Rose Bowl scores for ESPN

Excluding the NFL, cabler draws best-ever rating

ESPN kicked off the year in a big way as its coverage of the Rose Bowl drew strong ratings.

TCU’s 21-19 win over Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon drew an 11.7 overnight rating in Nielsen’s metered markets, making it the highest overnight non-NFL rating ever for the cabler in the 10 years of its records.

Interest in the game was strong as the Horned Frogs came into the contest undefeated and the Badgers were one of the hottest teams in college football when the regular season came to an end about a month ago.

A few hours later, ESPN also fared well when Oklahoma crushed Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl. Game drew a 6.7 rating, which was best against all broadcast and cable networks. Competition, however, on New Year’s night is traditionally very light.

What’s unclear is if there will be much of a difference in terms of overall numbers as the BCS games move to cable for the first time.This is the first year ESPN will carry all the Bowl Championship Series games, including tonight’s Orange Bowl (Stanford vs. Virginia Tech), Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl (Ohio State vs. Arkansas) and the BCS national championship game Jan. 10, Oregon vs. Auburn. In years past, ABC had traditionally aired the Rose Bowl, and Fox aired most of the BCS contests.

Also of note, ESPN2’s telecast of Stanford’s victory over Connecticut in women’s college basketball action on Thursday logged the highest score ever for a regular-season game in the sport.

The game, in which Stanford snapped Connecticut’s record 90-game winning streak, posted a 1.5 metered market overnight rating — with the final 15 minutes shooting up to a 3.1.

(Rick Kissell contributed to this report.)