As I wrote last week, I chose to make the trip to Ann Arbor for the Nebraska-Michigan game to be a part of a great college football atmosphere, and for four quarters, I got just that. Not only that, but seeing the company of traveling Husker fans always lifts my spirits. My sister and I walked into a crowded restaurant, and ended up sharing a table with a couple from Lincoln, the husband of whom was involved in the construction of Pinnacle Bank Arena. Sweet.
Other than one drunk who called out “Hey Nebraska, you guys run backward through a cornfield?”, most of the Michigan fans we met were great people. When my sister and I were at a stoplight after the game, two young women in the car next to us signaled us to roll the window down and congratulated us on the victory.
The Big House is indeed a grand behemoth that stands out on the horizon, and Michigan's whole athletic campus is nothing but brick for as far as the eye can see. It was really easy to get to our seats and get out after the game. After the game, the ushers stood at the gates, thanked people for coming, and invited them back for other Michigan athletic events. Interestingly enough, Michigan Stadium isn't as loud as you would think 100,000+ people should be. Don't get me wrong, they make their noise, but Iowa State's Jack Trice Stadium intimidated me much more than Michigan. Part of it is, Michigan is more corporate than other schools (read: higher ticket prices), and like Nebraska, there's a lot of older fans.
Walking around the stadium, I was surprised at how barren it seemed in places: the concourse was poorly lit and didn't have a lot of TV's. Inside the stadium, the scoreboards often missed replays, and there was not a portion of the scoreboard devoted to showing the scores of other games. And the north and south upper decks were very dark in the upper rows.
Michigan, let me give you some kind advice: spend a modest amount of money to make your stadium more fan-friendly, with some extra lights and TV's, and some banners, statues, and murals of your past greats in the concourse and around the edges of the stadium. Sports now are better on television than they are in person, and over the next ten years, fans are going to get pickier about which events they choose to attend. You're going to be challenged to keep drawing fans into those dark upper rows if you don't enhance your stadium.
Urban Meyer is fuming at Nebraska, and will be furious if they beat Michigan State. Nebraska came back to give a crushing loss to a team that Meyer needed to be a quality win to get his team into the BCS Title Game. Beating a 9-2 Michigan team and ending their long home winning streak is out of the picture now, and more than ever, Ohio State has to hope they can make a statement against an 11-1 Michigan State team whose only loss was on the road by four. The last thing Meyer would want is to play a 10-2 Nebraska team with a 20-point home loss to UCLA on its resume.
I've heard some quiet rumblings among Husker fans that they are scared of winning the Legends Division and having to play Ohio State, a justifiable fear. Yes, Urban Meyer is the general who salts the lands he conquers, but Nebraska could be in perfect position to be overlooked by an Ohio State team who spends the week before the championship game arguing that they deserve to play for the National Title more than Florida State, Baylor, etc. No one expecting Nebraska to win could be the recipe they need to pull a surprise. And even if Nebraska were to lose big, remember, it will be what everyone expected because it's what Meyer does and has to do. It wouldn't look as embarrassing as some of Nebraska's bad losses.
I rewatched last year's Nebraska-Michigan State game earlier this week, my favorite Nebraska football game from the last seven or eight years for sheer drama. The whole fourth quarter is Taylor Martinez leading his mates back to life again and again like Mike Myers or a zombie coming back from the dead. Not that Nebraska didn't do its part, but Michigan State did let up a bit after Darqueze Dennard's red-zone interception, and again after stopping Nebraska on fourth down inside of three minutes. In many a Big 10, clock-eating game, a team that makes the mistakes Nebraska did that day wouldn't have come back, and if the Huskers had not been so comfortable with the no-huddle, they might not have. Mark Dantonio had a look of extreme disgust on his face as he went to shake Bo Pelini's hand at the end of the game. Part of me could hardly blame him.
I am torn up about this game. My head says, pick Michigan State. Their defense is world class, and they are less erratic week-to-week. Even though Nebraska is at home, their offensive line is beat up, and their offense has sputtered with a smaller playbook. I think the only way Nebraska wins is if they change things up on offense and throw new stuff at the Spartans. I'm going to pick Michigan State to win 17-6 and hold Nebraska's offense to their lowest total of the year, but part of me feels like there could be something special that helps Nebraska pull this game out. Hey, it wouldn't be anything we haven't seen before.
Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on Twitter @derekjohnson05.