With the kickoff for the 66th Rose Bowl game less than 48 hours away, the strain of preparing for a game billed as the national championship match began to show today on some of the participants. Most notably on the coaches.

It was easy to tell that Southern California Coach John Robinson was getting nervous because he said so. "This is the toughest time before a game like this," he said. "You've done the physical work, now comes the mental work. I'm starting to feel a little anxious."

If his counterpart at Ohio State, Earle Bruce, was feeling jitters, he wasn't talking about them. In fact, except for his players. Bruce wasn't talking to anyone. He was supposed to meet with reporters at 9 o'clock this morning, but didn't show up. After his team's closed morning workout Bruce closeted himself with assistant coaches and was unavailable to reporters. The same held true for his players.

"They have a lot to think about right now," a spokesman said.

Quite true. This has been billed as perhaps the best matchup in Rose Bowl history. Ohio State comes in 11-0, ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press after a storybook season. The Buckeyes were unranked and picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten when the season began, with most observers figuring the end of the Woody Hayes era and the beginning of the Bruce regin would mean a dropoff at Ohio State.

But with Bruce allowing brilliant sophomore quarterback Art Schlichter (pronounced Shleester) to throw the football, the Buckeyes finished unbeaten. (

southern Cal, everyone's No. 1 pre-season team, tripped early on a 21-21 tie by Stanford, then righted itself to finish 10-01 and earn its 10th Rose Bowl trip in 14 Years. With Heisman Trophy winner Charles White at tailback, an outstanding quarterback in Paul McDonald and a huge line, the the Trojan offense usually is compared to those of the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers.

Thus, in spite of Ohio State's ranking (USC is No. 3 behind Alabama) the Trojans are 7 1/2 point favorites on New Year's Day. Before he dissappeared, Bruce pointed out that the spread was probably a reflection of the Pacific 10 Conference's recent domination of this game: five straight wins and nine in 10 years.

"As good as our record is, as good a season as we've had, we know this will be the toughest team we've faced," Bruce said. "And we know that if we lose, we'll just be thought of as another Big Ten team that came out here and got beat in the Rose Bowl."

It may be that such thoughts drove Bruce into his shell. Early in the week he made a major effort to cast aside the old Ohio States stigmas created by Hayes' antagonism toward the press and bowl officials.

Bruce, 48, played for Hayes at Ohio State in the early 1950s (a knee injury ended his career) and is very much a product of the Hayes system. But he joked cordially with reporters upon arrival in Pasadena last week then took his team for tours of Disneyland and Universal Studios.

"Earle's trying to be loose," said one member of the huge Ohio press corps here, "but he's still got a lot of Woody in him."

Robinson has no such problems. This is his third Rose Bowl in four years as USC coach. He admitted today that he felt the stakes were a little higher this year, but was still patient and outgoing when he spoke to reporters.

"I'm eager to see what's going to happen in this game," he said, "because there's about three or four different things that can happen. They can run and they can pass. So can we."

Robinson was asked if playing a No. 1 team in a game both coaches say is for the national championship, regardless of what Alabama does, has changed the atmosphere around campus.

"Yeah it has," he said, "more people are asking me for tickets."

"Yeah it has," he said, "more people are asking me for tickets."

Of his team being favored by more than a touchdown, Robinson said, "That doesn't matter a bit to me. You think I'm going to run my football team based on what some Nevada newspaper says?"

Both these teams have outstanding offensive personnel and statistics. Their defenses are not considered to be as good and there has been much talk this week that USC will be vulnerable to Schlichter and his two fleet receivers, Doug Donley and Gary Williams.

Robinson defended his pass defense, nothing that "not many teams have run on us, so they pass quite a bit. That hurts our statistics." But, he added, "At times we have not defended the medium-range pass well this year." That fact is borne out by statistics. The Trojans were fifth in the Pac-10 against the pass.

"If we miss three field goals or get two punts blocked or drop seven passes, we'll lose," he said. "But I don't think you can point at any one thing, any one unit or any one player and say that will decide the game. There are just too many factors involved."

One of those factors is experience. USC has it, Ohio State does not.

"We may be a little jittery right at the start," Schlicter admitted.

"But I think they will be too. We've both come a long way to get here, and there's a lot at stake. You have to be a little nervous."