No. 19 Michigan and Nebraska seem to have a lot of similarities going into their Big 10 opener Saturday.
Both are storied programs with passionate fan bases. Both have coaches who played quarterback during their college days at their school and were widely considered as “grand slam” head coaching hires, and both want badly to avoid an 0-1 start in conference play.
However, as the teams prepare for a noon clash at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, the direction each is going seems to be the big difference between the Cornhuskers and Wolverines.
Following a season-opening loss at Notre Dame, Michigan enters with renewed confidence with blowout home wins over Western Michigan and SMU the past couple weeks.
Skeptics will point out that those improved performances came against, well, Western Michigan and SMU, but Michigan hopes some positive developments the past two weeks will continue against better competition.
Quarterback Shea Patterson, a much-hyped transfer from Ole Miss, completed 26 of 35 passes the past two weeks and might have found a favorite receiving target in sophomore Donovan Peoples-Jones, a five-star recruit who might be starting to live up to his promise after catching three touchdown passes against SMU.
“I think overall, Shea has been seeing the field really well and making accurate throws on time,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s getting good protection for the most part and receivers across the board have been catching the football and getting open.”
Built to win now with 10 starters back on a defensive unit that has multiple NFL prospects, Michigan hopes the offense can continue to make strides and complement its fierce defense.
On the other side, Nebraska isn’t built to win now.
After leading Central Florida to an unbeaten season last year and taking the coaching job at Nebraska, the place he starred as quarterback in the 1990s, Scott Frost knew instant success wouldn’t happen this year at Nebraska as he tried to instill his principles and foundation.
But Frost or few at Nebraska expected the team to get off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 1957, which is what the Cornhuskers did following an embarrassing 24-19 home loss to Troy last week.
The biggest question for Nebraska will be the health of starting quarterback Adrian Martinez, who was given the starter’s job before the season as a freshman.
Martinez had an impressive debut in a season-opening 33-28 loss to Colorado but suffered a right leg injury late in that game and didn’t play in the loss to Troy.
Backup quarterback Andrew Bunch started in place of Martinez.
Frost said Martinez practiced Monday but is questionable to play Saturday.
Frost said that whether or not Martinez plays, his offense needs to be a lot crisper against Michigan’s formidable defense.
“If you are going to move the ball consistently on offense, you have to have 11 guys execute well better than 90 percent of the time,” Frost said. “We’re not there. We’re at the point where we are doing it 70 or 80 percent of the time and the other 30 to 20 percent is biting us and costing us drive.”
There is also a history of animosity between Frost and Michigan fans dating back to the 1997 season.
Michigan was named the national champion in the AP poll that year, but Nebraska was named champion in the coaches poll after Frost made an impassioned plea to voters that Nebraska deserved at least a share of the title that season following a lopsided Orange Bowl win over Tennessee.
Michigan fans feel that politicking cost the Wolverines what at the time would have been their first outright national title since 1948.
Frost further got under the skin of Michigan fans two years ago when Central Florida played at Michigan in what was Frost’s first year as coach at Central Florida.
Despite seeing his team suffer a 51-14 loss, Frost after the game said Central Florida “outhit” Michigan that day.