Sunday, July 01, 2007

30-year Flashback: 1977 season "preview"

The 1977 Wolverines had a pre-season ranking of #2 in the nation as they returned many of the key players (including quarterback Rick Leach) from the team that had won the Big Ten title and finished #3 in the nation the previous season. Here is a look at the 1977 schedule:
  • Sept. 10 at Illinois*
  • Sept. 17 Duke
  • Sept 24 Navy
  • Oct. 1 Texas A&M
  • Oct. 8 at Michigan State*
  • Oct. 15 Wisconsin*
  • Oct. 22 at Minnesota*
  • Oct. 29 Iowa*
  • Nov. 5 Northwestern*
  • Nov. 12 at Purdue*
  • Nov. 19 Ohio State*

*denotes Big Ten Conference game

Michigan had a tough first game in 1977 as it was due to open its season on the road with a conference game against Illnois. This game would pit Coach Schembechler against his former Defensive Coordinator Gary Moeller who had been hired in the off-season as Illinois' Head Coach. That game was to be followed by three non-conference games(Duke, Navy, & Texas A&M) at home. Michigan always had a huge home field advantage as Michigan Stadium had the largest seating capacity of any college football stadium at 101,701. The game against the Texas A&M Aggies in week 4 would likely be a battle of two top 10 teams and the stadium was going to be packed for that game. After the non-conference portion of the schedule, Michigan was due to head back out on the road to take on intra-state rival Michigan State in the annual rivalry match-up. That meant that the '77 schedule put the Wolverines on the road for the first two conference games of the season. Game six would see the Wolverines back in A2 against Wisconsin (a likely top-20 team) but the Wolverines would be on the road the following week to play Minnesota. After the Golden Gophers, Michigan would have a two game homestand in weeks in eight and nine (Iowa & Northwestern) before going on the road in week 10 to play Purdue. The final game of the regular season, of course, was against Ohio State and would be a home game for the Wolverines in 1977. As defending Big 10 Champions, the '77 Wolverines were gunning for their second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.

Leading the '77 Wolverines were team co-Captains Dwight Hicks and Walt Downing. Hicks (Sr.) made the switch from safety to wolfman in 1977 with the help of his position coach Jack Harbaugh. Downing, the team's Center, was an All-Big 10 player the previous season in '76 and had also been named an honorable mention All-American. Downing (Sr.) worked to be named a first-team All-American in 1977. Hicks and Downing (along with quarterback Rick Leach) provided excellent team leadership for the 1977 Wolverines as they attempted to repeat as Big Ten Champions and return to the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive season. Go Blue!

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