Tears make coaches' votes all wet

January 04, 1998|By John Eisenberg

Who said there's no crying in college football?

The coaches who vote in the USA Today/ESPN poll cried a river while casting their final votes after the Orange Bowl on Friday night.

They cried for their colleague, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who ended his 25-year career with a 42-17 victory over Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, giving his Cornhuskers a 13-0 record for the season.

The coaches were so tearfully sentimental about Osborne that they wound up voting his team No. 1, ahead of Michigan, which also finished unbeaten.

The only problem with that is that the same coaches had Michigan rated No. 1 by a landslide going into the bowls, and all Michigan did on New Year's Day was win the Rose Bowl.

Never in the history of the sport has a team finished the regular season ranked No. 1, won its bowl and dropped to No. 2.

Way to go, coaches.

Way to make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Fortunately, the writers and broadcasters who vote in the Associated Press poll didn't cry so hard for Osborne that they buckled under and changed their No. 1 vote. Michigan won the AP poll by a comfortable margin.

That's precisely why the AP poll is the more prestigious of the two, regarded as a better barometer of the real national champion.

The coaches, notorious workaholics, spend too much time in the film room.

The writers and broadcasters spend more time in bars, a better place from which to make rational judgments.

But the coaches' poll counts, so the national championship will go down as a split decision this season, with Michigan and Nebraska each raising a hand.

It's the third time in the '90s that two teams have shared the title in such a fashion, but the first time in history that a No. 1 team was denied a consensus title after winning a major bowl.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said he was "disappointed," which was understandable. His team played a tougher schedule than Nebraska, and it didn't need one of the luckiest plays of the century to avoid a regular-season defeat, as Nebraska did at Missouri in November.

Yes, the Cornhuskers dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 after winning that game, which one could argue was unfair, but the fact is they didn't give a No. 1-caliber performance that day, and they know it.

Michigan's 21-16 victory over Washington State in the Rose Bowl wasn't resounding at all, but it was a clutch performance built around the muzzling of a high-scoring opponent that no one else had stopped all year.

You would think that the coaches, if anyone, would appreciate the beauty of that.

Aren't these the same coaches who are always preaching about the importance of defense?

Next time you hear that, just remember this vote.

Instead of voting for the No. 1 team with the championship defense, consistency and fundamentals, the coaches voted like a switchboard full of bug-eyed talk-show callers.

They went strictly for the biggest number on the scoreboard. And to think they often criticize the media voters for not understanding the nuances of the game.

Turns out they're the ones voting with their hearts and hankies instead of with their heads. Heck, a closer look at the final tally shows that either one coach dropped Michigan to No. 4 or two coaches put it third -- unbelievable.

Not that the Cornhuskers weren't awesome Friday night, because they were -- more awesome than Michigan was on Thursday, no doubt.

Overrated No. 3 Tennessee was a weaker opponent than underrated No. 8 Washington State, but the Volunteers did win the tough Southeastern Conference, quite a feat, and Nebraska destroyed them.

Having won every game they played this season, all but a couple by blowout, the Cornhuskers certainly can argue that they're a deserving national champion.

But Michigan was No. 1 for many reasons going into the bowls, and it's just ridiculous to deny all those reasons -- and deny the Wolverines a title -- after watching them beat a Top 10 team in the Rose Bowl.

Admittedly, some AP voters also were swayed in that direction; Michigan's lead in that poll dwindled from 68 first-place votes in the last December poll to 33 in yesterday's final poll.

But that's still a wide margin of victory.

The voting coaches also had Michigan way ahead in the final December poll -- by 45 first-place votes -- but they completely buckled yesterday. Nebraska won by two.

Clearly, the coaches fell for Nebraska's impressive Orange Bowl combined with the emotion of Osborne's perfect farewell. Those were tear-stained ballots that many of Osborne's fellow coaches turned in.

They wouldn't have done the same for cocky Florida coach Steve Spurrier, whom they love to see lose.

The writers and broadcasters weren't nearly as sentimental about Osborne's exit, probably because they couldn't overlook the many off-field problems that hit Osborne's program in the '90s, after the coach realized that he couldn't beat Miami, so he had better start recruiting Miami's players.

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