There won't be any secrets or surprises when Michigan and Nebraska meet in this afternoon's Simple Bowl, for these teams are just what they appear to be. There is nothing hidden in the Wolverines' top-ranked defense and there is certainly nothing complicated about the Cornhuskers' second-ranked offense.
With Nebraska's Tom Osborne and Michigan's Bo Schembechler overseeing the 15th Fiesta Bowl here at 1:30 p.m. EST, these teams could go on slugging each other till summer. So gather the canned goods and prepare for an epic.
Michigan and Nebraska have not met for 23 years, but Schembechler and Osborne met at a convention about two years ago and it seems they traded some state secrets. What, that Nebraska runs, that Michigan tackles?
"We did that a couple of years ago at a coaches convention," Osborne said. "It may play a factor in this game. I don't know. But I think they know what we'll try to do, just like we know what they'll try to do. There's not much you can change at this point."
About the only thing that might change is the rankings. The Wolverines at 9-1-1 are fifth in the country, the Cornhuskers (9-2) are seventh. They will be jockeying for what will probably be the last spot left in the top five after all the New Year's Day games are played.
Despite the rankings, Nebraska might have the edge simply on recent history. The Cornhuskers are making an almost criminal 17th straight postseason appearance, the nation's longest active streak. They are 13-10 overall in bowl games, 7-5 under Osborne.
The Cornhuskers are on the rebound from their season-ending loss to Oklahoma, and the final score was not impressive. The Sooners won 27-7 to clinch the Orange Bowl and cost Nebraska a shot at the national championship. But the Cornhuskers have come back from losses to Oklahoma to win six of eight postseason games.
"We're very anxious to show we're a much better team than what we showed at Oklahoma," Osborne said.
Michigan's record in bowls would seem to make the Wolverines distinct underdogs. They are 6-10 in bowls, 2-10 under Schembechler.
"All we've got to prove is that we can win a bowl game this century," Schembechler said.
Only the names have changed at Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers still run around wildly out of the option. That they are averaging 36.1 points a game is particularly noteworthy considering they do it almost exclusively on the ground with the No. 1 rushing output in the country. The backfield led by Doug DuBose averages 374.3 yards, compared to 98.1 passing.
Nebraska got bad news in practice Sunday when DuBose (1,161 yards) reinjured his left shoulder, which has been sore. It is not separated and Osborne said he will play, but he will not be at full strength and Keith Jones (38 carries, 240 yards) could replace him.
With so much made of Michigan's defense, little has been heard of Nebraska's, but it has allowed just 12.3 points and given up only 279 yards per game.
The talk of Michigan is deserved, however. It's hard to call a defensive team interesting, but in Michigan's case, that's so. It may be accident, intangibles or chemistry, but this kind of defense simply doesn't come along very often and even Schembechler is obviously admiring when he discusses it. The Wolverines have transformed it into a thing of beauty and a statistical dream, holding teams to just 6.8 points, best in the country. Only five touchdowns have been scored against them in 11 games.
"Our defense has played extremely well right from the beginning," Schembechler said. "It's a smart defense, it adjusts well."
Like Nebraska's defense, Michigan's offense has gotten lost in the shuffle and that isn't fair. Jim Harbaugh, the son of former defensive coordinator Jack Harbaugh, led the nation in passing efficiency while throwing for 186.6 yards a game. Jamie Morris, Gerald White et al. ran for 215 yards per game.