Alamo Journal-Day 3: It's all in the mind

The press conference should tell you something about what a team is thinking before they head into a game. Sure, you are going to get a lot of that P.C. stuff at the P.C., but if you can read between the lines and especially in the one-on-ones after the formal Q & A, there are usually signs of just what this game means to the participants. If everything I was getting from all of that is true, there are two totally different mind-sets going into this game.

First, I am going to preface this by saying that I cover Nebraska football. That basically means I have somewhat of a feel for how players act, what they are likely to say and from that I can get a fair to midland idea of what their disposition is before a game.

I can't say that about Michigan.

I have never covered their practices, I don't know how they act in certain situations, so I don't know that their disposition this week is any different from any other.

With that being said, I got two very different messages from the press conference today, but most definitely after the press conference, in the one-on-one interviews. From the Nebraska contingent I got a very loose feeling, guys knowing that they are perhaps the biggest underdog of the bowl season, the team with supposedly nothing to lose, hence they are feeling as if this is their time to shine.

From the Michigan side of things, I got the sense that this is an important game, but for very different reasons. First, it's not against Florida, the opponent they would have faced had they gone to the Outback Bowl instead of Iowa, a team they beat earlier in the year. It's against Nebraska, a team that isn't ranked, has had a pretty up and down year and unlike the Wolverines, whose four losses came by a total of 17 points, the Huskers lost one game by 25 and another by 16, neither of those teams they lost to being ranked either.

Michigan's marquee victory was over BCS-bound Penn State. Nebraska's marquee victory was over Big 12 North Champion Colorado, who by the way wasn't ranked when the Huskers took them apart in Boulder.

Michigan has the freshman phenom turned sophomore Chad Henne at quarterback. Nebraska has Zac Taylor, a transfer from Butler Community College.

Michigan has a dynamic duo at wide receiver in Jason Avant and Steve Breaston, while Nebraska has Nathan Swift, a redshirt freshman, and Cory Ross, who just happens to be the running back, but is also one of the team's most prolific ball-catchers.

Michigan has the offensive line laden with All-Big Ten selections, while Nebraska has a line that started two freshmen at tackle in just the second to last regular season game of the year.

You see the picture I am painting here?

Michigan has a lot to lose.

If you go into a game against someone considered your equal, if you lose, there won't be this huge fallout, unless it came against a traditional rival. If you go into the game against teams you are supposed to be markedly better than, however, there exists that intangible value that trumps everything else.

It's called embarrassment

Now, while I will admit that Michigan is better than Nebraska on paper, I wouldn't say Michigan losing to Nebraska would be the biggest upset in bowl history, nor would I call it a climactic event that signified the plummeting of the mighty Michigan program. Nebraska has shown, at times, that they can play very well. They have shown, at times, that they can put four quarters together of pretty decent football.

If you ask a Michigan fan, though, what they would think of losing to a Nebraska team that is admittedly in just year-two of rebuilding an option program into a west coast team, their grimace, rolled eyes and gritted teeth would tell you that if the Wolverines lost this game, there are going to be more than a few calling for someone's job.

If Nebraska loses this game, outside of a complete blowout, this game was the gift of a good season, bettering a horrible season prior, and it's another step in the phase to becoming a better team.

Who has more to lose? Who has more to gain?

What's more important, what kind of emotion rides on the game itself?

For Michigan, it's not desperation, because this isn't a program that is in any type of dire straits when it comes to major programs on the decline. They aren't. Michigan is one of if not the most consistent program when it comes to winning, in college football history.

It's not desperation, but there can be no doubt just how important this game is to the Wolverines.

With any bowl game there is pressure. It's more than the regular season. It's a time where you know your game isn't on regional TV, but national. It's a game where coaches know recruits from coast-to-coast, seniors down to even freshman, will be watching to see what happens. It's a game that people from the outside will judge your entire season on how you play right here, right now.

Can you remember a few years ago when the Big Ten was getting lambasted as a sub par conference and all they did was almost sweep the bowl season, shutting up the skeptical masses?

That's what bowl games mean.

They are either the icing on the cake or the salt in the open wound.

The only problem for Michigan, this particular game is neither.

If you win, you were supposed to. If you lose, well, that's just about the worst thing that has happened all season. So, you are basically damned if you do and damned if you don't. The only thing that will probably satisfy the masses is that blowout victory, reigniting the talk of the injustice of having to go to this game versus the one down in the sunshine state.

Outside of that, a loss is a horrible loss and a win is still sort of a loss, because if it wasn't by a huge margin, this program has a lot of work to do.

What do you think that type of mind-set does to a player or a team? I suppose you could say of collegiate and even professional athletes, it's those moments where they shine, because that's what they are all on the field for in the first place. The big moment, where the pressure is on, you having to respond or go home bitterly disappointed, knowing there are no more tomorrows that year.

But we know that's not the case. Perhaps it's analogous to Nebraska playing Iowa State. Yeah, Iowa State is better than they used to be, but this is a team that a Nebraska team should beat, so if they do, even if it's by some bizarre circumstances like the double-overtime victory this season in Lincoln, people will still say that Nebraska beat Iowa State, and that's about it.

Nobody will blink if Michigan beats Nebraska. They are favored by double-digits, they are ranked and have wins over much more impressive teams – this is a game they shouldn't lose by any stretch of the imagination.

You have to wonder if the pressure going into the bowl is greater facing a ranked team or an unranked team.

One you want to win, the other you seemingly have to win.

You know what you hear from players when you ask them about games, where they had a lot of success and everything just seemed to go their way? Invariably someone will say ‘We were just out there having fun.'

Loose as a goose, care-free, running around on the field and making plays. That's how it usually goes when teams have a lot of success, but you have to wonder how Michigan players can be in that state of mind or how their coaches can get them into that state of mind if they aren't.

They aren't

When you ask Michigan players what they think they need to do to win, they reply as if they are reading it off of a cue card. You ask Nebraska players, they'll smile, talk about how they need to stay together, trust one another and just go out there and have fun.

Now, again, I haven't covered Michigan football at all, so maybe that's how they always are. Maybe they have this robotic persona that translates into robot-like efficiency on the field. If that's not the case, though, the pressure of facing a team they are supposed to beat versus that of a team that is thought to be more than capable of beating them, could have already had an affect.

I can tell you one thing. There's a team in red happy as hell to be there. They will be jumping around, focused on the task at hand, but living in the moment of an achievement from a decade's worth of disasters in 2004. They will also be doing that in front of what should be a pro-Nebraska crowd, the total numbers rising to near-record status right now, reports having the attendance at over 61,000 right now. The Alamo Dome can hold 65,000.

Will Michigan be as jovial, as loose, as ready to play? It's hard to say, but when a decent team has nothing to lose and a very good team has supposedly nothing to gain, I wonder if you are betting your money on mentality, where you throw your wager down.

An 11 point difference?

Ok, but for which team? Right now I just don't know.

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