With unbeatens unproven, Michigan is a loss leader

October 10, 1990|By Susan Reimer

Michigan, a team with one loss, is ranked No. 1 in the national polls -- the earliest in a half-century of poll-taking that a team with a blemished record has stood atop them.

Meanwhile, undefeated teams like Virginia, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida, Houston and Tennessee -- but especially Virginia at 5-0 -- have been told they still must prove themselves.

"I voted for Michigan because I really, truly think if you gave me a choice among the 106 Division I schools, I would pick Michigan, and I would win," said Lee Barfknecht, who covers Nebraska for the Omaha World-Herald and votes in The Associated Press poll.

"You either vote for the hottest, or you vote for the best."

"I was at the Michigan-Notre Dame game," said Steve Wieberg, college football writer for USA Today. "Michigan played Notre Dame to a standstill -- at Notre Dame -- and then lost on a fluke tipped pass.

"There is something to be said for being 5-0," said Wieberg. The poll his newspaper does with CNN ranked Virginia just behind Michigan, just as the AP poll did. "Especially if you have crushed everybody you've played.

"But I don't think there is any question, if you put both teams on a neutral playing field, who would win."

"Show me," is what the writers polled by The Associated Press said yesterday. Apparently Michigan already has.

"I want to see Virginia beat Georgia Tech, and then I want to see them beat somebody in a bowl game," said Bill King of The Gainesville Sun. "You put them No. 1 now, and I see them sitting there for the rest of the season. And, face it, they aren't playing a Big Ten schedule."

"If you put Michigan in the No. 1 spot and they continued to win -- and I think they will -- they will deserve to be there."

Bill Bilinski covers Notre Dame for the South Bend Tribune, but the Irish dropped to eighth in his poll after losing to Stanford last weekend. "Losing to an unranked team, at home, a team that hasn't won on the road in a couple of years -- at this stage in the season . . ." said Bilinski, who voted for Michigan as the No. 1 team.

"If it were the last poll of the season, I'm not sure I would vote the same way. And I think most of the writers have the same feeling about voting a team with a loss in that spot.

"But we have to have the opportunity to see if Virginia is for real," he said.

Ron Christ of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., disagreed. His was one of the 14 Associated Press ballots that ranked Virginia No. 1.

"They deserve a chance to be No. 1," said Christ, who covers Pitt and Penn State. "And I didn't like all the TV people telling me I had to vote for Michigan. And it bothers me to see teams with TC loss ranked well ahead of teams that haven't lost yet.

"Virginia has worked long and hard for this recognition, and they deserve it. For the moment, they have proven themselves."

Rick Bozich of The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal has seen Virginia play and knows coach George Welsh's work, but it is Virginia's unimpressive Atlantic Coast Conference schedule that keeps him from voting the Cavaliers No. 1.

"They will have to win them all for me to vote them No. 1."

"Michigan is the best team in the country," Bozich said. "It didn't bother me at all that they had a loss. I watched the game against Notre Dame, and Notre Dame just got some lucky breaks."

Frank Brady of The (San Diego) Tribune said the third-ranked Miami Hurricanes were No. 1 on his Associated Press ballot, despite their loss to Brigham Young.

"I think Miami is going to be there when it is all over," said Brady. "I said to myself, 'Could Virginia beat them?' and my answer was, 'No.' "

Bill Benner of The Indianapolis Star said unbeaten is not the only criterion on which he bases his vote -- which, by the way, was for Michigan. "Granted, Virginia had a great win over Clemson, but I'm still a little skeptical. And I'm not sure my skepticism will be answered until the bowl season."

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