In the ’90s, Michigan became a football factory for the NFL. This weekend, after John Navarre plays in the national spotlight on Saturday, two former Michigan quarterbacks square off in one of Sunday’s biggest games. The Denver Broncos head up to eastern Massachusetts to take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
The Broncos are led by former Michigan quarterback Brian Griese, who was at the helm for Michigan’s 1997 national championship team. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ offense is run by former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady, who emerged last year to replace the injured Drew Bledsoe.
“I wish I could see it,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I wish I could be there. It’s a tremendous thing for Michigan, because both those guys represent this University so well, and they both had outstanding careers here, and are both graduates.
“They both have been very successful in their careers in the NFL; I know there will be a heck of a lot of Michigan people watching that game.”
Two-point stance: Penn State has been involved in three overtimes games in its history, two of which have come this year. A 42-35 loss to Iowa and a 27-24 loss to Michigan are the lone blemishes on the 2002 Nittany Lions’ record, and Penn State coach Joe Paterno thinks that the current overtime system – whereby each team runs its offense from the opposing 25-yard line until one fails to match the score of the other – is correcting for something that has already been corrected for:
“My feeling is, ‘why do we need an overtime when we have two-point (conversions) in?'” Paterno said. “We played Michigan, and Michigan probably would have gone for two points at the end of the game (if there was no overtime); I probably would have done the same. The two-point play was put in to break up ties and then we stuck in overtime. (If overtime were eliminated) people would be more willing to go for two points at different times in the ballgame, and that’s why the two point tries were put in, in the first place.”
Grand-mama: This week’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week was Penn State tailback Larry Johnson. Johnson’s 257 yards rushing and two touchdowns – nearly all of which came in the first half – led the Nittany Lions over Northwestern last Saturday. Johnson broke a 21-year-old Penn State rushing record for yards in a single game, which was previously held by Curt Warner (coincidence? Absolutely). Johnson ranks second in the nation in all-purpose yards with 187.6 per game, and is 10th in the nation in rushing average, with 125.1 yards per game.
Iowa linebacker Grant Steen, who had three redzone interceptions in the Hawkeyes’ thumping of Indiana last Saturday, earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Ohio State punter Andy Groom was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after booting for 301 yards (not on one punt – that would be a record). Groom is averaging 45.2 yards per punt on the season.
Gophers lurking: While most fans and writers around the Big Ten see a three-team race between Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are quietly playing solid football.
The Gophers are waiting patiently, with just one loss in the conference (and on the year), to make their move.
But the upcoming schedule is a blessing and a curse for Minnesota; the Gophers face each of the above-mentioned three in consecutive weeks, beginning with a trip to Columbus before hosting Michigan and Iowa in Minneapolis.
“I really do like this team,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “We’re not the most talented, by any stretch of the imagination, but (my players) prepare. They’ve been a very eager lot.
“Right now, we don’t have any marquee names for the media to write about. What we’ve got is a bunch of scrappy kids who are playing pretty hard.”