Full disclosure, I hate Michigan. I have trouble rooting for the Wolverines under any circumstances that don’t include ND and I there is arguably nothing more satisfying to me than watching Michigan lose. When Grand Poobah James Delany decided Nebraska would be playing Michigan every year as division mates, I got really excited. From here until the next round of expansion, I would be able to fully root against the Wolverines, their stupid stadium, Hail to the Victors, the winged helmets, and the fact that they say GO BLUE even though that is most definitely navy on their uniforms.
To really drive home my hatred, I pondered just posting YouTube videos of Michigan losing in painstaking fashion, but I figured that wasn’t appropriate. Wait, who am I kidding? It's fun every time! Okay, moving on... I wanted to talk a little about where my hate really seems to come from. I mean, why do I care about Michigan so much? It's not like there is a ton of history between the two teams head-to-head. Why can't I wait to see Nebraska-Michigan every single year? Why does this game mean so much? Simple. 1997. Nebraska and Michigan fans are two of the smuggest fanbases in America. Both feel they were robbed in '97. Both are probably wrong. Still, hate is what makes this game so much fun. So I present you with a brief discussion of 1997 and take a quick look at T-Mart and Shoelace - two guys who are extremely similar.
1997 National Championship: Michigan was good, Nebraska was better than you think
The argument always starts with strength of schedule. So let’s go there first:
Michigan played 7 Top 25 opponents in 1997. That included Colorado (8), Iowa (15), MSU (15), PSU (2), Wisconsin (23), OSU (4), and Washington St. (8).
Nebraska only played 4 Top 25 opponents that year: Washington (2), KSU (17), Texas A&M (14), and Tennessee (3).
Looking at that absolutely ‘objectively’ it looks as if Michigan played the harder schedule and deserves to be crowned BEST TEAM EVER. Still, isn’t there more to it? Well, sure. Polls are subjective and change all the time. Of the 7 teams Michigan defeated, only three ended up in the final Top 25 (PSU, OSU, and Wash St.). Of the four opponents Nebraska beat that year that were ranked, all four remained in the final Top 25. Additionally, Missouri finished the season ranked as well. So while it is easy to say that Michigan defeated so many ranked teams (Colorado was so overrated, it is not even funny) you could argue that the Nebraska beat 5 final ranked teams and Michigan only beat 3.
Another thing to point out on the scheduling discussion is Bowl Season. I know that the B1G prides itself on playing football the right way, but 1997 was a bloodbath nationally. Michigan’s opponents that made it to bowl season included PSU, OSU, Wisconsin, Iowa, MSU, and ND. Every single one of them lost their bowl game that year. Nebraska only had four opponents make bowls, but at least two of them beat their opponents (KSU and Washington). If you ask a Nebraska fan about 1997 and say their schedule sucked, it is important to understand that Michigan’s schedule was not infinitely better. In fact, the argument is that it was overrated.
But, but… what about Missouri?
Oh yes, the Flea-Kicker. This is maybe the most memorable play in my fandom. Look, I fully admit that having a fluke play to win the game is not something to be proud of. Still, it isn’t like Michigan went through their schedule without some close calls. The game that stands out to me is the Iowa game, where a late interception was required to clinch that game. I’m not here to dog on Iowa, but that year the Hawkeyes ended the season unranked and Missouri finished ranked. Like we say all the time, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. Okay, I say that. Let’s move on.
Okay, but that &#$@#*&#$ Frost and his whining for the title
That was unfortunate, but probably just as unfortunate as listening to Bob Griese cry about how his son deserved to go out a winner. For everyone who said this was about giving Osborne a championship overlooks the reality that the teams were pretty evenly matched. Nebraska had the Lombardi Award winner (Grant Wistrom), Outland Trophy Winner (Aaron Taylor) and those two were joined by Jason Peter as 1st team All-Americans. Michigan had All-Trophy Woodson (deserved every one of them) and three All-Americans as well (Woodson, Glen Steele, and Jermane Tuman).
In the end, I wish Nebraska could have played Michigan that year. Nebraska was a run-heavy team that everyone said was gimmicky. Regardless, it seemed to do just fine for 13 games. Michigan was a feisty defense that would have been the best challenge all year. On offense, Michigan was led by a good Griese and Nebraska had troubles that year at times. Still, that line at Nebraska was stacked and would have proven to be a tough matchup. Remember, Nebraska took care of Manning that year, and yes I know it was on his swollen knee. Regardless, no team can guarantee they would have won, and no team can really say who deserved the title more.
So why are you writing all this then?
Well, it’s Michigan-Nebraska week. Like I said, this is a game I’ve been looking forward to since Nebraska joined the conference. The game has certainly changed in the past 14 years. Both team is the powerhouse they were in 1997, and the coaches/schemes/fans look different. Nebraska is being led in a multifaceted run-heavy option/read-option game with a lot of power sets from days of old. Michigan is running a hybrid pro style set with the always wily Denard making plays happen. This will never settle the score from 1997, but when Jim Delany and Co. decided that Nebraska and Michigan were in the same division, these were the games he hoped for.
A lot is on the line for both teams. Even with Sparty controlling their destiny for that elusive berth in the inaugural B1G CCG, Nebraska and Michigan are fully alive for the division crown as well. What makes it even more interesting is the reality that a BCS Bowl berth is also on the line. Between history (1997), present day circumstances, and two really fun offenses (most of the time) this game should prove to be one of the more fun outings in the B1G this year.
BONUS SECTION: Martinez vs. Robinson
Okay, this has gotten extremely long, but I promised one last look at the two Quarterbacks. Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez have extremely similar stats. When I looked them up, I absolutely expected this Shoelace to have the better passing stats by a mile. I was surprised to see that Martinez might actually be the better passer.
Martinez is completing 57.7% of his passes on the season. That is nothing special, but he has looked better as of late. The NW game and the PSU game were actually good outings with Martinez hitting his reads and playing smart football. His mechanics are still awful, but 1,688 yards passing and 10 TDs says they could be worse. Of the 7 INTs he has thrown on the year, three came against Wisconsin and the Sparty pick was a tipped ball. He’s not as bad as it looks. Still, I prefer him running.
Denard is more enigmatic in the passing game. He only has 99 completions this season, and his completion percentage is a whopping 52.4. He does have 13 TDs, but he has thrown 13 INTs as well and only has one game where he has not thrown the ball to the other team. He sure looks prettier throwing the ball than Taylor, which is a bad thing for T-Mart, but he sure isn’t getting it there any more accurately. He can run, though. He has almost 100 more yards rushing than Martinez and three more TDs. Who is better? Hard to say… All I know is that containing both will be the key to Saturday. I’m excited. Oh, and MICHIGAN SUCKS.