Mark Dantonio has job security, but he might have a losing 2009 record after Saturday. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Geez, the college football season has barely started, and already I'm confused. Let's see, where do we begin?
Two weeks ago, Notre Dame was making plans to win multiple national championships in a single season. Michigan State was busy seizing control of the state and extending Mark Dantonio's contract to 2078. And Michigan, poor Michigan, was just hoping to stay close against MAC teams, while nodding politely and buying drinks for the NCAA enforcement geeks.
Now? Now, the Irish and Spartans get to decide whose season is ruined Saturday, while the Wolverines are digging out their dusty Pasadena travel logs. All of a sudden, Michigan State and Notre Dame are teetering and Michigan is tittering and everyone except me is twittering, and I have no idea what to think.
(Esteemed Congressman Joe Wilson: "You lie!")
OK, I did lie. I have an idea what to think, and I think the Wolverines are back from the abyss, or wherever they went last season. I also think the Spartans' visit to South Bend is the biggest game ever for Charlie Weis, who's being asked to confirm or deny his genius status once and for all.
Echoes of futility
In case you missed it, Notre Dame's march to glory was temporarily derailed by Michigan, which unveiled college football's real Golden Tate. I know, I know, these star-is-born stories get way overblown, so it's silly to suggest Tate Forcier launched the first of four consecutive Heisman Trophy bids in the Wolverines' 38-34 victory. Three, max.
Obviously, Rich Rodriguez found his quarterback, although the truth is, Michigan is only really good if Notre Dame is really good, and we don't know if Notre Dame is really good at all. We do know Weis got full of himself (not easy to do) and called too many passes late in the game, then explained his strategy by pointing out the officiating was lame.
I'm not saying Michigan's turnaround is complete. I am saying the idea of changing Schembechler Hall to Rodriguez Ranch isn't entirely ludicrous. Actually, it is entirely ludicrous and I apologize to the Schembechler family for mentioning it.
But you'd have to possess the football insight of asparagus not to recognize the Wolverines are clawing back. As it turns out, according to my math, the Spartans had complete control of the state for exactly 15 days, nine hours and 37 minutes before stepping aside with a very gracious loss to Central Michigan.
Michigan State players are wearing a silver decal of our state on their helmets, a touching gesture during trying times. But there was no need to make the Chippewas feel even better by handing them a 29-27 victory.
Sure, it was a nobler gesture than Michigan's unnecessary loss to a MAC team from Ohio last year, but where does the Spartans' charity stop? Why not just give opponents two chances on every field-goal attempt? Why not provide complimentary fruit-and-cheese platters on the opposing sideline? (Wings and sliders when Notre Dame visits, please.)
There was a Same-Old-Spartanishness to the loss, even though Dantonio has worked very hard to eliminate that malady in our lifetime. Now, it's imperative he sustains one key element of S.O.S.ishness -- beating the Irish.
Michigan State has won six straight at Notre Dame, which is amazing until you realize the Irish haven't been very good since Lou Holtz was stalking the sidelines, mulling his future as a wacky and inaccurate prognosticator. A few more losses and there could be room in a broadcast booth for Weis, with appropriate expansion and renovation.
Pick: Notre Dame 35-20.