the dumps. I saw a terrific football game. Our team was beaten, and it was straight up. Good on them. We ll have to wait till next year.”
Offensive tackle Shane Olivea hopes the Buckeyes can secure a BCS bowl bid, but understands they may have to settle for less.
“Either way, we ll get up for it,” he said. “There s a pride factor involved. It s the last time a lot of us will wear that jersey. It s our final 60 minutes as a Buckeye.
“We d like to play on Jan. 4 [for the national championship], but that s not going to happen. That doesn t mean we won t prepare as well or play as hard as we would if it was the national championship.”