The consensus #1 team going into the bowl season was undefeated Michigan, ranked #1 in both the AP and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Led by the coach of the year Lloyd Carr and Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, Michigan went into the 1998 Rose Bowl against #8 Washington State. Michigan defeated Washington State 21–16.
Meanwhile, undefeated #2 Nebraska squared off in the 1998 Orange Bowl versus the #3 ranked Tennessee Volunteers. The Cornhuskers made a point of smacking down Tennessee as they defeated the Volunteers 42-17. Unusually for the low-key Osborne and his straight-ahead team, after the game, he campaigned openly for Nebraska to be named the consensus national champion (Grant Wistrom stated that if “they wanted to give it to Michigan because they haven’t won one in 50 years, we don’t want it anyway.”).
After the bowl games, the AP poll awarded the national championship to Michigan, and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll awarded the national championship to Nebraska, giving Tom Osborne his third national title in four seasons to cap his career. This also marked the last time that a Big 10 (or Pac-10) team would be bound to play in the Rose Bowl instead of heading to a #1-#2 title game, due to the 1998 BCS realignment.