Free Press sports writers pick the Rose Bowl:

MITCH ALBOM

First we never heard of Ryan Leaf, then he was going to win the Heisman, then he was going to single-handedly beat Michigan. I prefer first impressions. Michigan 31, Washington State 10.

KEITH GAVE

The defense rocks and the offense rolls as Michigan ends a perfect season with an exclamation point. The Wolverines can move the ball on Washington State and will score enough points to take a lot of drama out of the game. And on the other side of the line of scrimmage they will show how defense wins championships. Michigan 31, Washington State 17.

BILL L. ROOSE

Washington State’s one-back offense is like nothing Michigan has seen this season. The last time the Wolverines faced a strong-armed quarterback like Ryan Leaf was in 1978, when they were heavy favorites to beat the Washington Huskies and some guy named Warren Moon. Oh, yeah. Can Heisman winner Charles Woodson and Marcus Ray cover five receivers in the Cougars’ high-octane passing offense? Not without leaving someone open. Washington State’s five receivers (known as the Fab Five) will do something U-M’s heralded basketball equivalent couldn’t — win the big game. These Cougars will shock the world. Washington State 31, Michigan 24.

HELENE ST. JAMES

Legend has it that when the Spartans played in the Rose Bowl in 1988, players kept having to remind everyone that they were from Michigan State, not Michigan, so quit assuming they would lose (they didn’t). The moral: When it comes to losing Rose Bowls, nobody does it better than the Wolverines. Bo took the team to 10 of them — and won just two. Oh sure, everything is different this season because the Wolverines are sooo focused (heck, they have scheduled nap times!). But please, name all the great quarterbacks they have faced this season. Now name all the five-receiver sets they have stopped. Washington State 28, Michigan 17…. The tradition continues.

JACK SAYLOR

Everybody deserves a national championship every 50 years or so. The Wolverines ride strong offensive line play, solid quarterbacking and their Heisman-heroic defense in the Big One. U-M turns over new Leaf. Michigan 31, Washington State 14.

DREW SHARP

No matter how strong they are, strong defenses can’t completely shut down strong offenses. Washington State will score some points as quarterback Ryan Leaf introduces himself to Big Ten fans who had no clue he even existed. The key will be the Washington State front seven’s ability to contain Michigan’s power running game. Michigan’s offense picks the wrong time to start getting careless with the ball. Washington State 27, Michigan 23.

CHARLIE VINCENT

During the regular season, Washington State averaged almost a point and a half for every minute its offense had the ball; during the regular season Washington State did not play against Michigan’s defense. Michigan 31, Washington State 17.

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