It’s official. Effective July 1, 2011 The University of Nebraska – Lincoln will be in the Big 10 Conference. I welcome the Cornhuskers to the oldest Division I-A Football Conference and I am ready to settle a debate.
It goes back to 1997. Back then the NCAA Division I-A Football Champion was decided by the AP (Associated Press) and the ESPN/USA Today Polls or, as we called them, the writers and the coaches polls. Until that year, I thought that the coaches got it right. That year, they proved that they didn’t.
The University of Michigan had an unblemished record. They replaced Nebraska as the #1 team after beating #3 Penn State the weekend that Nebraska almost lost to a Missouri team that was not ranked in the top 25. (They saved the game in overtime with a lucky catch.) The Wolverines headed into the bowl season undefeated and ranked #1 in both polls. Head Coach Lloyd Carr was Coach of the Year and Charles Woodson, starting cornerback, won the Heisman. (First defensive player to do so.) The Wolverines only needed to win the Rose Bowl to become National Champions. So, you would think.
The Wolverines went to Pasadena and beat #8 Washington State, 21 – 16 in the 84th Rose Bowl. Nebraska won the Orange Bowl in Miami by beating #3 Tennessee, 42 – 17. After the bowl games, the writers kept Michigan at #1, but the coaches moved Nebraska to the number one spot on their poll. This wasn’t about the action on the gridiron. This was about the coaches recognizing the end of a career of their colleague and one of the best coaches, Nebraska Head Coach, Tom Osborne. It was his retirement gift.
The coaches got it wrong. They’ll say Nebraska beat the #3 team “convincingly.” That is, as Bo Schembechler would say, hogwash!
Here are the top reasons why Michigan should have been the consensus 1997 Football Champions.
1. Tougher schedule – 11 straight games without a bye week.
2. Tougher opponents – Played 6 teams ranked in the top 25. (Nebraska played 3.)
3. Beat the #3 team (Penn State) 38 – 4 during the regular season on the road and followed it up with victories against #23 Wisconsin and #4 Ohio State.
4. They handled business on the field and left it there. Nebraska players went whining to the media, “Don't give it to Michigan. Our coach deserves this.” (Champions don’t whine!)
5. Nebraska should not have been #2 and undefeated. The refs got the call wrong in the Missouri game. The Tigers clearly caught the ball.
After the bowl games, everyone was debating who would have won if Michigan and Nebraska had played each other that season. In my mind, there is no doubt that Michigan would have killed Nebraska. The teams are different, but I am looking forward to the Cornhuskers joining the conference, visiting the Big House and experiencing a battle with the most winningest football program.
Nebraska, Welcome to a real football conference where a rival doesn’t mean beating up on someone for 25 years! And NO WHINING ALLOWED!
Heels & Helmets