1976 team: A Bicentennial Powerhouse
The 1976 team was a dominant squad and was ranked #1 in the nation for most of the season. The Wolverines began the year ranked #2 but after posting a 40-27 victory over Wisconsin in the season opener U of M ascended to the #1 ranking in the AP poll. The Wolverines offense featured sophmore sensation Rick Leach at quarterback, Heisman Trophy candidate Rob Lytle at running back, All-American Jim Smith at wingback, and All-American Mark Donahue at offensive guard. The defense was led by tri-captain and All-American middle linebacker Calvin O'Neal. As the #1 team in the nation, the Wolverines rolled to an 8-0 record. In those first eight games, U of M scored at least 31 points in each contest and the defense shut out the opponents in four of those first eight games. However, a tough 16-14 road loss to Purdue in the ninth game dashed U of M's dreams of an undefeated season and the National Championship.
The Wolverines resumed their winning ways the following week by drilling Illinois 38-7 which set U of M up for their annual season ending showdown with Ohio State. U of M was 0-3-1 against the Buckeyes over the previous four seasons and the Wolverines were looking to go to Columbus and come home with a victory. The talented Wolverines overwhelmed OSU and U of M pounded their way to a 22-0 win over the Buckeyes. This win propelled U of M back to the #2 ranking and into a spot in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the January 1, 1972 game. In a battle against the #3 ranked USC Trojans, the Wolverines fell 14-6 in a classic contest. The Wolverines finished the season with a 10-2 record and a season ending ranking of #3 in the AP poll. The top-3 finish marked the second time in 3 years that U of M finished in the top-3 (1974 & 1976). It was also the eighth consecutive year that U of M finished in the top-10 in the AP poll (1969-1976). Go Blue!