The Rose Bowl always delivers.

No matter the year, no matter your resolutions, you can count on this being the case when you place your new calendar on the wall. As New Year’s Day melts into New Year’s Night, there’s no better spot for your eyes to gaze than upon this visual feast.

And it’s not just about the sunset hitting the San Gabriel Mountains at the end of the third quarter. Or the impeccably manicured field that looks like each blade of grass was cut with scissors and both end zones were painted with a brush.

It’s about the football, whether this is a Playoff game or not. After another letdown in the CFP semifinals, the 2022 Rose Bowl provided a perfect palate cleanser reminding us that college football is usually fun; not a dreadfully lopsided slog.

Already playing in a setting that looks like a Hollywood creation, Ohio State and Utah gave us a second quarter out of a video game. In just 2:09 of game time, a modestly entertaining 14-7 game exploded into a 35-21 circus.

Even the turnovers were ridiculously entertaining.

In essence, we already had a full game worth of highlights with 36 minutes of game still left to play. All of it was an appetizer for an epic finish.

Ohio State roaring back from a deficit the entire game to finally take a late lead. The Utes, forced to play a backup walk-on quarterback from a Utah town of 1,400 people who hadn’t thrown a pass all season, somehow responding to tie the game when he threw a dime to the back of the end zone.

Ohio State, of course, marched right back the other way for the game-winning chip shot that finally put this season’s best bowl game to rest. It denied us the overtime that would have made this game even better, but that merely would have been whipped cream atop this rich dessert.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Rose Bowl legend

Oh yeah. We forgot to mention what might literally be the best performance by a wide receiver in college football history.

Heading into the game, there was some question as to which Buckeyes would step up in the absence of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, both of whom opted out to focus on the NFL Draft. Jaxon Smith-Njigba basically did the work of 3 receivers in 1.

Smith-Njigba set an Ohio State single-game record, a Rose Bowl record and an all-time bowl game record with 347 receiving yards. He (and teammate Marvin Harrison Jr.) tied the bowl record with 3 TD catches. He did so on only 13 receptions, giving him a ridiculous average of 23.1 yards per catch. He helped CJ Stroud set Rose Bowl records with 573 yards passing and 6 TDs.

Had Smith-Njigba done this independently of all the events listed above, this still would have been one of the most unforgettable Rose Bowls ever. That he did it in conjunction with those things just served to hammer home the point.

Dang. The Rose Bowl rules.

The Rose Bowl should change for no one

There is some consternation in the college football world — primarily coming from within the corners of SEC country — that the Rose Bowl is an anachronism gumming up the works of the College Football Playoff.

It is the Rose Bowl’s insistence on kicking off at 2 p.m. local time that forces the CFP to schedule its semifinals around the Granddaddy of Them All rather than the other way around.

And you know what? That’s exactly how it should be. This Rose Bowl might not have had the stakes of the CFP games, but it was 10,000 times more compelling to watch. And I don’t need to start my year with the game that “means” more. I’d rather start it with the game that’s more fun to watch.

The Rose Bowl rarely fails to be that game.

The scores of the past 5 games played in Pasadena:

  • 2022: Ohio State 48, Utah 45
  • 2020: Oregon 28, Wisconsin 27
  • 2019: Ohio State 28, Washington 23
  • 2018: Georgia 54, Oklahoma 48 (2OT)
  • 2017: USC 52, Penn State 49

Of those games, only Georgia-Oklahoma was a Playoff contest. Fittingly, it remains by far the most entertaining CFP semifinal of the 16 that have been played — the lone semifinal to reach overtime, and 1 of just 2 decided by fewer than 7 points.

Perhaps buoyed by the memories of Baker Mayfield and the combination of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb dueling back-and-forth, there are others who would propose altering the Rose Bowl in a different direction and making it a permanent CFP semifinal.

We don’t need that, either.

To this point, the CFP semis are typically joyless and antiseptic. The Rose Bowl — the stadium and the game itself — is all about color, joy and American grandeur. Giving in to the CFP would take something away from what the Rose Bowl gives us.

A spectacle. And the perfect note on which to open every year.