Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
Whew! That game vs. Sparty was way too close! Glad Blue was finally able to get past State and shut up all those Spartan lovers. Very sweet to hear the dejected tone of the MSU player’s in their postgame comments. I do have one problem with last Saturday’s game however—why was I surrounded by people clad in green & white? I was very disappointed by the large number of folks who opted to sell their tickets, to a rivalry game no less. Come on Michigan fans, is it really only about the money?
You can bet that Maize & Blue will be hard to find in Lincoln tonight. Just from the numbers who showed up in Ann Arbor last year, I’m thinking it will be a solid sea of red. I have to say that at least the Nebraska fans I spoke to were knowledgeable, well behaved, if not downright cordial (of course their team was getting feasted on by the Wolverines—that does tend to lessen one’s spunk). And while I’d love to check out the game day atmosphere in Memorial Stadium, I’m kind of sketchy about a road trip to Lincoln. The last time I deigned to attend a game in the Big Ten hinterlands (that would be Champaign, Ill.) the eau de fertilizer was a bit overpowering.
Nebraska is promoting this game as the first in college football history between conference teams with at least 850 all-time wins. While that is a unique occurrence, I’m more impressed that Nebraska will also be celebrating 50 years of consecutive sellouts. Think about it. Michigan just had their 242nd game with 100,000 fans or more. That’s somewhere between 20 – 24 years, playing 10 – 12 games per season. Fifty years of sellouts? I don’t know if I should be wowed by this or lament the fact there’s no other outlet for Lincoln sports fans other than Nebraska athletics.
The rub in this is that the Wolverines are going into the lion’s den. We’re talking a Columbus type environment. While I think it won’t be anywhere near as nasty, there’s still going to be 87,000-plus fans looking to see their Cornhuskers to avenge last year’s debacle in the Big House. Brady Hoke’s teams have had some trouble in road games during his tenure. It will be quite a feat if Michigan can get this road win, having just had an emotional victory over MSU.
We Michiganders are fortunate to have plenty of outlets for our sporting interests. Top notch ones at that. I’ll have to see if Counterpunt will venture out with me to watch Michigan/Nebraska and the World series. It’s just that tonight, I think we’re going to be drowning our sorrows.
Michigan 20 Nebraska 27
By Nick RoUMel
I remember January 1, 1998 like it was just 15 years ago. Michigan had completed one of the most remarkable seasons in its storied history. It had gone undefeated in glorious fashion, in the process knocking off #7 Colorado, Notre Dame, #15 Iowa, #14 Michigan State, #2 Penn State, #23 Wisconsin, and #4 Ohio State, to complete an undefeated 11-0 and earn a spot in the Rose Bowl. They were the unanimous #1 in both the AP and USA Today polls, in the last season before the BCS came to destroy our way of life.
Michigan’s defense was astonishing, giving up less than 10 points a game, including a total of only 78 points in the entire Big Ten season. (In contrast, in 2010, Rich Rod’s defense allowed 65 points to Illinois in a single game. Yes I know we still won. Shut up and listen to Grandpa.)
The Penn State game in 1997 was our favorite, as Punt will attest. Facing the undefeated Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, we tailgated from 7 AM in a steady drizzle with our insufferable Penn State hosts until crushing their hearts with a 34-8 victory. That same day, Nebraska remained undefeated by engaging in Sparty-like documented cheating to beat Missouri when a downed receiver purposefully kicked the live ball to another receiver for a touchdown to send the game into overtime, which Nebraska eventually won. The Cornhuskers still affectionately refer to that play as the “Fleakicker.”
Confident in our season of destiny, we did not think too much about Nebraska’s lucky victory. Michigan went on to demoralize Ohio State to earn a Rose Bowl berth against the Washington State Cougars, who won a weak Pac 10 that year with the gifted but stupid Ryan Leaf at quarterback. We could all but taste finishing the season as the unanimous #1 pick in the nation.
Back to January 1, 1998. With just 29 seconds to play in the Rose Bowl, Michigan led 21-16 thanks to three long Brian Griese passes, two to Tai Streets, and a Charles Woodson interception in the end zone. It was not a blowout, but it was convincing. A late punt pinned the Cougars on their 7 yard line with just 29 seconds to play.
Two long passes later, Washington State found itself on Michigan’s 16. One of those passes was controversial. The WSU receiver shoved Charles Woodson out of the way before catching the ball. The official reached for his hanky, but for some reason, did not pull it out. As seconds wound down, Leaf spiked the ball for one last play. The whistle blew. In another controversial call, officials said time had run out.
At that point, Michigan fans felt just as much relief as euphoria. We turned to watch the Orange Bowl, where the Peyton Manning led Tennessee Volunteers would face the now #2 Nebraska Cornhuskers. An injured but game Manning had no mobility and was manhandled by the swarming Cornhusker defense. After the game, Nebraska quarterback Scotty Frost was interviewed. In a moving tribute that still makes me sick to recall, Scotty made a shameless plea to voters to choose Nebraska #1 over Michigan. He argued this would be a fitting cap to the career of their retiring coach Tom Osborne, but he could not resist adding a dig against Michigan. As quoted by the Ann Arbor News:
“If you can look yourself in the mirror and say if your job depended on playing either Michigan or Nebraska to keep your job, who would you rather play?" Frost remarked after the game. "You watched the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl. Michigan won with a controversial play at the end. We took apart the third-ranked team in the country.
"The second point I have is: I can't see how any coach outside the Big Ten or the Pac-10 would vote for Michigan.”
The coaches complied, leapfrogging Nebraska over Michigan for the #1 final spot in the coaches’ poll, while Michigan managed the #1 vote of the writers (AP). Watching that on the news the next day almost made me spit out my Pina Colada, under the California palm trees.
I have not forgiven Nebraska since. Nor Tennessee for that matter, nor Peyton Manning, nor Missouri, nor the sentimental coaches who screwed Michigan to give Tom Osborne a parting gift. Not to mention perpetual tackhead Ryan Leaf, and the official who swallowed his whistle when Woodson got shoved.
In fact, Counterpunt is feeling unforgiving these days to just about everyone, including Punt - who dares to pick Nebraska to beat Michigan today. Why, Punt? Did Scotty Frost get to you too?
MICHIGAN 22 – NEBRASKA 16
[Bonus pick: Tigers 3, Giants 2 – Valverde gets the save].