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Posted on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 8 a.m.

Michigan, Nebraska will rekindle rivalry when Cornhuskers join Big Ten

By Dave Birkett


Michigan quarterback Chad Henne breaks free from Nebraska's Corey McKeon to score a fourth quarter touchdown putting the Wolverines up 28-17 over the Cornhuskers. Unfortunately for Michigan it would be their last score of the game as they wound up giving up two late touchdowns to lose to Nebraska 32-28 in an Alamo Bowl clash between the two teams in San Antonio.

Ann Arbor News file photo

When Nebraska joined the Big Ten last week, NFL Network host Rich Eisen, an unabashed Michigan alum, tweeted, “Can Nebraska's price of admission in Big 10 please include giving Michigan back half of its national championship from 1997?”

An odd fit in some ways, the Cornhuskers enter their new league with the potential for several natural rivalries already in place.

Nebraska and Iowa are next-door neighbors. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez played for Nebraska. And Michigan and Penn State disputed national championships with the Cornhuskers in the mid-1990s.

In 1997, Michigan and Nebraska shared the title, with Michigan taking the Associated Press vote after beating Washington State in the Rose Bowl, and Nebraska topping the USA Today/ESPN poll following Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne’s last game.

Three years earlier, Penn State and Nebraska both went undefeated, but Nebraska finished first in both polls.

“Hey, Coach, we didn’t get to share the championship in 1994,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said to Osborne, now Nebraska’s athletic director, on a conference call last week. “Penn State was two, and you were one. I’m still a little bit upset about that.”

Thirteen years ago, Delany had company.

After Nebraska bumped Michigan from the No. 1 spot in the coaches poll following an Orange Bowl romp of Tennessee, Osborne recalled getting “a few e-mails, things like that,” from irate fans.

He said he never felt any animosity towards either the Michigan or Penn State programs - “I was a real good friend of Bo Schembechler, and I know Lloyd Carr quite well, and of course I’m a real good friend of Joe Paterno’s,” he said. Former Wolverine tight end Mark Campbell, who played on the ’97 team, said that feeling was mutual.

“By no means did it really bother us because we did everything we could do,” said Campbell, now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. “We won every game we played in and the press poll came out first so we already knew that we were national champions. Nobody could take that away from us, and I’m sure Nebraska feels the same way. I don’t want to say it necessarily bothered us. Would it have been a little nicer? Yeah, absolutely.”

Osborne recalled watching Michigan’s Rose Bowl win with his team the night before Nebraska played Tennessee.

“I told the team afterwards, I said, ‘You know, this makes it harder, but there’s still a crack,’” Osborne said. “’The door’s still got a crack, but we’re not going to be able to just go out and barely win. We’re going to have to go out and really play lights out.’ And they did that.”

For Campbell, the memories of Nebraska’s ’97 season are different but just as keen. He remembers the Cornhuskers’ kicked-ball touchdown to stave off an upset against Missouri, and he remembers Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost lobbying voters to rank his team No. 1 after its bowl game.

“I remember him pleading the case for how they deserved it,” Campbell said. “He brought up Coach Osborne on multiple occasions, talking about how he deserves the national championship. Now who’s to say if we played who would have won that game, who knows? They were a great football team, too.

“But to me, we were ranked No. 1 in both polls going into the last week and we win, and then it comes out after the season (and for one poll to change) just doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Campbell and Frost played one NFL season together in Cleveland, and Campbell said he brought up Frost’s lobbying efforts in the locker room one day.

“I remember talking to him like, ‘Man, that was weak,’ and he was laughing it up,” Campbell said. “He knew exactly what he was doing, and if I was in his shoes I would have done the same thing,”

Nebraska and Michigan have played once since 1997, five years ago in the Alamo Bowl in a game most Wolverine fans would rather forget. Nebraska overcame a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 32-28 win, and Michigan's lateral-filled final play came to a halt at the 13-yard line with extra Cornhuskers on the field.

Still, Campbell said he's "excited" about Nebraska joining the Big Ten and rekindling a rivalry.

“I’ve told a lot of people this, it’s good to have another power school in the conference," he said. "In most cases, when people talk about the Big Ten, the Big Ten’s kind of down right now. It’s essentially Ohio State, and Penn State’s kind of in the mix and Wisconsin was in the mix a year ago. But with Michigan struggling the conference is losing some star power, so it’s great that Nebraska’s coming in because they can deliver it back.”

Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.



Sat, Jun 19, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

Wolverine73 that's quite an interesting view you have however, I'm glad I don't wake up looking through your eyeballs. I always wake up with an optimistic view it makes my day enjoyable and my optimistic view for you Wolverine73 is this, with or without RR our Wolves will be back it's the nature of the, Michigan Wolverines. Also, if it takes years for the Wolves to get back so be it I'll still love em, watch em, brag about them and my hot dogs and suds will taste just as good.


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 8:51 p.m.

portage lake blue Great response to my post and I agree with what you say. Tradition is important. We all should be proud to be UM alumni. I'm just tired of being a doormat for MSU.


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 7:24 p.m.

What rivalry?? What feud?? Michigan has beaten Nebraska once in the last 40 years. Nebraska entering the Big 10 will just give Michigan one more team they can't beat. One more step down the glamour ladder, one step closer to being totally irrelevant. Let's hope that the conference alignment ends up with Nebraska in the Big 10 West and Michigan in the Big 10 East so we can avoid them. Any vintage Nebraska defense would stuff, steamroll, and crush the current inept Michigan team if we meet them after the first few games when the injuries start adding up to our under-sized, confused players. We dug ourselves a hole we will not get out of when we choose Rodriquez - it will be YEARS before Michigan is back, if ever.

Blue Marker

Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 7:48 a.m.

Scott, Thanks for the link. I had forgotten about that. What happened to PSU was a crime! That was an excellent team that deserved a share of the championship. Kerry Collins was a man amongst boys that year. The irony you pointed out about Colorado is great. Not only was it vs. Mizzu but it was the same end zone!


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 6:18 a.m.

aarox,your absolutely right about living in the past vs, "what have you done for me lately". I can get into that ideology at least with this current team however, part of the allure of any sport is tradition and whether you or I like it or not tradition sells tickets so the past or shall we say tradition will always be an important part of the college atmosphere say for instance Michigan vs Ohio State or Texas vs Okalahoma, USC vs Notre Dame just a few to say the least. Of course we're in Nebraska's league why wouldn't we be in fact we should be up one more game on them than we are. The reason the powers that be are trying to already push some rivalries with Nebraska is that as I said, "it sells tickets". Let me give you a for instance. If Mich. plays say USC in a Rose Bowl game and it's a back and forth game and butt kicking affair and say Mich. wins that's the end of the game for now but if next year Mich. and USC go back to the Rose Bowl trust me when I say that the TV networks are going to hype up last years game and what a great game it was although that game last year could have gone either way except for some questionable calls.arrox, I understand your point but tradition is a big part of this game always has been always will be. One other point about tradition, coaches use tradition to recruit and the pro's think twice when it comes to drafting say a running back from USC vs Boise State. In sports the past is with us whether we like it or not.


Fri, Jun 18, 2010 : 1:46 a.m.

Of course, Husker fans would be quick to point out that Michigan had a very average, if servicable offense with a great defense, but that Nebraska had a great offense and a great defense. category Mich Nebraska Total offense 44th 1st Scoring offense 44th 1st Total defense 1st 5th Scoring defense 1st 12th Rushing offense 28th 1st Rushing defense 7th 3rd Passing offense 63rd 107th Passing defense 1st 32nd Opponents ranked in top ten final AP poll 1 2 Opp ranked in top 25 in final AP poll 3 5 Ave margin of victory vs. ranked opponents 9 pt 27 pt


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 7:15 p.m.

I'm reading through this long and twisted thicket of opinion. My takeaway is that the overall theme is trying to justify to ourselves that we are in Nebraska's league. I don't like to live in the past. I care 30000 times more whether we can beat Toledo this year than whether we beat Nebraska before I was born. I understand the folks that think that because we used to be good, that we ARE good, but my attention span is too short and I am too young to wear my UM hat based on what happened 40 years ago. Sorry, YMMV.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 5:59 p.m.

I never thought that 1997 team was that great darn good but not great and the game itself was frustrating to anyone that thought Michigan had a great team. You'd be fibbing if you denied that during that whole game you kept expecting at anytime for Michigan to steam roll over Washington State and boys and girls it never happened. Nebraska wasn't a great team that year in fact I thought compared to by gone years that Nebraska team was good at best. I've been going to Michigan games since 1955 and I don't really remember an awesome, great Michigan team. I was at that 1981 Rose Bowl game Michigan vs Washington and that Michigan team was darn good. That Nebraska team that beat Florida for the championship a few years ago was in my opinion pretty close to being great if not great. That Nebraska team with Johnny Rodgers was not to shabby either. I look forward to seeing Michigan play Nebraska in Michigan stadium. I think the big ten is going to get real interesting real fast.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 5:42 p.m.

Ranking = betting anyone been to Vegas lately?


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 2:16 p.m.

Agreed. Of course in football rankings are a nessasary thing with so many teams, so there's bound to be issues whatever happens. To me I just feel like they are made up numbers, so teams shouldn't be helped/not helped by them. It leads to college speak like "They beat the #2 team at that time." So what does that matter if the team was #2 at a certain point? If they end up being a bad team, they are a bad team (of course there are exceptions as in a D/Offenseive star being injured etc). I mean the fact teams are ranked before they even play a game boggles my mind. If you're gunna rank them at all, go off the final rankings from the year before.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 2:03 p.m.

Lots of valid arguments either way on the polls. Still glad they aren't the only deciding factor anymore. I suspect we had too many sportswriters with rooting interests and coaches not voting their own ballots (obviously this has been proven before) to make it the objective thing it was meant to be. Like so many things, we learn and improve over time. I think that's one reason it's only the football polls that ever bugged me, though now it's easy to ignore them since we have some chance of a true championship game (though obviously not always; Nebraska should never have been in the 2001 game). The basketball polls hold little value since we have a true playoff in that sport. Sure makes being a fan (not that this EVER affects me as a Nebraska fan) a little easier throughout the season.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 1:57 p.m.

"...I don't think it's obvious at all that it was a blown call. Even on slowed-down replay, it's tough to see if the ball ever hit the ground." The issue wasn't whether it hit the ground, it was if the player kicked the ball up in the air on purpose. I think he probably meant to, but I'm fine with the non call. Things happen like that all the time in sports....of course I'm not a Mizzou fan! Personally I'm not a fan of the idea that a team shouldn't drop in ranking after winning a game, it feeds into the whole obsession with rankings. If team A plays Kent State one week and wins by 1 point in OT, and Team B is one place behind them in the polls and plays the #1 ranked team and destroys them, I couldn't say that Team A should still be ahead of Team B.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 1:28 p.m.

I have to add a bit more my above comment. When Colorado won the split title in 1990, it need a 5th down, no kidding, to beat, of all teams, Missouri. Now, as a football official, you'd think keeping track of the downs would be a pretty simple job. Guess it wasn't so much so for that game. And as for the Missouri game Nebraska won in OT, I don't think it's obvious at all that it was a blown call. Even on slowed-down replay, it's tough to see if the ball ever hit the ground. Certainly was a tougher call than the 5th down. :) Michigan jumped from 4th all the way to 1st after that Nebraska-Missouri game by manhandling Penn State on its own field 34-8. I believe we were the two best teams in the country that year, for sure. Just wish we could've played it out on the field. Last, I will always be against teams dropping in a ranking after a win, especially one in conference and on the road. Those games are never as easy as they appear on paper sometimes. Now, had my Huskers struggled mightily and had to go to OT to beat Bemidji State, I would've had to admit we weren't deserving that week, but a win is a win is a win (as any coach will say) and again, I sure wish we could've settled it the way it should always be, in an actual game and not in a poll.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 1:14 p.m.

Blue Marker, great question on proof. Took me a bit, but I found a few sources. One ( is the regular weekly poll from the AP (I didn't search for coaches) and the other link ( is from Wikipedia, describing that, indeed, the week Michigan jumped NU in the polls was after NU beat Mizzou in OT. For the record, I'm an NU fan, but fairly objective. There were years other teams didn't even get a share of the National Championship (Penn State at least a few times) and I always thought that was awful. So in the old system, when there were two left standing undefeated at the end, I thought it was great that each team got a share since we didn't have the BCS or a playoff. In both 1990 & 1991, two teams shared the NC. In 1990, it was Colorado and Georgia Tech, neither of whom were undefeated. In 1991, however, both Miami and Washington were undefeated and split the NC. The one thing the BCS has going for it is that, in its current setup, the 1991 title game could've been between Miami & Washington (assuming there wasn't another undefeated team in there prior to the bowl game; I didn't check). So yeah, BCS is better than what we had. I'd still like to see a playoff sometime in the future, but I'll take this over the old split NC concept 7 days of the week!


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 1:07 p.m.

Michigan barely beat the 8th ranked team and Nebraska destroyed the #3 me that's more impressive on Nebraska's end, but a split championship is a fair call.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 1:03 p.m.

The BCS allows the #1 & #2 team to play each other, which did not happen before, therefore I like it; understand? Also, that isn't my quote, although I agreed with it. "You cant spell BS without BCS" Well you were close!

Blue Marker

Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 1 p.m.

Scott, we'll have to rely on your memory since you didn't provide a link to support your point. However, don't you think everyone in the world seeing the blown call against Mizzu had something to do with Nebraska getting jumped in the polls? If that call is made correctly Nebraska loses and they're out of the conversation. NEXT!


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 12:57 p.m.

@Lokalisierung "I hate the BCS but it's better than what we had, because winning the title based on the opinion of writers and coaches always drove me crazy" What do you think the BCS is? Is a combo of the polls and a computer poll for chrissakes. #1 plays #2 -- based on POLLS! I think the AP asked to be removed but the coaches poll is a JOKE! How many games do u think coaches watch on a Saturday besides their own? ZERO! How could they? They watch highlights on Sunday -- your average fan watches more games than ANY coach could watch and has a better grasp on who is better. The coaches watch highlights and in some cases, have others vote for them! You cant spell BS without BCS


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 12:45 p.m.

"I hate the BCS but it's better than what we had, because winning the title based on the opinion of writers and coaches always drove me crazy" Couldn't agree more (although I like the BCS). Writers or coaches picking a champion is beyond rediculus. It's worse than boxing with all the differnet 1973 I'm seeing there were 5 national champs...crazy (even crazyier is Bo was one of them).


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 12:33 p.m.

I find the comments about the ending poll in '97 amusing. Any Michigan fans recall NU was ahead of you in the polls during the season and was jumped by you even though THEY hadn't lost? Sorry, but you have no reason to complain about it happening at the end of the year when it never should've happened to begin with. Or, more accurately, polls should've never been able to decide. I hate the BCS but it's better than what we had, because winning the title based on the opinion of writers and coaches always drove me crazy. Decide it on the field, right? Back then, it could've happened.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

Michigan already has 3 rivals -- state, ND and OSU...not to mention intense games with PSU, Wiscy A true rivalry involves more than just the game -- it involves the students/fans getting involved with competitions as well. Of course we want to win every game; -- but every game does not have to have "rivalry" game status.... If Nebraska wants to fit in with the Big 10, they should focus on Iowa, Wiscy or Minnesota for "rivalry" games. With those schools, they can have blood drive competitions with the students, a flag football game between the school paper's staff, a marching band-off -- anything that makes that Saturday bigger than the actual game itself....


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 11:50 a.m.

By the way, I have that 86 Fiesta bowl on video tape. It is a great game, the defense was great to watch. DEFENSE wins ball games.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 11:48 a.m.

I agree with lumberg, there is no rivalry here. In 97 four groups awarded national championship trophies and Michigan was awarded three of them. It was widely reported that Neb got the coaches award only because Osborne was retiring as coach. I am not in favor of this expansion. Always thought its a problem that as is, not all the teams play each other, so two outstanding teams can go undefeated. Is this going to end that? I prefer all teams in the conference play all teams in the conference. In re to quality the Big 10 could have done much better than Nebraska.

David Briegel

Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

Inside, two years later they were 6" from a Nat'l title on Timberlakes 2 point conversion failure. They went on to win the Rose Bowl. '97 was an incredible team that would have found a way to beat any and all comers! I saw all their games, Woodson made as great an interception as any in history at MSU, PSU was trounced, OSU was handled and Wash St ran out of time.

Blue Marker

Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 11:03 a.m.

@ Kevin James...let's remember that UN needed a blown call vs. Mizzu to even be in the conversation. But by all means spew your nonsense anyway! By the way, do you remember what Michigan did to PSU in '97? They went into Happy Valley and destroyed the Lions! Not bad for the 5th best team in the land (according to you). 1997 National Champions = Michigan 1997 Heisman Trophy = Woodson


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 10:46 a.m.

David B. - That 62 M club was not a vintage team finishing the year with a 2-7 record. If I recall M was shut out three straight games in October and mustered only 7 points the entire month. Definitely the worst of the "lost years era".


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 10:27 a.m.

Sorry - but this is not a rivalry! You can call this a fued, maybe, but to call it a rivalry is not the case! The teams have played several times in 20 years - the last time when both were medicore and the animose is based on voting by COACHES who delegated Nebraska over U-M in the poll more than 13 years ago! How is this a rivalry and why would anyone be mad at Nebraska for winning its games?


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 9:54 a.m.

Mumbambu: I also think after watching that last play a number of times, that Ecker was kind of running soft near the end of the play and definitely had a chance to run it in the endzone. It looks like if he had put the brakes on a little and cut toward the center of the field, he could have dodged those two defenders. But, he may have been worn out after running all over the field on that last wild play, or just didn't see those guys coming, who knows?! What a crazy finish that would have been if he had scorred!


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 9:51 a.m.

Esq. It would not have made a difference if Tyler had scored. Penalty flags littered the field and M was going to be penalized for to many men on the field.

David Briegel

Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 9:49 a.m.

Don't forget how they won in 1962 at the Big House! Thunder Thornton!

Mumbambu, Esq.

Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 9:42 a.m.

I'm still mad at Tyler Ecker after that last play!

Kevin James

Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 9:41 a.m.

Too bad the 97 teams hadn't met because Nebraska would have put this nonsense to bed by hanging half a hundred on the fifth best team in the country and won the title outright. Yeah, Florida State, North Carolina and UCLA were all better that year. Of course, Penn State getting shafted a few years before will remain controversial given they had the best offense of all time not to mention having played the toughest schedule any undefeated team has ever played and maybe the toughest ever period.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 9:32 a.m.

That Alamo Bowl was Bill Callahan's most successful team at Nebraska, going 9-4. They went right back down again the very next defense. Yeah, like most on here, I'm not a big Nebraska backer because of '97, but I know they are an outstanding program who is back near the top (#7 preseason) and will only make the conference stronger.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 8:54 a.m.

For me, Nebraska is a huge rival. Ever since 1997 I have hated few teams more than Nebraska and Tennessee. I can't wait to be able to take out our collective frustration with them on a yearly basis.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

Birkett funny how he stresses the negative. For the benefit for all those who are positive we will recall the 1986 Fiesta Bowl where Meeeeeechigan overcame a 14-3 halfime defecit and rallied for a 27-23 win over Nebraska. The 24 point third quarter ranks as one of the best quarters in M football history.Nebraska outgained M by about 150 yards but was plagued by turnovers forced by the opportunistic M defenders. Jamie Morris ran for over 150 yards. Michigan ended up ranked #2 in the country behind #1 Oklahoma.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

I'm not sure it is beneficial for us for the B-10 to add top shelf teams to conference considering the condition of our team.


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

The article fails to mention the best game in this series and one of Michigan's most exciting bowl wins ever - the 1986 Fiesta Bowl where we beat Nebraska 27-23. Michigan was getting their butts kicked in the first half, getting behind 14-3 at halftime. But Bo must have done one of his best half-time speeches ever, because the team came out and roared to a 27-14 lead behind QB Jim Harbaugh and RB Jamie Morris. But, Nebraska came back after that, scoring another TD. After Michigan gave up an intentional safety, the game ended shortly thereafter when Nebraska was picked off in the end zone in the final minute. If you ever get a chance to watch a replay of this game, don't miss it!


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 7:45 a.m. Will you all link to this type of story on RR, or does it not fit the profile of mean, shady, coach?