Michigan (7-4) vs. Nebraska (7-4)
Alamo Dome, San Antonio, Texas
Line: Michigan -11
Doug: Nebraska +11
As I stare at the two teams in this game, it's almost stunning to see Michigan and Nebraska in the freaking Alamo Bowl.
Michigan. Hail to the Victors. Bo Schembechler. Winningest college football program of all time. The Helmets. The Big House.
The Alamo Bowl?
Nebraska. Tom Osborne. Tommy Frazier. The triple option. Fourth winningest college fooball program of all time. The great offensive linemen. The Blackshirts. The Sea of Red (ND fans remember it well.)
The Alamo Bowl?
Wow. It just doesn't feel right to see a Michigan-Nebraska game before January 1.
Lots to discuss:
After visiting Lincoln, Nebraska in the fall of 2001 for the ND-Nebraska game, I have developed a tremendous amount of respect for the Nebraska program and their fans. Maybe the nicest fans in college football. They have a lot of appreciation for the history of the game and its traditions, and were very respectful of ND and our fans (even though we were pitiful at the time). You'll never hear a bad word out of me about Nebraska football after that experience (which was one of the best trips I've ever been on and probably ever will go on).
I can't confirm this, but I would bet that it is killing Nebraska fans to see how far their program has fallen in recent years. I'd have to imagine that there is a lot of concern about the direction that Bill Callahan has that program headed. On paper, they improved this year. However, when you take a closer look, there are some major problems with this team. Nebraska has struggled to score points, rank nearly dead last inthe nation in run offense, and have performed poorly on the road for two straight years.
Most importantly, Nebraska has lost its identity. The trademark smashmouth offense/physical intense defenses of the Tom Osborne era have been replaced by a West Coast offense that has turned Nebraska into a soft, inconsistent also-ran.
Maybe year three will be the year that Callahan puts it together. Maybe Callahan really does just need to "get his own players." (Where have we heard that before? There are some eerie similarities between the Callahan era at Nebraska and the Willingham era at Notre Dame.) Maybe this game will be the game that springs Nebraska football back to prominence for the next decade.
I'm just not convinced.
Michigan also seems to be at somewhat of a crossroads. For all that he has accomplished at Michigan, Lloyd Carr has fallen into a steady routine of losing to ND and Ohio State over the last five years. It also hasn't helped that he's lost three out of his last four bowl games. I doubt that Lloyd is in any serious jeopardy of losing his job, but I imagine things are little uneasy in Ann Arbor these days.
As they always do, Michigan has talent. Mario Manningham will be a stud at Michigan, Avant is solid, they still have some very good offensive linemen, and the RBs are talented. Still, for all the hype about the talent at Michigan, I'm not sure if I'm sold on a couple of these guys.
Chad Henne--Perhaps the most overrated QB in the country this year (if not the last five years). Henne has been receiving praise for two years now, but I'll be the first to admit that I am not impressed by the guy at all. Not a very accurate passer, hasn't played well in big games, seems to have a knack for throwing a killer interception. He's only a sophomore, so there's time to improve, but I'd like to see this guy lead his team to victory in a big game one time before we start talking about him as a great quarterback.
Steve Breaston--Another all-world talent who really hasn't developed at all as a wide receiver. I think he's a decent kick returner, but Breaston was being talked about as the next Rocket Ismail when he first showed up at Michigan. He hasn't developed into the playmaker that they were expecting.
Michigan's defense has also been up and down all year. At times they've looked great, but teams have moved the ball on them when they needed to.
All in all, Michigan just hasn't been a great team this year. You could make the case that they are only a few plays from a big season, but those close losses might be more indicative of inconsistent play and questionable leadership than bad luck.
I'm really looking forward to this game, and expect a Michigan victory. However, I'm not sure what to make of this line. I just have a hard time taking this year's version of Michigan at - 11 points in this game. They haven't shown me enough this year to lend me to believe that they can blow out a team like Nebraska. Nebraska is a very mediocre team this year, but their defense has been solid. I see no reason to think that Michigan won't let Nebraska hang around in this game before pulling it out in the end.
Michigan wins, but Nebraska covers the points.
Michigan 23 Nebraska 14
Matt: Nebraska +11
My colleague Doug provided an excellent analysis of this matchup and all I can do is echo some of his thoughts. It is odd, but also hilarious, to see Michigan and Lloyd playing on December 28th. Of course, last year the Irish were playing about the same time of year, but now that Charlie is here I'm feeling confident that the Irish will have a permanent date on New Year's Day for years to come.
Michigan had an up and down year, but if you look at the teams I think the advantage in talent has to go to Michigan. They have a balanced offense (165 rushing ypg; 218 passing ypg), whereas Nebraska has a pass first - pass often offense (91 rushing ypg; 229 passing ypg). So basically, Nebraska passes for 10 more yards a game than Michigan but can't run the ball (110th ranking) whereas Michigan can mix in a running game. Hmmm....
Flip around to the defensive side of the ball and things look pretty similar. Both teams have decent defenses (Nebraska 24th - 326 ypg; Michigan 42nd -348 ypg.) Michigan's pass defense is good enough to slow down an average qb in Zac Taylor, although he is coming off two big games and Michigan's secondary is coming off a shaky second half against the Ohio State. Both teams have given up big days to an opponent's offense (Michigan St and OSU; Kansas, Tx Tech and an unfathomable 523 yards to Missouri), so I expect a mini-shootout to develop in this one. I like Michigan to win, but they are not going to cover.
Michigan 27 Nebraska 24