Pre-season ranking Going into the 1997 season, the Wolverines were ranked No. 17 in the pre-season Coaches' Poll and had experienced four consecutive four-loss seasons for the first time since the 1934–1937 Michigan Wolverines football teams. Michigan had not won a national championship in nearly 50 years and had not played in a Rose Bowl Game since the 1992 season. The 1997 Michigan team was the first since the 1969 team to have no Rose Bowl veterans. In early September 1997, The Columbus Dispatch wrote off Michigan, noting that "the longtime beast of the Big Ten ... has lost much of its aura" and predicting that Michigan's 1997 schedule "doesn't create a feeling that the pendulum is about to swing back."
Quarterback competition The months before the 1997 season opener featured uncertainty over the quarterback position. Junior Scott Dreisbach had started 11 games for the 1996 team, but fifth-year senior Brian Griese had relieved Driesbach in the Ohio State game after Driesbach was injured and helped the team recover from a 9–0 deficit. Dreisbach and Griese also faced competition from sophomore and future Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady. Shortly before the season opener, head coach Lloyd Carr announced his selection of Griese as the starting quarterback.
Receiving corps Despite uncertainty at quarterback, Michigan entered the 1997 season with a solid group of receivers, including Tai Streets and Russell Shaw, as well as returning All-Big Ten tight end Jerame Tuman. Analysts believed that a solid season by any of the Michigan quarterbacks could lead to a productive season in the passing game. Moreover, it was anticipated that Charles Woodson, who was regarded as one of the most versatile athletes in college football, would play on offense.
Offensive line The offensive line was another uncertainty for the 1997 team. Three linemen from the 1996 team had been selected in the 1997 NFL Draft: center Rod Payne (3rd round, 76th overall), offensive guard Damon Denson (4th round, 97th overall) and defensive tackle William Carr (7th round, 217th overall). As a result, Michigan began the season with only one offensive lineman, offensive tackle Jon Jansen, who had started a game. Jansen, a junior, had 25 consecutive starts entering the season. The offensive line was further weakened when left tackle, Jeff Backus, suffered a ruptured appendix. In spring practice, offensive line coach Terry Malone made a plea for help during a staff meeting, searching for talent to fill in on the line. To fill the holes on the offensive line, two defensive linemen, Steve Hutchinson and Chris Ziemann were moved to the offensive line.
Strength of schedule Adding to the challenges facing the 1997 team, Michigan entered the season with the toughest schedule among the 112 NCAA Division I-A schools based on records from the previous year. Days before the season opener, Lloyd Carr compared the daunting schedule to an expedition to Mount Everest. Carr noted, "It's a little akin to climbing Mount Everest. But Mount Everest has been climbed. And with great preparation and determination, and great attitude, which I think our players have, I can assure you we're looking forward to it."
Michigan opened the 1997 season with a home game against Colorado. Three years earlier, Colorado had defeated Michigan in a game nicknamed "The Miracle at Michigan" on Kordell Stewart's 64-yard Hail Mary pass to Michael Westbrook as time ran out.
Michigan won the 1997 game 27 to 3, a margin that eliminated the possibility of another last-minute miracle. Griese completed 21 of 28 forward pass attempts for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jerame Tuman had five receptions for 126 yards. Defensively, Michigan intercepted four passes thrown by Colorado's John Hessler, while holding him to 141 yards on 15 of 39 passing.
Throughout the game, Michigan relied on man-to-man defense from cornerbacks Woodson and Andre Weathers, blitzes and pressure from the four-man defensive line. Colorado only threw against Woodson five times, and one of those passes was intercepted by Woodson at Michigan's 45-yard-line. Griese and Tuman connected for 53 yards on the very next play. Two plays later Chris Floyd executed a one-yard dive for the first points of the day. Late in the second quarter, Griese completed a 29-yard pass to Woodson, and Kraig Baker kicked a field goal on the final play of the first half to give Michigan a 10–0 lead at halftime.
Michigan opened the second half with an 89-yard, 11-play drive that included a 20-yard pass from Griese to Tuman followed by a roughing the passer penalty. The drive ended in a five-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Chris Howard. In the third quarter, Michigan scored 14 points in a span of one minute and 44 seconds; the second touchdown followed a Clint Copenhaver interception that was returned to the Buffaloes' 14-yard line. The touchdown was scored on a 6-yard pass from Griese to Shaw. Baker closed out the scoring with a 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
The loss was Colorado's worst defeat under head coach Rick Neuheisel, its lowest point total in 101 games, and fewest yards of total offense (224) in five years. It was Michigan's fifth consecutive season-opening win and fifth straight win against a top 10 team in the Associated Press poll.
In the second week of the season, Michigan defeated Baylor 38–3 at Michigan Stadium. Baylor scored first after running back Chris Howard fumbled on Michigan's 29-yard-line. The Bears had a touchdown called back due to an offensive holding penalty, but kicked a 30-yard field goal. Michigan took the lead with 5:39 remaining in the first quarter on a 10-yard wide receiver screen play from Griese to Woodson. Chris Howard added two touchdowns in the second quarter to give Michigan a 21–3 lead at halftime. Howard's second touchdown capped a 14-play, 92-yard drive that consumed four-and-a-half minutes.
True freshman Anthony Thomas scored on a two-yard run in the third quarter to complete Michigan's second 92-yard drive of the day. In the fourth quarter, Woodson had a 34-yard touchdown catch called back due to a false start penalty, but Jay Feely kicked a 51-yard field goal. Tate Schanski scored Michigan's final touchdown on a one-yard run with 2:57 remaining in the game.
Michigan outgained Baylor 532–154 in total offense. The Wolverines totaled 344 rushing yards, including 112 yards by Howard and 122 yards by Thomas. Clarence Williams added 129 yards of total offense, including 77 yards rushing. Griese completed 13 of 22 passes for 169 yards and no interceptions, and Woodson had two receptions for 45 yards.
On defense, the Wolverines held Baylor to 32 yards in the second half, allowing three plays on its first four possessions of the second half. Woodson allowed no catches and made five unassisted tackles (three for a loss). He played 46 downs on defense, six on special teams and five on offense. The win improved Michigan to 16–6–2 against the Big 12 Conference and 9–0 in September under Carr.
For the third game of the season, Michigan faced Notre Dame in the 27th match between college football's winningest programs. Michigan won the game 21–14 in front of a crowd of 106,508, the sixth largest in the history of Michigan Stadium at that time. Under first year coach Bob Davie, Notre Dame had lost consecutive games to Purdue and Michigan State, and entered Michigan Stadium unranked for the first time since the creation of the AP Poll in 1936. Notre Dame ended the day with its first three-game losing streak in 12 years.
In the first quarter, Notre Dame scored first on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ron Powlus to Bobby Brown, culminating a 12-play, 78-yard drive. In the second quarter, the Wolverines tied the game on a 4-yard touchdown run by Clarence Williams to complete an 11-play, 68-yard drive. Notre Dame regained the lead late in the second quarter on a 98-yard drive ending in a two-yard run by Tony Driver with 18 seconds left in the half.
Within the first 24 seconds of the second half, Griese and Streets connected on back-to-back passes of 15 and 41 yards to tie the game at 14. Michigan scored again just over five minutes later on a 14-yard run by Floyd. Michigan's defense overcame three fourth-quarter turnovers and held Notre Dame scoreless in the second half to preserve the 21–14 lead. After Aaron Shea lost a fumble at the Michigan 47-yard line, cornerback Tommy Hendricks made a diving interception in the end zone with 10:34 remaining in the game. When Notre Dame recovered a loose ball two minutes later at the Wolverines 42-yard line, Michigan's defense forced a punt after a three-and-out. The Wolverines suffered a third turnover late in the fourth quarter when Griese and Chris Howard botched a handoff that Notre Dame recovered at the Michigan 28-yard line. Notre Dame drove to the 20-yard line, but Glen Steele and James Hall made a key stop on fourth down. Howard helped Michigan run out the final 3:26 with runs of 27, seven, nine and eight yards.
Notre Dame outgained Michigan in total offense by a margin of 354 yards to 345 yards. Notre Dame's offensive standouts were Powlus (177 passing yards) and Malcolm Johnson (106 receiving yards). However, Notre Dame was penalized 10 times for 92 yards, including six holding infractions, one of which nullified a pass interference penalty against Woodson. Michigan's offensive stars of the game were Griese (16-of-22 passing for 177 yards), Howard (91 rushing yards rushing on 16 carries) and Streets (3 receptions for 77 yards).
In its fourth game of the season, Michigan defeated the Indiana Hoosiers 37 to 0. Michigan posted four second-quarter touchdowns, and Indiana only got close to the Michigan end zone once in the first quarter. The win was the eighth consecutive and 23rd of 24 for Michigan over Indiana. It was Michigan's first shutout since November 11, 1995, against Purdue. The game pitted Michigan against former Michigan assistant coach and first year head coach Cam Cameron.
Brian Griese passed for 204 yards and a touchdown, before giving way to Tom Brady after one series in the third quarter. Baker kicked three field goals and four extra points. Howard led Michigan receivers with 65 yards on 7 catches, and Anthony Thomas led the rushers with 65 yards on 14 carries. Charles Woodson had a 21-yard reception. The Michigan defense held Indiana to negative 2 return yards and 16 rushing yards on 27 carries.
In the first quarter, Baker's 27-yard field goal was the only scoring. Twenty-nine seconds into the second quarter, Howard's three-yard run gave Michigan a 10–0 lead. Later in the quarter, Michigan scored three touchdowns in a 5:54 span. First, Griese connected with Streets for 18 yards. Thomas and Patrick McCall added 14-yard and three-yard scoring runs to give Michigan a 31–0 lead with 1:59 remaining in the first half. Baker added 35-yard and 40-yard field goals in the third quarter to complete the scoring.
Michigan defeated Northwestern 23–6 in the fifth game of the season. While the Wolverines entered the game with a 44–13–2 record against the Wildcats, Northwestern had won the previous two meetings.
Northwestern placekicker Brian Gowins kicked a career-best 52-yard field goal to put Northwestern ahead 3–0 in the first quarter. Michigan took the lead with 13 points in the second quarter, starting with 19-yard and 23-yard field goals by Baker. With 1:02 left in the half, Griese threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tuman. Gowin kicked a second field goal early in the third quarter, but missed a 47-yarder at the end of the quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, Michigan sustained a 70-yard scoring drive that consumed five-and-a-half minutes on the game clock. During the drive, Griese completed 5-of-6 passes for 51 yards, including a 22-yard pass to Streets, a 16-yard pass to Williams and a 2-yard touchdown pass to Tuman. When Northwestern got the ball back, Woodson intercepted a Tim Hughes pass and returned it two yards to the Northwestern 30. Michigan added a 26-yard field goal by Baker with 7:28 remaining to complete the scoring.
Michigan's leaders on offense were Griese (23-of-36 passing for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns), Howard (90 rushing yards on 18 carries), Tuman (5 receptions for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Baker (3 field goals). On defense, the Wolverines held an opponent without a touchdown for the fourth time in five games, as Brian Gowins' two field goals provided Northwestern's only points. The defense remained perfect in the fourth quarter, giving up no fourth quarter points through the first five games. Michigan's had a 385–170 yard advantage as Division I-A's stingiest defense made one interception and one fumble recovery. The loss was the fourth in a row for Northwestern.
Michigan had its closest contest of the year in week six, as Iowa scored 21 points in the second quarter to take a 21–7 halftime lead. The Wolverines responded by outscoring the Hawkeyes 21–3 in the second half to win the game by a final score of 28–24.
Iowa running back Tavian Banks opened the scoring 91 seconds into the second quarter with a 53-yard touchdown run. Michigan responded by tying the game on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Streets with 4:53 remaining in the half. On Michigan's next drive, Iowa cornerback Ed Gibson intercepted Griese and returned the ball 64 yards to the Michigan 1-yard line. From there, Michael Burger put Iowa ahead with a touchdown run with 2:27 remaining. On the final play of the first half, Iowa's All-American Tim "White Lightning" Dwight returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown, giving Iowa a 14-point lead at halftime.
Michigan scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, tying the score with 3:11 remaining in the quarter on a quarterback sneak by Griese on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line. Iowa retook the lead on a field goal after a 72-yard kickoff return by Dwight. Late in the fourth quarter, Iowa continued to hold a 24–21 lead, but Griese and Tuman connected on a two-yard touchdown pass with 2:55 remaining in the game. Iowa responded by driving to Michigan's 15-yard line, but Sam Sword intercepted Matt Sherman with 31 seconds left to secure the victory.
Iowa's scoring was fueled by four plays resulting in gains of more than 50 yards. Banks also rushed for 99 yards on 19 carries. Michigan's offense was fueled by the passing of Griese (15 of 26 for 165 yards) and the rushing of Thomas (129 yards on 20 carries) and Howard (81 yards on 13 first-half carries). On defense, Michigan maintained its season-long fourth quarter shutout and had allowed only nine points (on three field goals) in the third quarter through the first six games. Both defenses also came through with big plays, including a total of six interceptions, three each on Griese and Sherman.
This was the 90th meeting of the rival schools that have fought for the Paul Bunyan Trophy annually since 1953. Michigan State's 5–1 start was its best since the 1966 team. On the strength of zero fourth quarter points and only 9 second half points, Michigan entered the game tied for first nationally in average points allowed (8.3) and in second in both yards of total offense allowed (207.7) and defensive pass efficiency. Michigan State entered the game with a 34 points per game average, which was the schools best since the 1978 team. Although Michigan held a 58–26–5 series edge, the home team had won each of the last five meetings and Michigan State had won 7 consecutive home games. Sophomore linebacker Dhani Jones had led Michigan in tackles in each of the three previous games and was second on the defense in tackles for the season.
Woodson and Marcus Ray each snared two interceptions and the team tied a school record with six. The interceptions brought Woodson's career total to 15, which was second in school history. Baker had three field goals (the third time in four weeks). Michigan again shut down its opponent in the second half, holding Michigan State to 43 yards in the first 28:18 until the final drive in "garbage time" with substitutes on the field. The game was only the second time Michigan State had surrendered 6 interceptions (the first since the 1958 team). The Spartans could not score on the Michigan defense and were only able to produce a touchdown with a fake field goal on special teams. Although sophomore Sedrick Irvin had produced 141 yards in the first half (66 rushing and 75 receiving), he was held to 15 yards in six carries and two yards on three receptions in the second half.
Michigan State scored on a 22-yard pass from Bill Burke to Irvin from a field goal formation. The most important play early in the game was Griese's one-yard run with 47 seconds remaining in the first half to cap an 11-play 95-yard drive to erase the Spartans' 7–3 lead. On the drive, which started after an illegal block on a punt return put Michigan deep in its own field, Howard made a 10-yard run followed by a 51-yard run for a large part of his total of 110 yards. With 2:12 remaining in the third quarter and Michigan holding a 13–7 lead, Woodson made a leaping, one-handed interception, with his left foot landing just inside the sideline. His second interception, on the next Spartan possession, led to a touchdown by Chris Howard that established Michigan's firm control of the game. Woodson was thrown against more than any time since the opener against Colorado. Despite being stifled in the second half, the Spartans remained within six points at the start of the fourth quarter.
During week 8, Michigan faced Minnesota in the annual battle for the Little Brown Jug. Although Michigan had won ten straight against Minnesota, the Golden Gophers had previously ruined a perfect season for a 9–0 1986 Michigan team. Michigan entered the game ranked first nationally in both scoring defense (8.1 points per game) and pass efficiency defense (79.62 rating).
Minnesota drove 71 yards on its first possession, scored the game's first points on a 27-yard field goal by Adam Bailey and led 3–0 after one quarter. After the opening drive, Michigan's defense shut down the Golden Gophers, allowing only 33 yards of total offense in the remainder of the game. Minnesota was held to 10 yards of total offense in the entire second half, as Michigan extended its fourth-quarter shutout to 8 games. Michigan also held its opponent without a touchdown for the fifth time in 8 games and shut down Minnesota so effectively that Michigan started four drives in Minnesota territory in the first half.
Woodson, who played 16 offensive plays, gave Michigan the lead 9 seconds into the second quarter on a 33-yard touchdown run off a reverse play. Michigan scored its second touchdown on a drive starting at Minnesota's 33-yard line following a short punt. Griese connected with Thomas for 28 yards and then with Mark Campbell for a 12-yard touchdown to give Michigan a 14–3 halftime lead. In the third quarter, Michigan mounted a 93-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard touchdown run by Thomas. Baker added a field goal in the final quarter.
Michigan's offensive leader in the game was Howard, who totaled 98 rushing yards on 20 carries and 40 receiving yards on a game-high four catches. Shea added 51 receiving yards on three catches. Minnesota totaled only 102 yards of total offense, and Byron Evans was responsible for 82 of them (17 carries for 82 yards). Michigan overcame two turnovers inside Minnesota's 5-yard-line and a missed field goal. With the win, Michigan had prevailed in 28 of its last 30 games against Minnesota.
In week 9, Michigan defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 34–8 in front of a record crowd of 97,498 at Beaver Stadium. Penn State entered the game with the longest active winning streak among major colleges at 12 games and was ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll and No. 3 in the Coaches Poll. Michigan was 8–0 and ranked No. 4 in both polls. The game matched Michigan's defense, which was ranked first in Division I-A in scoring defense (7.5 points per game), yards per game (202.5) and pass efficiency rating (77.5), against Penn State's offense, which was ranked eighth in total offense (464 yards per game) and ninth in rushing offense (240 yards per game).
On the opening drive, Michigan drove 53 yards and took the lead on a 29-yard field goal by Kraig Baker. On Penn State's first play from scrimmage after the field goal, Glen Steele sacked Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary for a 10-yard loss. On third down, Juaquin Feazell sacked McQueary for a seven-yard loss, and Penn State was forced to punt after losing 13 yards on the drive. After the punt, Michigan drove 55 yards in six plays, ending with a 12-yard touchdown run by Anthony Thomas. In the second quarter, Michigan extended its lead to 17–0 after Griese gained 40 yards on a broken play and then completed a 37-yard touchdown pass to Woodson. Michigan's defense held Penn State to one yard on its next possession, and the offense then drove 57 yards on 11 plays, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Jerame Tuman. Michigan led 24–0 at the half, Penn State's largest halftime deficit in the Joe Paterno era.
In the third quarter, Chris Howard ran 29 yards for a touchdown, and Baker added a 42-yard field goal. At the end of the third quarter, Michigan led 34–0. Penn State scored its only points on a one-yard touchdown by Curtis Enis and two-point conversion with 6:12 left in the game. The 34–8 defeat was Penn State's worst home loss in the Paterno era. which began in 1966.
Michigan's defense held the Penn State to 169 yards of total offense (68 passing yards and 101 rushing yards), Penn State's lowest total since 1987. The defense also held Penn State without a single third down conversion in 12 attempts and totaled nine tackles for loss, including five quarterback sacks. Penn State did not get inside the Michigan 40-yard line in the first 52 minutes of the game. Woodson helped contain Penn State's leading receiver, Joe Jurevicius to 20 receiving yards. Enis accounted for the majority of Penn State's offense with 103 rushing yards on 18 carries for his fifth consecutive 100-yard game. Through the first nine games, Michigan's defense allowed an average of 198.7 yards per game, the lowest among major college teams since the national champion 1992 Alabama team gave up 194.2 yards per game. However, Penn State scored the first fourth-quarter points and the first second-half touchdown that Michigan had surrendered all season.
Michigan's offense totaled 416 yards and was led by Howard and Griese. Howard rushed for 120 yards on 22 carries and had four pass receptions for 41 yards. Griese completed 14 of 22 passes for 151 yards and added 46 rushing yards. Michigan was 7-for-15 in third down conversions and had an overall yardage edge 416–169. In the first half, Michigan had a 259–38 yards of total offense advantage and a 16–3 first downs edge without the benefit of any turnovers.
Following its convincing victory over Penn State, Michigan traveled to Wisconsin ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, though Florida State was No. 1 in the Coaches' Poll and Nebraska also remained unbeaten. The game drew the third-largest crowd ever (79,806) at Camp Randall Stadium.
Michigan took the opening drive 80 yards in 13 plays, ending with a one-yard touchdown run by Howard on fourth down. During the drive, Michigan showed some flashiness with a "double pass" play that had Griese throwing across the field to Woodson, and Woodson throwing back to Griese, who ran the ball 28 yards to the Badgers' one-yard-line to set up the first score. In the second quarter, Griese connected with Streets for a 38-yard touchdown, which gave Michigan a 13–0 lead after Baker missed the extra point. Wisconsin responded with a 62-yard, 14-play drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal by Matt Davenport with 4:22 remaining in the half. On its final possession of the half, Michigan drove to Wisconsin's one-yard-line, but this time on fourth down they opted for an 18-yard Feely field goal to take a 16–3 lead into halftime. Feely took over for Baker for the rest of the game after the missed extra point. Wisconsin put together an 80-yard, 11-play drive with Samuel sneaking in from the 1-yard line. Feely added a 24-yard field goal 1:52 into the fourth quarter. Then, Howard added a four-yard touchdown run with 6:15 remaining to make it 26–10. Wisconsin posted a 21-yard touchdown pass to Tony Simmons with 2:45 left, but missed the two-point conversion, leaving them 10 points behind, which was the final margin.
Despite the fact that Wisconsin was without Ron Dayne who had a sprained ankle, Michigan's performance was unimpressive compared to its undefeated peers who won by wide margins: Florida State defeated Wake Forest 58–7 and Nebraska defeated Iowa State 77–14. Also, week 11 opponent Ohio State, defeated Illinois 41–6. Florida State's win gave it its record-setting 11th straight 10-win season. The game marked the first time in its last four attempts that Michigan won a football game while ranked number one in the AP Poll. Michigan had 204 rushing yards and 282 passing yards with no turnovers. Wisconsin totaled 235 yards.
Griese had one touchdown and 254 yards on 19 of 26 passing. Howard had 100 yards on 26 carries, including two touchdowns. Floyd added 66 yards on just six carries. Woodson picked off his nation-leading sixth interception, had three receptions for 28 yards as well as a 28-yard pass completion to Griese after what The New York Times (NYT) described as a double pass, but the USA Today (USAT) described as a handoff and pass. Streets had 108 yards on five receptions. Carl McCullough had 106 yards on 20 carries in Dayne's place. Wisconsin quarterback Mike Samuel also picked up some of the slack with 73 yards on 15 carries according to NYT, but only totaled 49 yards, according to USAT.
Michigan concluded the regular season with a 20–14 win in its annual rivalry game against Ohio State, securing the Wolverines' first perfect regular season since 1971. The game, which drew a record crowd of 106,982 to Michigan Stadium, began with a strong showing by both defensive units. The first ten possessions ended with nine punts and a fumble by Ohio State quarterback, Stanley Jackson. Michigan took a 7–0 lead in the second quarter with a two-minute, 62-yard touchdown drive. The key plays on the drive were a 37-yard pass from Brian Griese to Charles Woodson and a 15-yard run by Chris Floyd taking the ball to the one-yard-line. Anthony Thomas slipped past middle linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer for the touchdown. Michigan's defense held Ohio State to three plays on the following drive, and Woodson returned Ohio State's punt 78 yards up the left sideline for Michigan's second touchdown with 3:43 remaining in the first half. Katzenmoyer blocked Kraig Baker's extra point attempt and ran the ball back to Michigan's 30-yard-line. Michigan led 13–0 at halftime.
Two Ohio State drives in the third quarter ended with interceptions. On the first, Ohio State drove to Michigan's seven-yard-line when Woodson intercepted a Stanley Jackson pass. The interception was Woodson's seventh of the season and Jackson's first. On Ohio State's next possession, Jackson passed the ball while in the grasp of Michigan's Sam Sword. Andre Weathers intercepted the pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown, giving Michigan a 20–0 lead. Later in the third quarter, Ohio State scored on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Joe Germaine to David Boston. Ohio State added a final touchdown in the fourth quarter after Gary Berry forced a fumble during a sack of Griese. Jerry Rudzinski recovered the ball at Michigan's seven-yard-line and returned it to the 2-yard line. Pepe Pearson, who had 80 yards on 17 carries, ran two yards for the score on the next play. Michigan held its 20–14 lead, as defensive end Glen Steele twice sacked Joe Germaine on the final possession and had another tackle for a loss. Ian Gold deflected Germaine's fourth-down pass from the Ohio State 16-yard line with 42 seconds left in the game.
Michigan's offense was forced to punt 11 times, compiled only 189 yards of total offense (147 passing yards and 42 rushing yards) and was held to 45 yards in the entire second half. Two of Michigan's touchdowns came on defense (Weathers' interception return) and special teams (Woodson's punt return). Griese, who was carried off the field by his teammates at the conclusion of the game, was Michigan's offensive leader, completing 14 of 25 passes for 147 yards and no interceptions. Thomas posted 29 rushing yards on 14 carries and was Michigan's leading receiver with 8 catches for 77 yards. Woodson also played a key role with his 78-yard punt return, third-quarter interception and 37-yard pass reception.
Michigan was ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll and No. 2 in the Coaches Poll before the game, and Ohio State was ranked No. 4 in both polls. Florida State, which had been ranked No. 1 in the Coaches Poll, lost to Florida, leaving Michigan and Nebraska as the only major college teams who remained unbeaten. With the win over Ohio State and Florida State's loss, Michigan received 69 of 70 first place votes in the AP Poll and 46 of 62 in the Coaches Poll. The Rose Bowl was set to have its first consensus No. 1 participant since the 1980 Rose Bowl.
During the 1997 award season, Charles Woodson became one of the most honored players in Michigan history. He was selected as Michigan's Most Valuable Player, a first-team All-Big Ten player and a first-team All-American. On December 1, 1997, he received the Walter Camp Award as the college football Player of the Year. On December 11, 1997, Woodson also won the Bednarik Award as top defensive player and the Jim Thorpe Award as top defensive back. By a margin of 55 votes out of 2,500 votes cast, Woodson was beaten by Peyton Manning for the Maxwell Award. The award season culminated with the Heisman Trophy. Woodson was invited to the Downtown Athletic Club for the Heisman announcement along with fellow finalists Manning, Ryan Leaf, and Randy Moss. Woodson won the Heisman, edging Manning by a margin of 1815–1543 points and 433–281 first place votes. He became the first predominately defensive player to receive the award.
Other Michigan players recognized in the 1997 award season included first-team All-Americans Glen Steele and Jerame Tuman. Ten members of the team were honored as All-Big Ten Conference selections, and running back Anthony Thomas was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Head coach Lloyd Carr won the Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award, the George Munger Award, and the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award.
As the Big Ten champion, Michigan faced the Pac-10 champion Washington State Cougars in the 1998 Rose Bowl. The game matched the nation's best defense against the number two offense. Michigan's defense allowed an average of 206.9 yards per game through the regular season, while Washington State averaged 42.5 points and 502.1 yards a game. Washington State, which featured quarterback Ryan Leaf and a five-wideout offense, had established Pac-10 passing records with 3,637 yards and 33 touchdowns. The game marked Michigan's first Rose Bowl since 1993 and Washington State's first since 1931. Going into the game, Michigan held a 68–1 and 53.5–8.5 first place vote lead in the AP and Coaches Polls over fellow unbeaten Nebraska, respectively. The national television broadcast of the game featured announcers Bob Griese, the father of Michigan's quarterback, and Keith Jackson, a Washington State alumnus and former radio and television announcer for the Cougars.
In the first quarter, Washington State downed a punt at Michigan's one-yard-line and forced the Wolverines to punt without a first down. After regaining possession at Michigan's 47-yard-line, Leaf threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to McKenzie to take a 7–0 lead with 3:07 remaining in the first quarter. On Washington State's next possession, Woodson intercepted Leaf in the end zone. Later, Griese found Tai Streets for a 53-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 7:08 left in the first half.
Leaf opened the second half with a 99-yard drive for a go-ahead touchdown to take a 13–7 lead after the extra point was blocked by James Hall. On the ensuing possession, Griese threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Streets on a play-action pass to take a 14–13 lead with 5:07 left in the third quarter. After a punt by Washington State, Griese led a 14-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard play-action touchdown pass from Griese to Jerame Tuman, giving Michigan a 21–13 lead with 11:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, Leaf converted a 3rd-and-18 play from his own 12 by connecting with McKenzie for 19 yards. Eventually, Washington State settled for a Rian Lindell 48-yard field goal with 7:25 to play to make the score 21–16. Michigan started a drive that included four consecutive third down conversions and consumed most of the clock. The conversions were as follows: a 3rd-and-11 Griese scrambled to the Michigan 29; a 3rd-and-7 lateral to Woodson who faked a pass before running eight yards to keep the drive alive; a 3rd-and-6 13-yard pass to Shaw; and a 3rd-and-7 pass to Woodson taking the ball to the Washington State 33. A pooch punt by Jay Feely from field goal formation left Washington on its own seven-yard-line with 29 seconds remaining. Washington State's final drive began at the Cougars 7-yard-line with 16 seconds left to play. Leaf completed a 46-yard pas to Nian Taylor to move the ball to the Michigan 47. Washington State drew an illegal formation penalty with nine seconds remaining, but executed a hook and lateral play for 26-yards to the Michigan 26-yard-line, with an eight-yard catch by Love Jefferson and an 18-yard run by Jason Clayton who was tackled by Weathers and Jones. With two seconds to play, the clock was stopped to move the chains. With no timeouts left, Leaf spiked the football, but Dick Burleson, the referee from the Southeastern Conference crew, shook his head as Leaf contested the decision. Michigan's victory evened the series between the Pac-10 and Big 10 in the Rose Bowl at 26 wins apiece.
Michigan totaled 379 yards of offense in the game, slightly less than the 398 yards of offense gained by Washington State. Griese, who was selected as the game's Most Valuable Player, completed 18 of 30 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. Leaf completed 17 of 35 passes for 331 passing yards, the fifth highest total in Rose Bowl history. Washington State running back Michael Black injured his calf muscle and was held to 24 yards on 7 carries, while the team totaled just 67 yards rushing. Streets had 4 receptions for 127 yards.
Following the Rose Bowl, Michigan needed to wait a few days for the final polls. On January 4, it was revealed that Nebraska had overtaken Michigan by four points and two first place votes in the coaches poll to earn a split in the major national polls. Nebraska had beaten Tennessee 42–17 and totaled 534 yards of total offense, including 409 rushing yards and an Orange Bowl record-setting 206 rushing yards by Ahman Green. Michigan held on to a 51.5–18.5 final first place vote lead in the AP Poll, but had a 32–30 deficit in the coaches poll. Since the 1968 permanent creation of the final post bowl game AP poll, no winning No. 1 team had lost its lead following a bowl game, but the 1990 Colorado Buffaloes football team had lost the coaches poll to Georgia Tech following a 10–9 1991 Orange Bowl victory over Notre Dame. In addition to bowl game victory margins, Tom Osborne's retirement and the Big Ten's cumulative 2–5 bowl game record were considered factors leading to the split polls. Michigan was named as the national champion by the following polls: Associated Press, Football News, Football Writers Association of America, National Championship Foundation, National Football Foundation, and Sporting News.
Michigan's 1997 defense set the NCAA Division I FBS record for fewest yards allowed per pass completion (8.8 yards per completion, 100–149 completions) Over the course of the 1997 season, including conference and non-conference games, Michigan's defense led the Big Ten Conference in most statistical categories, including rushing defense (89.0 yards per game), passing defense (133.8 yards per game), passing defense efficiency (81.8 points per game), total defense (222.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (9.5 points per game).
Michigan's 1997 season totals in total defense and scoring defense are the lowest marks among all Big Ten football teams since the 1985 season. The last Big Ten team with a lower scoring defense mark was the 1985 Michigan team that held opponents to 6.8 points per game. Including the 1997 season, Michigan won the Big Ten statistical championship in rushing defense six times in eight years from 1990 to 1997.
On offense, quarterback Brian Griese set Michigan single-season passing records with 193 pass completions and 307 pass attempts. In each case, Griese surpassed records set by Todd Collins in 1993; Tom Brady broke both of Griese's records in 1998.
On the last day that underclassmen could declare for the 1998 NFL Draft in early January, junior Woodson decided to forgo his collegiate eligibility. Woodson joined a class of more than a dozen underclassmen that included Leaf, Moss, Green, Enis, Takeo Spikes, Benji Olson and Olin Kreutz. Underclassmen who returned for more college play included Donovan McNabb, Kevin Faulk and Amos Zereoue. The following Michigan players were claimed in the 1998 NFL Draft.
A total of 31 members of the 1997 Michigan Wolverines team played in the NFL. A 32nd player, Rob Renes was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts but suffered a career-ending fracture of the L-5 vertebrae two weeks into training camp with the Colts in 2000. A 33rd player, Russell Shaw, played seven years in the Arena Football League. The 31 team members who played in the NFL are:
The individuals in the sections below earned recognition for meritorious performances.All-Americans: Charles Woodson, Glen Steele, Jerame Tuman
Heisman Trophy: Woodson
Walter Camp Award: Woodson
Sporting News College Football Player of the Year: Woodson
Chic Harley Award: Woodson
Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Woodson
Chuck Bednarik Award: Woodson
Jim Thorpe Award: Woodson
Jack Tatum Trophy: Woodson
Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award: Lloyd Carr
George Munger Award: Carr
Paul "Bear" Bryant Award: Carr
Broyles Award: Jim Herrmann
All-Conference: Charles Woodson, Marcus Ray, Jerame Tuman, Brian Griese, Zach Adami, Steve Hutchinson, Jon Jansen, Glen Steele, Sam Sword, Andre Weathers
Big Ten Football MVP: Woodson
Big Ten Athlete of the Year (all sports): Woodson
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: Woodson
Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Anthony Thomas
Captains: Jon Jansen, Eric Mayes
Most Valuable Player: Charles Woodson
Meyer Morton Award: Clint Copenhaver
John Maulbetsch Award: Marcus Knight
Frederick Matthei Award: Clarence Williams
Arthur Robinson Scholarship Award: Rob Renes
Dick Katcher Award: Glen Steele
Hugh Rader Jr. Award: Zach Adami
Robert P. Ufer Award: Chris Floyd
Roger Zatkoff Award: Sam Sword