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COLLEGE FOOBALL '89 : COACHES, PLAYERS, TEAMS AND TRENDS TO WATCH : ON THE LINE : Michigan Seeks First Title for Big Ten Since '68

August 28, 1989|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

Bo is back and in a big way.

Not Bo Jackson, the super athlete, but Bo Schembechler, the coach.

Schembechler's 224 victories are the most among active Division 1-A football coaches. But his image has suffered because of Michigan's miserable bowl record.

Until Michigan beat USC, 22-14, last January in the Rose Bowl, Schembechler-coached teams had won only four of 15 bowl games.

National championships are often won, or higher rankings attained, in the major bowl games, and Bo's boys usually haven't been up to the task.

Moreover, Big Ten Conference teams haven't finished No. 1 in the final Associated Press or United Press International rankings since Ohio State was acclaimed by both polls in 1968.

Michigan came close, though, in 1988, losing to eventual champion Notre Dame and No. 2 Miami by a total of only three points. The Wolverines were fourth ranked in the final polls.

"That wasn't even supposed to be their year," said Iowa Coach Hayden Fry of Michigan's 9-2-1 record. "This was supposed to be their year. But at the end of last season they were the best team in the country."

This season, Schembechler's team is ranked No. 1 by Associated Press.

The crusty coach, who is also the school's athletic director, says jokingly that there is internal pressure on him because Michigan won the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. basketball championship last season.

"In one year I turned this into a basketball school," Schembechler said. "This is a difficult year for the football coach at a school predominately known for basketball, but we will try to live up to our basketball team."

Although Schembechler has never won a national championship, he says it's not his primary goal.

"We're not like Notre Dame or Penn State that have nothing to play for except the national championship," he said. "Our goal is the Big Ten championship. If there are any Big Ten teams that shoot for a national championship, they're damn fools."

Schembechler might redefine his goals, however, if Michigan beats Notre Dame and UCLA on successive Saturdays in September.

National championships aren't necessarily won in September, but they can be lost.

Schembechler's reasoning that independent teams are more focused on the national championship than teams with conference commitments has some merit.

Five of the last seven national champions have come from the independent ranks, with Miami and Penn State each winning two titles.

Even with a new coach, Dennis Erickson, and a new quarterback, Craig Erickson (no relation), the Hurricanes are a factor again.

So are Notre Dame, Nebraska, Louisiana State, USC, UCLA, Florida State, and Auburn, according to preseason magazines and polls.

The Irish will be trying to become the first school to win consecutive national championships since AP ranked Alabama No. 1 in 1978 and 1979.

However, Coach Lou Holtz will have to cope with the loss of two key players because of disciplinary action, and another who transferred to UCLA.

The university's Office of Student Affairs, which operates independently of the athletic department, has suspended All-American linebacker Michael Stonebreaker for his senior year and refused to allow running back Tony Brooks to re-enter school.

The dismissals were prompted by separate traffic accidents last February in which Stonebreaker was charged with driving under the influence and Brooks with leaving the scene of an accident that involved no injuries.

Commenting on the university's action, Holtz said: "Do I feel remorse? Yes. Am I bitter at the university? No. The university has done so many great things and turned around so many great people. I know they have a philosophy here in how they operate. I trust that philosophy."

Sophomore Arnold Ale, the former Carson High School defensive end, became homesick. Tackle George Williams was ruled academically ineligible and fullback Braxton Banks probably is out for the season because of knee surgery.

These are setbacks, to be sure, along with a schedule that has the Irish on the road for five of its first six games.

So much for negative aspects. On the positive side is the return of quarterback Tony Rice, whose passing skill might not be comparable to his running ability in Holtz's wishbone portion of the offense, but it's not a drawback, either.

He has matured as a passer and has capable receivers in Raghib (Rocket) Ismael, who caught a 55-yarder from Rice against USC last year, and Derek Brown.

Ricky Watters, the team's leading receiver last year, has been switched to tailback, a position he played in 1987. With Brooks' departure, Watters will be a key player while Anthony Johnson will be used more extensively at fullback.

Holtz also has a veteran offensive line and defensive standouts such as nose tackle Chris Zorich and linebacker Ned Bolcar, along with an experienced, talented secondary.

Michigan is amply stocked with proven players.

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