The current generation of Ohio State football fan views Alabama as the Death Star in the evil empire that is the Southeastern Conference. Ruled by Darth Saban, the Crimson Tide and similar SEC ilk rule over college football — with help from Atlantic Coast Conference co-conspirator Clemson.

But long before SEC speed began giving the Buckeyes fits, another team from a conference far, far away gave Ohio State the finger.

Make that two fingers. One of the more iconic traditions in college football is the “V”-for-victory hand gesture — index and middle fingers waved back and forth — flashed by fans of Southern California during the playing of “Fight On,” the Trojans’ fight song.

No doubt you will see it on Friday when the Buckeyes play USC in the Cotton Bowl. And while the ubiquitous “V” does not blister the heart of younger OSU fans the same way as the Florida Gator Chop, circa 2007, it still gets under the skin of older fans who recall the likes of Sam “Bam” Cunningham, Pat Haden, Charles White and Jack Del Rio.

“That (fight) song they play all the time gets pretty irritating,” said Mark Krerowicz, who played offensive tackle for the Buckeyes in the 20-17 loss to USC in the 1985 Rose Bowl.

Yes, that catchy yet irritating song. In a former life, I was surrounded by Southern Cal fans — this was back when the school did not bristle at being called Southern Cal — as Haden completed a 38-yard touchdown pass to J.K. McKay (son of USC coach John McKay) and Shelton Diggs followed with a sliding catch on a two-point conversion with 2:06 that gave the Trojans a 18-17 win in the 1975 Rose Bowl.

Five seasons later, the “V” snapped against the back of my head when White completed the last of his 247 yards with a 1-yard dive that put USC on top 17-16. And like in the ’75 game, the loss cost Ohio State the national title.

John Robinson recalls both games, too, as an assistant under McKay in 1975 and head coach of the Trojans in 1979. The 82-year-old also notes how the Pac-8 (now Pac-12) was the SEC of its day — a conference known for speed and offensive innovation.

“We were faster than (Ohio State) and used our speed more,” Robinson said last week. “We also threw the ball more and had more variety on offense. We knew they would try to run the ball down our throat.”

Robinson also knew the Trojans held something of a home-field advantage in the Rose Bowl, similar to SEC and other Southern teams gaining an advantage by playing bowls in warmer weather outside the East, North and Midwest. Ohio State managed to defeat the Trojans in the 1955 and 1969 Rose Bowls (both wins securing national titles), but are 1-4 in Pasadena since.

“It was easier from a football standpoint, because we did not have to relocate out here like everybody else did,” Robinson said. “And Big Ten teams had a lot of rules because of traveling — had to dress a certain way, for example — that we did not have. It was more stressful for them.”

On the flip side, USC coaches struggled to make the Rose Bowl fun for players.

“Everybody already had been to Disneyland, and we were practicing on our own field,” Robinson said, explaining how for the Trojans the Rose Bowl was business as usual.

Mike Bartoszek agrees. The former Ohio State receiver (1972-74) explained that the Buckeyes were itching for home after being cooped up in Los Angeles, where Hayes was known to cloister the team places such as a nearby monastery.

“We would go out Dec. 20 or something like that, and for a college kid being away from home (at Christmas) for three years in a row was tough,” Bartoszek said. “By the time the game rolled around we were saying, ‘Let’s get this over with and go home.’ ”

Some players even dreamed of flipping the scenario.

“The one thing we talked about was that it always was a home game for Southern Cal,” Bartoszek said. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if they played the Rose Bowl in Ohio Stadium on Jan. 1? Now let’s see how they would do.”

How about a compromise? On Friday, the two programs will meet in Dallas, where the Buckeyes will attempt to end an 0-7 skid against the Trojans, dating to OSU’s 1974 Rose Bowl win.

It won’t feel the same as those old Rose Bowls, where Ohio State hatred toward USC burned hot. But that waving “V” still darkens the heart.