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'97 National Championship - A Gift to Osborne or a Gift to Michigan?

The 1997 National Championship was split between Michigan and Nebraska after the teams went 12-0 and 13-0 respectively. I bring it up because it still irks me the way the split was handled.

The two teams were very close in terms of their schedules and their records. Homerism aside - both deserved the title and since they couldn't settle it on the field a split was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it was portrayed by the sports media that the coaches awarded Osborne a 'gift' of a title since it was his final season.

Osborne had announced his retirement on December 10th, 1997. Coming into the final game of the season, Michigan held the number one position in both the coaches poll and the AP (writers) poll.

Michigan had moved to the number one spot on a weekend in which they thrashed number two-ranked Penn State 34-8 while Nebraska had won in overtime 45-38 over Missouri. (The Missouri game featured Matt Davison's flying touchdown catch on the final play of regulation after a Scott Frost pass was deflected up into the air by a fellow Husker receiver  - certainly a case of divine intervention yet I never see the argument that the title was a gift from God.)

As season’s end approached Nebraska beat Texas A&M 54-15 in the Big 12 Title game and in the last game of Osborne’s career destroyed number three-ranked Tennessee, 42-17, in the Orange Bowl.

Michigan ended their season hanging on to beat a Washington State squad in the Rose Bowl, 21-16. Washington State got the ball back at their own seven yard line with 29 seconds left. They drove to the nine yard line with two seconds left when officials ruled that time had run off the clock, thus ending the game. Had Michigan beaten the Cougars more soundly things might have been different.  

  • So what irks me so much about it?* The argument can be taken both ways.

If the '97 National Title was a gift to Osborne from the coaches, couldn’t one take the position that Michigan's title was given to them by the sports media since they hadn't won a title since 1948? Nebraska won titles in 1994, 1995 and was on a 60-3 run over five years - no doubt the writers were getting fed up with Nebraska's dominance and desired some new story lines (as well as an excuse to sell loads of National Championship paraphernalia to starving Michigan fans).

Perhaps the writers had revenge in mind Nebraska - payback for the ‘94 season title when they were voted number one in both polls while Penn State had also gone undefeated - something that Penn State fans haven’t forgotten after all these years.

The ‘97 National Title to Osborne as a gift from his fellow coaches? No. He got it the old-fashioned way. He earned it.