25-Year CFB Anniversary: Michigan Opens National Championship Season with Rout of No. 8 Colorado

Photo courtesy of Michigan athletics/Bentley Historical Library

Despite holding more wins than any college football program ever, Michigan has won just one national championship since 1949.

That title came in 1997. That title run began on this day 25 years ago.

In its season opener, Michigan made a statement that it was a force to be reckoned with as it defeated No. 8 Colorado in Ann Arbor, 27-3.

Setting the Stage

Ranked eighth in the country, Colorado had already played a game as it arrived at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 13, 1997. The Buffaloes opened the season with a 31-21 win over a ranked Colorado State team.

Michigan had won in Boulder the year prior, 20-13. In its last trip to Ann Arbor in 1994, Colorado had stunned Michigan on a Hail Mary for a 64-yard touchdown from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook on the game’s final play.

Michigan was coming off an 8-4 season in which it dropped three of its final four games. The Wolverines made sure they started 1997 on the right foot.

Michigan Dominates

In front of more than 106,000 spectators, the Michigan defense dominated. The Wolverines held the Buffaloes to their lowest point total in more than 100 games and the lowest yardage total (224) in five years.

Colorado could get nothing going offensively, averaging just 1.8 yards per rush. Colorado quarterback John Hessler was intercepted four times with Charles Woodson, Dhani Jones, Tommy Hendricks and Clint Copenhaver each coming down with picks for Michigan. Up front, Glen Steele dominated with two sacks and four tackles for loss.

Michigan put up 426 yards of offense, but Chris Floyd’s 1-yard run accounted for the only touchdown of the first half. Kraig Baker’s 37-yard field goal on the final snap of the half gave the Wolverines a 10-0 halftime lead.

Quarterback Brian Griese was an efficient 21-for-28 for 258 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Both touchdown tosses came early in the third quarter on tosses to Chris Howard and Russell Shaw. Just like that, the rout was on as Michigan led 24-0.

Colorado broke up the shutout on a 52-yard field goal from Jason Lesley late in the third quarter, but would do little else. Michigan tight end Jerame Tuman led all receivers with five catches for 126 yards.

Box score:
University of Michigan

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In Hindsight

The victory for Michigan was the beginning of a special season. Colorado would be among seven ranked teams that the Wolverines would knock off en route to a 12-0 finish and an AP national championship. Nebraska jumped Michigan in the final Coaches Poll after throttling Tennessee in the Orange Bowl to earn a share of the title.

For the Buffaloes, the disappointing start would be a sign of things to come. Colorado finished 5-6 with five losses coming to ranked opponents.

The 24-point loss to Michigan served as the worst for Colorado at the time under then third-year head coach Rick Neuheisel. It came on this day a quarter-century ago.

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.