It’s Hail to the Victors, as Michigan beats Washington State in the Rose Bowl 21-16. With the win, the Wolverines finish 12-0 to stake a claim for the National Championship. Ranked #1 in both polls before the bowls, Michigan would end up with a share of the National Championship as Nebraska, who also finished unbeaten, was ranked #1 in the Coaches Poll. Brian Griese is named the game’s MVP with 251 yards passing and three touchdowns.
The University of Michigan had long been one of the elite programs in college football, as they were ranked nearly every season, but they had not won a National Championship since 1948. Entering the season with a #14 ranking, the Wolverines, coached by Lloyd Carr, began the year with an impressive 27-3 win over #8 Colorado in Ann Arbor. After wins over Baylor, Notre Dame, Indiana, and Northwestern, the Wolverines entered the Top 5. After a hard-fought 28-24 win over Iowa, Michigan continued its climb in the rankings, reaching #2 after a 34-8 win over #3 Penn State. Entering the Big Game against #4 Ohio State, the Wolverines cemented its place atop the polls with a 20-14 win. In the win over the Buckeyes, Charles Woodson played a key role, returning a punt 78 yards while intercepting a pass in the third quarter and catching a pass from Brian Griese for 37 yards. Play like this all season led Woodson to become the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Among the other plays on Michigan’s roster is sophomore quarterback Tom Brady.
After an 11-0 season, Michigan went into the Rose Bowl and ranked first in both the AP and the coaches' poll. It was before the Bowl Alliance or the Bowl Championship Series, so ranked teams were locked into specific bowls, and there was no meeting with #2 Nebraska, who were set to play #3 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. The Rose Bowl saw the traditional Big Ten Champion versus the Pac-10 champion showdown, as Michigan faced #7 Washington State. The Cougars, coached by Mike Price, had finished a 10-1 regular season thanks to the play of quarterback Ryan Leaf.
Michigan got off to a slow start in the Rose Bowl, as Washington State drew first blood when Ryan Leaf connected with Kevin McKenzie on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Michigan answered midway through the second quarter when Brian Griese hit Tai Streets on a 53-yard touchdown pass. After a 7-7 tie at the half, Wazzu again took the lead as Shawn Tims, on a 14-yard reverse play, completed a 99-yard scoring drive. Michigan began to turn things in their favor when they blocked the PAT, scoring 13-7. Michigan would take the lead for the first time on their next possession as Griese connected with Streets for 58 yards to make it 14-13. In the fourth quarter, the Wolverines extended the lead to 21-13 as Brian Griese connected with Jerame Tuman on a 23-yard touchdown pass. Washington State would not go down quickly, as Rian Lindell booted a 48-yard field goal with 7:25 left. On the ensuing possession, Michigan was nearly able to run out the clock, as the Cougars did not get the ball back until there were just 16 seconds left. Ryan Leaf was able to drive the ball into Michigan territory but ran out of time before having a shot at the end zone.
Following the 21-16 win over Washington State in the Rose Bowl, Michigan retained the #1 ranking in the AP Poll. However, Nebraska would get the #1 ranking in the Coach’s Poll after beating Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl.