Our title match is set.
No. 2 seed Nebraska 1997 settled (well, not really) its long-running debate with No. 3 Michigan 1997 in the Big Ten Champions Tournament, winning 96 percent (!) of your vote. (Was there ballot-box stuffing, or what?)
People have been taking sides on that split national championship for 15 years, so there was no surprise that passions ran high. Here are some of your comments:
Matt from North Platte, NE: I look at the FINAL rankings of the opponents to make my argument as to why Nebraska was the better team in 1997. By the end of the season, Nebraska had defeated five teams that finished ranked in the final top-25 (Tennessee, Kansas State, Washington, Texas A&M, and Missouri, winning by an average margin of 23 points). 4 of 5 of these victories were road games. Michigan only finished the year with 3 victories over teams that finished ranked in the top-25 (Washington State, Ohio State and Penn State, only winning by an average margin of 12 points). 2 of these games were road games.Not only did Nebraska have more big wins, but they handled all but one of them on the road and did it with a larger margin of victory than Michigan did in its 3 big games.Nebraska had Baylor down 42-7 at the half before calling off the dogs. It took Michigan the whole game just to score 38. Also, Nebraska had to deal with the altitude and thin air in Boulder while Michigan got to play Colorado at the Big House. One more thing:Nebraska 42, Payton Manning 17Michigan 21, Ryan Leaf 16. Enough said.
McLovn from Honolulu: I agree the Nebraska the offense was better, but the reason NU runs away with this is game is because their defense was better too. Look at 4th quarter scoring, NU gave up 82 points. Thats double their next highest qtr 41. They were so far ahead all season that backups were giving up points late. In January when this game would have been played, the Orange Bowl Huskers were superior to the Rose Bowl Wolverines
Joshua from Omaha, Neb.: I like to think of this as an equation. Although Nebraska's defense wasn't as good as Michigan's, Nebraska still had a Top 25 defense in coalition with the best offense (especially offensive line) in the country. Michigan's offense was not Top 25, although their defense was the best in the country.So, Nebraska = great offense/above average defense, against Michigan = average offense/great defense. Stats aside, never disregard intangibles. Tom Osborne was coaching his last game ever as a Husker, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a group of coaches or players that didn't love their coach more or want to play as hard as possible for their coach. I doubt Michigan wouldn't have been motivated to win, but you could tell in the second half of the Nebraska/Tennessee game that Nebraska took their game to another level and thoroughly dominated a physically talented Tennessee team. Never underestimate the team with something greater to play for.
Dan B. from Lowden, Iowa: You didn't mention that in Nebraska's blowout of Tennessee, that they (UT) were being quarterbacked by the (someday) Hall of Fame shoe in, P.Manning. They owned him that night, just ask him. Nebraska's '97 defense wasn't to the caliber of the '94 & '95 teams, but they were solid. Go into the radio archives and listen to WGN Sports radio the day (or two) after the game (Chicgao's a B1G Ten/Notre Dame town) and listen to Tom Waddles comments about the game and the beef that Micigan fans had with splitting the title? If they'd have played head to head? NU would taken home both titles. Last thing. Nebraska went 60-3 in five years, won 3 National Titles, missed a 4th by a field goal. Consider what you want for modern era's, but that was an amazing run. GBR!
Chris from Charlotte, N.C.: Brian-1997 was my senior at Michigan - I got to go to every home game and saw this team in person. Michigan wins this on defense and a special player who had a special year. Charles Woodson lived up to the hype almost every game - the punt return against Ohio was one of the most thrilling moments I have ever witnessed. Our schedule was the toughest in the nation and other than the three games mentioned we blew everyone out. Let our defense (rated number 1 against the run) stack the box and make the Huskers throw on Woodson & Co. -- we win easily. I actually think the Florida State team that year would of beat both of us -- thank you Florida!
Jim from Cypress, Texas: NU would win. Their offense was far better, and their defense was almost as good as Michigan's. Why? Go back and study the games. The combo of NU offense and defense put the game out of reach and their third-string guys on the field by mid 3-Q in most games -- that's when opponents got most of their yards and points. Michigan's first-string defense had to stay on the field almost to the end almost evetry game, which made their stats better.
Joe T. from Plano, Texas: I bleed scarlet and cream. But...Based only on the bowl game results I thought Nebraska would have handled Michigan. That was a pretty weak Washington State team Michigan was lucky to beat (a dropped touchdown pass made the difference if I remember correctly), while Nebraska manhandled a Tennessee team that would win the national championship the next season.I think it also would have depended on when the game would have been played. Right after the regular season? Maybe anyone's game but we also run into Nebraska having won a conference championship game (pretty handily against a decent A & M team) while Michigan did not. Play each other in the bowl game? Might have been closer than if they played the week after their respective bowls, but the X factor is Tom Osborne's retirment. I truly believe with the cast of character's Nebraska had, there was absolutely now way they would have lost that man's last game coaching. Anyway you slice it, Nebraska would have won. Better offense and a defense that wasn't too bad either!
Patrick I. from Watervliet, Mich.: There are 2 reasons we are even having this discussion. If there was instant replay in 97 the game against Missouri would be a loss. If Phil Fulmer does not vote Michigan #4 in the coaches poll, because he's ticked that Woodson won the Heisman over his boy Manning, and votes them #1 or #2 like everybody else, Michigan gets all 4 trophies instead of only 3.
Derek S. from Waukesha, Wis.: The '97 Michigan team obviously featured a defense that decided games with relentless pressure and takeaways. But what people don't remember is the talent that squad had offensively and specifically how they gelled as the season progressed. The mammoth o-line was led by three future NFL stars in Jon Jansen, Steve Hutchinson and Jeff Backus, not to mention three tight ends who would play 5 plus seasons in the NFL: Jerame Tuman, Mark Campbell, and Aaron Shea. The 3 headed running back tandem of Chris Howard, Clarence Williams, and a blossoming Anthony Thomas could catch the ball out of the backfield and eat first downs and clock with the best of them. Tai Streets and Russell Shaw were clutch possession receivers that had just enough "stretch the field" speed to keep defenses honest. Lastly, Brian Griese's leadership and decision making that season were almost infallible. When that team needed him most, he got it done, plain and simple. Nebraska was a monster in '97, but give me the Wolverines with Lloyd Carr and Jim Hermann in a head to head brawl.
Jason L. from Kansas City, Mo.: I believe the 97 Huskers were a better team than the 97 Wolverines were. I agree with you that the Huskers had the better offense but to say Michigan had a better defense is debatable. The Blackshirts lead by Grant Wistrom had a great defense too. Nebraska shut down Peyton Manning's #3 ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the Orange Bowl and won 42-17 while Michigan survived in the Rose Bowl against Ryan Leifs #8 ranked Washington St team winning 21-16. The game ended with Washington State running out of time at Michigan's 16 yard line. While Tennessee went on to win the National Championship the following year without Peyton Manning, Washington State went 3-8 without Ryan Leif. So, Nebraska not only won more their bowl game more decisively, they clearly beat a better team.
Craig H. from Omaha, Neb.: I believe this game would've been settled by Nebraska's defense vrs Michigan's offense. On a neutral site, I'd have to go with Nebraska. The fun part of this whole debate is that I believe Nebraska and Michigan will become natural rivals and with NU in the Big Ten now, we have many great games to look forward to over time.
Matt from St. Louis: Michigan was the best team in the nation in '97. They played and conquered the nation's toughest schedule and won all of their games in regulation. The November game against #2 Penn State in Happy Valley was as dominant a performance as I have ever seen in a football game. College football hasn't seen a player of Charles Woodson's talent since. Then again, I am blinded by my maize and blue fan goggles.
So the showdown for the trophy is set: No. 1 seed Ohio State 2002 vs. No. 2 seed Nebraska 1997. Look for that matchup on the blog next week.