Penn State’s Rose Bowl History

For the fifth time in program history, Penn State football is heading back to the Rose Bowl.

The No. 11-ranked Nittany Lions are set to face off with No. 8 Utah on January 2, 2023, in Pasadena, California. With the College Football Playoff set to expand in 2024, this is the last traditional Rose Bowl between Big Ten and Pac-12 teams for the foreseeable future.

While it only joined the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State is no stranger to the Granddaddy of Them All. The Nittany Lions are 1-3 in Rose Bowl appearances and played their first bowl game ever in Pasadena.

Before Penn State’s 52nd bowl appearance kicks off, let’s see how it’s performed in the Rose Bowl over the last 100 years.

January 1, 1923: Penn State 3, USC 14

Not only was this the first bowl game for both Penn State and USC, but it was also the first Tournament of Roses played in the Rose Bowl Stadium, marking the ninth Rose Bowl Game overall.

Before 1923, the game was held at Tournament Park in Pasadena. The upgrade was to increase seating capacity, as the Rose Bowl held 57,000 at the time. Attendance for this matchup was 43,000.

Courtesy of Tournament of Roses

Penn State actually was late to the game due to traffic after the Rose Parade. The 29-person team was traveling in cabs, and the drivers eventually plowed over the lawns of Pasadena residents to get to the game on time. Penn State coach Hugo Bezdek and USC coach Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson got into an altercation before the game due to the Nittany Lions’ late arrival.

Eventually, the game started on time and the Trojans worked their way to a 14-3 win and capped off a 10-win season. USC offensive guard Leo Calland won MVP in the game and later went on to become head coach and athletic director at the University of Idaho before assuming a role as director of San Diego’s Parks and Recreation department. Oh, he was also USC’s head basketball coach and assistant baseball coach for two seasons.

Penn State finished 6-4-1 that year but was able to donate $21,349.64 to the construction of Irvin Hall due to its Rose Bowl appearance. It’s still a dorm in West Halls today.

The game, which was eventually delayed one hour, finished under just the light of the moon. Sportswriters had to light matches in the press box to finish working on their game stories.

Courtesy of SCP Auctions

January 2, 1995: Penn State 38, Oregon 20

You have to fast forward more than 70 years to find the Nittany Lions’ next Rose Bowl appearance, which occurred two years into their move to the Big Ten.

The 1995 game is Penn State’s only win in Pasadena and also the only time it hasn’t faced off against USC in the Granddaddy of Them All. It capped off an undefeated season and helped Penn State finish No. 2 in the AP Poll, behind only Nebraska.

Perhaps due to its success in this game, Penn State had three players selected in the top 10 of the NFL Draft — Ki-Jana Carter (No. 1), Kerry Collins (No. 5), and Kyle Brady (No. 9). Carter was named Penn State’s Rose Bowl Player of the Game.

Carter scored an 83-yard touchdown on Penn State’s first play from scrimmage and helped lead the Nittany Lions to 228 total rushing yards on the day. In 2014, he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

Courtesy of Penn State

Penn State won its first Big Ten Championship this year but didn’t have the chance to play for a national title. The BCS wasn’t introduced until 1998.

January 1, 2009: Penn State 24, USC 48

Penn State marched into this matchup with an 11-1 record, standing at No. 8 in the BCS Standings. Its only loss on the year came in a one-point affair at Kinnick Stadium against Iowa. Ohio State shared a Big Ten co-champion title with the Nittany Lions.

Despite the game being tied after the first quarter, Mark Sanchez and the Trojans ripped off 24 unanswered points in the second frame. This proved to be an insurmountable lead, and Penn State only mustered 17 more points, which all came in the fourth quarter.

The 2008 Trojans were coached by Pete Carroll and finished as Pac-12 champions and came in at No. 2 in the final Coach’s Poll.

Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but surrendered two interceptions in the process. Stephfon Green put together 124 yards from scrimmage, including 5.7 yards per carry on the ground.

All around, this was the least exciting Rose Bowl that Penn State’s played in.

January 2, 2017: Penn State 49, USC 52

The 2017 Rose Bowl is widely regarded as one of the best Rose Bowls ever and was ranked by ESPN as the 24th-best college football game of all time.

Despite being on a Monday, this game brought in more than 16 million viewers and was, at the time, the most-watched non-semifinal New Year’s Six game ever. The game also set a market record in Philadelphia.

After barely missing the playoff, No. 5 Penn State entered this matchup with an 11-2 record and a Big Ten Championship under its belt. After starting off 2-2, the Nittany Lions enjoyed a much-needed, bounce-back season thanks to big wins over No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Wisconsin.

The high-scoring affair featured a combined 1,040 yards and a Rose Bowl-record 28 points in a single quarter for Penn State. Despite this record, USC set a Rose Bowl record of its own by overcoming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit.

The Trojans nailed a field goal as time expired, and Trace McSorley finished the day with three interceptions.

Saquon Barkley finished the game with a whopping 194 rushing yards on 25 attempts, scoring three total touchdowns. Chris Godwin had two receiving scores of his own and amassed 187 yards through the air. Still, Sam Darnold’s air attack, which featured JuJu Smith-Schuster and Deontay Burnett, was too much for Penn State to handle.

The Nittany Lions finished No. 7 in the AP Poll.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected].

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