November 9, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Wojo's Picks: With Michigan QBs and Michigan State's record, mysteries abound

A confusing season is getting confusing-er and confusing-er. Now that the election has passed and we're united again as one harmonious nation, perhaps we can figure this out together.

For instance, I can't tell if Michigan has two good, healthy quarterbacks, or none. I can't tell if Michigan State is the greatest 5-5 team in history or the unluckiest 5-5 team in history or the whiniest 5-5 team in history. I can't tell if Wisconsin and Indiana are playing a huge pivotal game, or if it's a joke in need of a punchline.

Help me out here. Michigan (6-3) must beat mighty Northwestern (7-2) on Saturday to stay in the homely Big Ten race, but the strangest thing has happened. Just as the Wolverines defense started appearing, their quarterbacks started disappearing. No one knows where they went, or if all their limbs are working.

Devin Gardner started instead of Denard Robinson last week and was pretty good. But Robinson is the quarterback if his elbow is better, or sort of better. If not, then Gardner is the quarterback ahead of the injured (or not injured) Russell Bellomy and third-stringer Jack Kennedy, who's no Jack Kennedy.

But everything could change by game time, except it might not change because Robinson's injury might be worse than initially thought. Unless it isn't.

For answers, I went to Brady Hoke, a cheerfully engaging person who will happily discuss anything as long as it is not, in any way, related to Michigan quarterbacks, Michigan injuries, Michigan depth charts, Michigan uniforms, Michigan weather, etc.

Take a look at our conversation, fabricated and secretly recorded as always:

Me: "So, Coach, who you planning to start at quarterback?"

Hoke: "No idea."

Me: "Are you even using a quarterback this week?"

Hoke: "Not sure."

Me: "Can I get some sort of clue?"

Hoke: "His first name starts with a D."

Me: "Great! Anything else?"

Hoke: "First name starts with D-e."

Me: "Aaaand … "

Hoke: "Have a nice day."

Back in the day, it didn't really matter who started against Northwestern and its 187-pound defensive linemen (weighed with pads and helmet on). But it matters now, because the Wildcats are the sabermetricians of college football, using protractors and algorithms and on-base percentages to design funky schemes that don't require hulking players sporting actual muscles.

That's why it would behoove the Wolverines to get Robinson ready, even if that bothers some Michigan fans, for no logical reason. I'm not saying college football fans in general are short-sighted, wildly irrational and often drunk by 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Frankly, I think that goes without saying.

Some Michigan people are convinced, after one start, Gardner is the only viable option and should have been the guy all along, and who needs Robinson and his 492,307 yards of offense? For the record, Robinson may not pass so accurately, but he's one of the toughest running quarterbacks in college football history, and ahem, Michigan did go 11-2 with him.

Gardner has a chance to be good, and very well might get another chance this week, and also next season. But if you're writing off Robinson — and I mean this in the nicest way possible — you're a dope.

That brings me to the other major confusing issue. Apparently, Michigan State decided to take this week off to allow its fans to march on Big Ten headquarters in protest of the referees who hate the Spartans. I thought officiating conspiracies went away with the NHL lockout, but boy, was I wrong.

You can't walk through East Lansing these days without running into someone wearing a green sweatshirt and a tinfoil hat, muttering about underground bunkers and striped-shirt humanoids with microchips implanted in their necks.

Mark Dantonio's Spartans are 5-5* (* 9-1 when adjusted for officiating) and have lost four games by a combined 10 points. Players and fans have complained and tweeted and written to their Congresspersons about bad luck and nefarious agendas. Even after back-to-back 11-win seasons, the Spartans still aren't allowed within 1,500 miles of the Rose Bowl. With their tough defense, they were one of the Big Ten favorites, which now makes them one of the many Big Ten flops.

So it's the refs' fault, of course, and has nothing to do with Michigan State's long-standing penchant for foolish penalties. There were a few highly questionable calls against Nebraska, but there also was a fourth-and-10 completion in the final minute by the Cornhuskers. My theory is, at the last decisive moment, the Spartans declined to win because they knew it would help the Wolverines. Hey, in this painful, peculiar season, it's as plausible an explanation as any.

Now, Michigan State gets a week to figure out who it is. Michigan gets another day to figure out which letter comes after D-e.

Pick: Michigan 30-17

The picks

Penn State at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers snuck out of East Lansing under cover of darkness following that 28-24 victory. There's no truth to the rumor a gigantic gift basket of cornbread showed up at the Big Ten offices this week. Nebraska 32-19

Wisconsin at Indiana: I warned you about this horrific scenario and here it is — if the 4-5 Hoosiers win, they nudge ever closer to the Big Ten championship game next month. If the Badgers win, they're in, barring federal intervention. Wisconsin 42-40

Notre Dame at Boston College: Speaking of inexplicable karma, Notre Dame is 9-0 after barely beating Pitt, BYU, Stanford, Purdue and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Notre Dame could go undefeated and lose out on a title shot to Kansas State, which is confusing and also very funny. Notre Dame 27-16

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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Devin Gardner is 1-0 as Michigan’s quarterback, and the top pick among ... (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)