"It is a little depressing coming here. People in Michigan don't even know there is a Gator Bowl." -- Ron Simpkins, Michigan All-America
Hear ye, hear ye, the Punishment Bowl is at hand: Michigan versus North Carolina. Public flogging begins at 9 p.m. Friday.
What do you do with two college football teams that deserve to stand at the blackboard and write, "We have been bad boys" a thousand times?
Make them play each other in the Gator Bowl.
It isn't often that tickets are priced at $12 each to see the third-place team in the Big Ten play the fifth-place team from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
However, in many ways, this affair is so horribly bad that it is both fascinating and harmlessly commical.
Michigan, in the Rose Bowl the last three years, is the team that says, over and over, "If we had a kicking game, we'd be undefeated and playing for the national title."
The good people of Ann Arbor, Mich., claim that their Wolverines are the best 8-3 team that ever walked the earth.
And, they add, Coach Bo Schembechler is the best coach to have gone the last 10 seasons without closing a season with a win: 0-9-1, including six consecutive bowl defeats.
The Maize and Blue players think they have much to atone for. They are a shamefaced and angry team from top to toe.
When the Wolverines got off their plane here, they knew they were not in Pasadena. No beauty queens, no Rose parade, no banquets. Just fog, high winds, and one lone bellhop to serve the entire 95-man squad at the Sea Turtle Motel.
This is where they sentence Big Ten Teams that have been bad -- very bad. Ohio State won last Year's trip to Jacksonville.
Schembechler and Co. have been in full Wolverine growl all week. Their goal is a modest victory by about 100-0. In Schembechler's 10 years at Michigan, he has had 10 teams in the top 10. Currently, Michigan is ranked 15th by the Associated Press. A huge win is on the Michigan agenda against a Carolina club that played lowly East Carolina to a draw.
"I've had teams overprepared for bowl games and underprepared," said Schembechler today, in a prickly but humorous mood. "I've lost being favored and I've lost being an underdog.
"This time, because we weren't pleased with our intensity late in the season, we have increased the toughness of our practices this week. In fact, we had three of our most physical practices of the whole year."
It's been no fun here in blustery Jacksonville for Michigan. "I didn't expect to be finishing my career here," said All-America Ron Simpkins."This just isn't the way I planned it."
Schembechler has helped his team take its mind off its surroundings -- with pain.
North Carolina, both unranked and almost unregarded at 7-3-1, has entered this game as a seven-point underdog with nothing to lose -- except perhaps a few chinstraps.
By reputation, Michigan is a near-great team that lost to Notre Dame, Purdue and Ohio State by a total of eight points because Schembechler finally had his perennial neglect of the kicking game catch up with him.
Carolina, by contrast, is seen as a modest team which lucked into a bowl bid in a year when ACC champ North Carolina State was not invited anywhere.
A harsh look at comparative records does not bear out the common conception that Michigan has finally found a bowl game that it cannot possibly lose.
Carolina may have fallen to Wake Forest, Clemson and Maryland, but it also beat Pittsburgh and South Carolina (by four touchdowns). "Frankly," said the candid Schembechler, "we don't have any victories as good as those two."
The Tar Heels really are two teams. When "famous" Amos Lawrence is healthy and gains 100 yards, as he has 16 times in his three 1,000-yard seasons at Carolina, his team is 14-1-1. When the fragile, 180-pound whippet is ailing, as he was almost half of 1979, despite his 1,016 yards, Carolina is ordinary. At the moment, Lawrence is in one piece, at least until Michigan's exceptional defense against the rush grabs him.
If Lawrence survives and ambidextrous Carolina quarterback Matt Kupee finds the Michigan secondary as vulnerable as others have, Schembechler could get the worst of all his postseason experiences.
It is more likely that, despite four solid linebackers and a second-team All-America safety in Ricky Barden (20 tackles against Maryland), Carolina simply is outmanned at scrimmage. The Tar Heels have no creatures like 250-pound All-America defensive tackle Curtis Greer of Michigan.
A measure of how seriously Michigan takes Carolina, and what a disaster in recruiting prestige a loss to the Tar Heels would be, is Schembechler's refusal to name his starting quarterback: runner B. J. Dickey or passer John Wangler. Usually, such ploys are saved for games against Ohio State. j
Carolina Coach Dick Crum has countered by pussyfooting on whether he might bench dancing-master Lawrence and go with two big backs (including 249-pound Billy Johnson) if a prediction of heavy rain proves to be accurate.
In a low scoring grass-field mud-bowl game, the star-crossed name of Michigan kicker Bryan Virgil might arise again. The poor, well-meaning chap -- a walk-on -- has suffered through two blocked punts, a blocked field goal, missed extra point and a high punt snap in plays that directly led to Michigan's three losses.
Seldom has a famous coach come as close to repeatedly blaming a whole season on one player as Schembechler has on Virgil.
Schembechler, who has a 104-18-3 overall record at Michigan, has shown more compassion in another area. He may never have recruited a kicker, but once he recruits a bus driver, he sticks with him.
Barry Schiller of Pasadena, a Michigan fan, has chauffeured the Wolverines to their last three Rose Bowls. He is here in Jacksonville and ready to drive.
Schembechler plans to announce his quarterback and his bus driver just before game time.