Three-and-out with former U-M star Marcus Ray

The 1997 Michigan Wolverines will always be remembered as one of the most dominant teams in college football history. But, often people forget that the Wolverines actually shared the National Title with Nebraska that year.

While Michigan finished the season atop the AP Poll with a perfect 12-0 record and a Rose Bowl win over Washington State, it was the Cornhuskers who also finished that year unbeaten, earning the top spot in the Coaches’ Poll after a win over Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.

[ MORE: Three-and-out with Nebraska great Eric Crouch ]

So, we ask, what would have happened if those two teams had played each other to determine one undisputed National Champion?

We asked our twitter followers to submit their burning Big Ten football questions to former Michigan standout Marcus Ray, and he provided that answer and more in this week’s edition of three-and-out.

Marcus Ray: No. I always want to see these two programs play each other. When you’re talking about football and rivalries, these are two of the winningest programs in college football history. They need to play each other if they possibly can. Michigan has been around for 134 years, they’ve only played Notre Dame 40 or 41 times, so of course this isn’t an annual game. But Notre Dame has a brand they want to protect. Notre Dame has a name, they have a following, they have a great program. It’s not like you’re asking Michigan to schedule a cupcake team. Were talking about Notre Dame. In fact, it hurts me to see Michigan not play Notre Dame. That’s one of the games that made me love Michigan and want to play for Michigan.

Marcus Ray: My ring says National Champions. We were the best team in the country. We had more than 30 guys play in the NFL. Charles Woodson is the best defensive player ever in the history of college football. It would have been a good game to start. They would have run the option on us. But remember, we would have had six or seven weeks to prepare for them. They weren’t as tough as us. Our defense was No. 1 in total defense that season. We would have stopped their run and made their quarterback beat us with his arm.

Marcus Ray: They need to recruit better players. They have been doing that as of late, but they’re just young. Michigan has a lot of toughness and talent, but that talent is all youth. When you watch this team play, you don’t get a sense of supremacy quite yet. It’s coming though. But remember, they haven’t won a conference championship in nine years. That’s almost unheard of for Michigan.  So, to get better, they have to beat their rivals, they have to win the Big Ten Championship and they need to continue to bring in better players. When I was there, our defense was mean and they were nasty. This group needs to play mean and nasty. Defend your house, wear the wing helmet the way it’s supposed to be worn, and go out there and get it done.

Come back next Thursday and tweet us your top B1G questions @BigTenNetwork and @BTNSean.

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About Sean Merriman web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men’s basketball and provides original content for You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (12 Comments)
shawn krueger on 9/19/2013 @ 9:19pm EDT Said:

Michigan should beat nebraska and win the big ten I believe in them and I wish I could get a football signed from all the michigan players and coach GO BLUE

Bear on 9/19/2013 @ 9:34pm EDT Said:

That’s where you would have lost Marcus, Nebraska played with heart and soul not with there mouths..

Big Ten Fan on 9/20/2013 @ 9:29am EDT Said:

Ray is delusional. Michigan wasn’t the best team in the country in 97. They probably weren’t in the top three given how UCLA, North Carolina and Florida State were playing late. Charles Woodson? Please. Both Dre Bly and Champ Bailer were better better college corners than Woodson was in 97. Simply put, Nebraska would have hung half a hundred on the Skunk Bears had the 97 teams played for all the marbles. Michigan would have had a better chance at beating Nebraska than Florida had in 95 but not much better.

Big Brother on 9/20/2013 @ 10:52am EDT Said:

Bear, Michigan played 7 ranked teams that year and most in the preseason called it the toughest schedule in the nation. Nebraska players were running their mouths as well after beating Tennessee after Peyton Manning got injured. they said they didn’t even want the national championship if they had to share it with us and egged the voters on into thinking picking us was a sympathy vote since we hadn’t won a national title in 49 years, which it wasn’t a sympathy vote. after all, the coaches poll was the one wanting to give Osborne a retirement gift

Denny on 9/20/2013 @ 1:20pm EDT Said:

Big Brother, enjoy that wooden plaque. We got the real trophy (Sears).

Corey Cox on 9/20/2013 @ 1:21pm EDT Said:

The ’97 Nebraska team decimated the Peyton Manning/Jamal Lewis (etc etc etc) Tennessee team that was far better than the mediocre Washington State team that Michigan narrowly beat to win their ‘national championship’. You don’t get to claim a national title when your final game is against a mid-level team ranked 14th. This is exactly why the BCS was instituted soon after, so that teams can’t claim a national title unless they beat the best. Nebraska beat the #3 ranked Vols (that had more NFL stardom on the team than Michigan) and did so convincingly. Michigan barely escaped in the last second against to win vs. Washington St. How can you think Michigan would have fared better against Nebraska when they nearly lost to Washington St.? Spurrier’s vaunted Florida team thought they would stop Nebraska’s run game in the 1995 Fiesta Bow National Title gamel, no luck. Same would have gone for Michigan in 1997. Huskers would have won in a rout and I am open to hear anyone logically dispute that.

Big Brother on 9/20/2013 @ 3:18pm EDT Said:

oh please, Corey! 31 of Michigan’s players had success in the NFL on that team. that blows Tennessee out of the water. also, Washington State finished in the top 10 and Tennessee only finished two spots above them, so please stop acting like WSU was a scrub. they had the #2 offense in the nation that year and did have to win the PAC 10, you know. Michigan dominated the whole game statistically against them too. the outcome would’ve never have been in doubt if the offensive pass inference was deservingly called. Michigan would’ve definitely given Nebraska a game. they hadn’t face a single defense with a pulse all year

    Corey on 9/20/2013 @ 5:43pm EDT Said:

    @ Big Brother, yes WSU actually moved UP in the rankings after the Rose Bowl because, like I said, they played Michigan even and nearly won. The game ended with 3 shots at the end zone to win. And Tennessee of course moved down after being humiliated by Nebraska. NFL prospects aren’t really the barometer for college success anyway, otherwise teams like Texas and USC and Ohio St would never lose. It’s coaching and execution in college and no one did that better than Tom Osborne. Since the two teams didn’t meet the closest comparison we can get is the most important game of the year- the bowl game. And Nebraska’s rout of the SEC champions – and #3 ranked team was light years ahead of Michigan’s average showing against an average team ranked #10. Put another way, Nebraska was far better on both sides of ball than WSU. So they would have scored more than 16 and given up less than 21. The Huskers put up 42 on the Tennessee D (Leonard Little on the D Line) and held Peyton manning to 17 pts. I think the Wolverines would have lost 35-10

Elk Horn on 9/20/2013 @ 5:05pm EDT Said:

Pre-BCS, teams like Michigan and Ohio State had the luxury of running and hiding out in Pasadena to play whatever Pac 10 team floated to the top of that miserable conference (at the time). No question the 1997 Michigan team would have been less of a speed-bump on the way to a title than Tennessee was.
A “retirement gift” for Osborne? Consider yourself lucky he left the game when he did or there would have been at least 3 more national titles in Lincoln.

Darrell Teal on 9/21/2013 @ 9:35am EDT Said:

Nebraska would have beaten Michigan like a drum, Scott Frost led Nebraska attack would have overwhelmed them…We would have dominated the physical part of the game and ran for BIG yardage.Been luck if Michigan would have been within 30 points. Go Big Red

Brian Henke (@Brianahne) on 9/21/2013 @ 9:58am EDT Said:

Michigan struggled to beat a lower ranked Washington State, number 8. The game ended in controversy. Washington St spiked the ball and the refs let the time run out, game over. Anyone remember the Big Twelve Championship between Texas and Nebraska. The game was over clocks said zero, the refs said it was over, but wait. We don’t Texas to loose lets put some time back on the clock so they can kick a field goal. Nebraska beat Peyton Manning and a highly ranked Tennessee, number 3, like a rented mule. That is why Nebraska should have not had to share the Championship with Michigan. It is not based on how many players go to the NFL, ridiculous.

hadley smith on 9/24/2013 @ 7:15pm EDT Said:

You neb. fans seem to forget about that Missouri gm you played that yr. Remember what happen? A neb. player ILLLEAGALLY KICKED the ball up in the air where luckily a teamate caught it for the winning td. But it shouldn’t have counted. And mizzu shd of gotten the ball back to possibly win the gm in OT. You were very fortunate the refs didn’t catch it or otherwise you would of not played for the mythical NC.
Another point, you only played, 4 ranked oppts. #2 Wash. #17 Kan. St. #14 Tex A&M and #3 Tenn. (You also played an unranked Colo. tm and only beat them by 3..we smacked their *ss by 24.) Michigan played 7 ranked opts. #7 Colo. #15 Iowa, #14 Mich St., #2 Penn St. #23 Wis. #4 Ohio St and #7 Wash St.
Also, The Big Ten had more teams ranked in the top 25 that yr than the Big 12 did. Were any of those ranked tms you played in the big 12? 5 of the 8 BT tms mich. played were ranked.
I’m not tryin to prove anything by sayin we were the better tm because of this, just delivering the facts.
Here’s something else to consider–and for this, let’s just put aside a moment who each tm played..Neb. opponents scored 214 points–for an avg. of almost 18 ppg. (17.8) Mich. opponents scored 114 points for an avg. of just under 10 ppg. (9.5) But you guys scored a lot more pts than we did..607-322..(50.5-26.8)…
And I’ll just say this, as long as neb. fans keep sayin they won the NC that year, Mich. fans will do the same…and the debate goes on…