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Oregon, Ohio State smell the roses

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

LOS ANGELES -- Green jerseys with silver feathers on the shoulders, topped by white helmets.

That appears to be the answer to perhaps the most-asked question of Rose Bowl week: Just what will the fashion-forward Oregon Ducks wear for their first postseason trip to Pasadena in 15 years?

"We expected them to do something wild and crazy for coming back to the Rose Bowl," said a vaguely disappointed Ohio State defensive lineman Doug Worthington. "We'll go out there and look at it for about 30 seconds, and then we'll forget it."

There's no such mystery around Ohio State, which will wear the latest version of the white-and-gray ensemble that has suited the Buckeyes since well before their last Rose Bowl 13 years ago.

"But we care about this part the most, and I think they do, too," Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman said Wednesday, pointing to the Rose Bowl emblem on his jersey's shoulder.

Beyond that patch, the ever-evolving Ducks (10-2) and the tradition-rich Buckeyes (10-2) seem to have little in common in their approaches to offenses, uniforms and everything in between. Their many contrasts could make for a compelling game today in two powerful programs' overdue returns to the Rose Bowl.

"We've all heard about how much being in this particular game means to our fans and our alumni," Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "Everybody knows this is your real goal every season when you're a Big Ten or a Pac-10 team. It feels good to be part of that tradition coming back."

Oregon has its well-deserved reputation as Nike's laboratory, with its innovative fashion sense and impressive facilities. Most of the No. 7 Ducks, who largely hail from California, cite that connection as a reason for choosing the school.

"Our tradition is no tradition," Oregon left tackle Bo Thran said. "We're always changing things up, trying new approaches. We want to make our own, and that's what we're doing this season."

The approach couldn't be much more different in Columbus. Ohio State places a heavy emphasis on its decades of football tradition enjoying a revival under Jim Tressel, the genteel coach who wears ties on the sideline and shepherds his players' every move.

"Everybody who comes to Ohio State knows what we stand for and what we try to accomplish," Coleman said. "Coach Tressel has a vision for what he wants to happen in this program, and we respect everything that got us to this point, all the guys who came before us."

Several Ducks were surprised this week to learn that for all the Buckeyes' success in recent years under Tressel, No. 8 Ohio State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1997.

The Buckeyes have played for bigger prizes during that time, winning a national championship along the way -- but they were in the Granddaddy of Them All only two years more recently than Oregon, which never made it during just-departed coach Mike Bellotti's successful tenure.

With rookie coach Chip Kelly leading a high-scoring offense, the Ducks rebounded from their season-opening loss at Boise State to win the Pac-10 title and a second trip to Pasadena, where they beat UCLA 24-10 in October without injured quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Kelly claims he never once mentioned the Rose Bowl to his Ducks until they beat Oregon State in the Civil War to qualify.

"We knew if we just won the Pac-10, everything else would come together," Oregon safety T.J. Ward said. "Coach Kelly didn't have to tell us what we were playing for."

Every player on both Rose Bowl teams crowded into a conference room at a downtown hotel on Wednesday morning -- except Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount, who stayed back at the team hotel in Beverly Hills. Blount has barely spoken to the media since punching a Boise State player after the Ducks' season-opening loss, leading to an eight-game suspension.

"He believes in actions, not words," Kelly said in explaining Blount's absence. "He wants to finish the season, and I respect him. It's his choice. He can talk to anybody, but he chose not to."

If the Buckeyes are tired of talking about anything, it's their three straight postseason losses in BCS bowl games, including last year's Fiesta Bowl following national championship games in the previous two seasons. Ohio State's senior class could go out as the winningest in school history with a victory -- but a loss would leave those seniors with four Big Ten titles, but no postseason wins.

And though Ohio State might lean on its past more than Oregon, both schools are well aware of the history in the game they're playing today.

"You just feel the tradition," Tressel said. "I don't care how old you are."