Ohio State started the season ranked #1 and, despite being undefeated, fell to #2 behind Texas. They earned the Rose Bowl berth on the strength of their 20-9 victory over Michigan in the game that decided the Big 10 title. After Texas had lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl earlier in the day, Ohio State went into the Rose Bowl with a chance to claim the national championship with a win.
Stanford started the season by upsetting #4 Arkansas at Little Rock 34-28. After 2 more wins, they were caught looking ahead to their showdown with USC and lost at home to Purdue, 24-16. They then beat 3-time Pacific-8 champion USC in Palo Alto 24-14, won 3 more games and rose to #6 before clinching the conference title in the Rose Bowl decider over Washington, 29-22. They then suffered a pair of letdowns, losing to #13 Air Force 31-14 and to arch rival California, 22-14.