This was the first and to date, only Rose Bowl appearance for Indiana. Being an even-numbered year for the bowl game, Indiana wore their crimson jerseys as the home team and USC wore their white shirts as the designated visiting team.
The top-ranked and Pac-8 champion Trojans came into the game with a 9–1 record, losing only to Oregon State in a close 3–0 game. They earned the #1 ranking after claiming a close 21–20 win over rival and then-#1 UCLA in the last week of their season, guaranteeing their spot in the Big Ten/Pac-8 classic. They were led by their powerful tailback O. J. Simpson.
The #4-ranked and co-Big Ten champion Hoosiers also came into the game with a 9–1 record, losing to Minnesota a week before defeating Purdue. A three-way league title championship was created when Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue all finished with 6–1 league records, each defeating and losing to one of the other. Indiana was awarded the Rose Bowl berth, as they had never played in the game. Quarterback Harry Gonso led the Hoosiers into their first ever bowl game.