Historically, the Rose Bowl has pitted the champions the Big Ten and Pac-10. What made the 2007 Rose Bowl a not-so-traditional matchup is that Michigan entered as the runner-up of the Big Ten. The Big Ten champions, Ohio State, were ranked #1 and instead participated in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. Michigan won their first 11 games in 2006, but lost their last regular season game to the undefeated Buckeyes in Columbus, 42–39.
A moment of silence prior to the national anthem was held in memory of former Michigan center, 38th President of the United States, and 1978 Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal Gerald Ford, who died six days earlier. George Lucas, Southern California alum, the creator of the Star Wars series of films, and 2007 Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal, flipped the coin. The coin used featured Southern California's logo on one on side and Michigan's logo on the other. Neither team called a side as the team's logo that landed up won the coin toss. Southern California deferred after winning the coin toss, and Michigan elected to receive the ball on the kickoff. The game officially started at 2:00 pm PST (UTC-8).
Many times the participants of the Rose Bowl game have been the winners of the respective UCLA-USC rivalry and Michigan-Ohio State rivalry games, although there have been instances where the loser of the rivalry game still won the conference championship. In the 2007 Rose Bowl game, the participants both were the losers of those games, and Michigan was an at-large BCS participant with a second place Big Ten finish.