Oh, what crazy things we've seen. When Denard Robinson arrived four years ago, Michigan was still considered sort of imposing, Rich Rodriguez was still in the charming genius stage, and Wolverines players were still slow, large and pudgy.
So much changed in a whir of flying hair and flopping shoelaces, just in time to return to what it was. It's the enduring dichotomy of the most-unique, entertaining and underappreciated quarterback in Michigan history. The Wolverines couldn't have gotten back here without Robinson. And it seems they can't go any farther with him.
(Yikes. Ol' Wojo waxing a little poetic there. Won't happen again!)
Michigan concludes its home schedule Saturday, and as long as it is resurrecting cherished traditions — tackling people, beating Mid-American teams, having a burly coach — they should get back to the practice of beating Iowa. Robinson likely will be sidelined with the most famously injured elbow since Tommy John, but it should be a weepy moment when he's introduced one final time (while a few defensive coordinators shed tears of joy.)
I'm assuming Devin Gardner will be the quarterback based on Brady Hoke's insights on the issue, recapped here for your convenience: "I don't know." "We'll see." "Day to day." "I like fluffy clouds."
Hoke said he might put Robinson in for a play or two, which would be a terrific gesture. It could be a simple handoff, it could be an 87-yard run with eight nifty cutbacks, it could be a wobbly pass that ends up … somewhere.
Robinson will be remembered for his school-record 10,425 total yards, his mantel full of September Heismans and his footwear choices. Unfortunately, he's also the link to one of Michigan's darkest eras.
It's not Robinson's fault every time he runs, Michigan fans are partly awed and partly reminded of the Coach Whose Name Shall Never Be Uttered.
Gradually, the Wolverines (7-3) are returning to what they know, and Michigan fans froth as they watch Gardner throw spirals that make their chubby little knees buckle. But before everyone moves on, they should take a moment for appreciation, because according to my extensive research, Robinson and his fellow seniors did lead Michigan to an 11-2 record and a BCS bowl just last season.
The Wolverines went from a spread-offense revolution, to abject convolution, to a necessary evolution. Under Hoke, they've renewed the tradition of recruiting players with thighs the size of Thanksgiving turkeys. They've resumed the practice of beating the Buckeyes once a decade. They went to a big, fancy bowl — and in a stunning departure, actually won it.
This season, the Wolverines took the top bunk back from their siblings in East Lansing, thanks to an inartistic but gutsy performance by Robinson. They're 13-0 in the Big House under Hoke, and technically, still vying for a spot in the Big Ten championship game. Michigan has to win its last two against Iowa and Ohio (State), and hope the refs don't fling dozens of random penalty flags at Minnesota and Iowa when they play Nebraska.
Listen, I don't believe in the fashionable conspiracy theory the Big Ten wants Nebraska to win just to have a Bo (Pelini) in charge again. But the explanation for why Penn State wasn't awarded a possible winning touchdown last week was a bit sketchy. Ill-informed sources tell me someone "accidentally" switched the TV in the replay booth to a "Hoarders" rerun and missed the key play.
The more things change in college football, the more you wish they'd stay the same. Do you really want to live in a world where Kansas State and Oregon play for the national title, while an unbeaten Notre Dame is locked outside, its lower lip quivering? Do you really want your Heisman winner to be someone dubbed Johnny Football from Texas A&M? Do you really want to watch poor Alabama beg to be forgiven for its lone defeat? (YES.)
Do you really want to play in a Big Ten where Ohio State gets busted, replaces the Sweater Vest with the Smarmy Pest and still goes unbeaten? Do you want to embrace a new order in which Wisconsin's 62-14 wood-shedding of Indiana counts as a division showdown?
This is why so many cherish their roots. The Wolverines are finding their way back — all the way back to the Capital One Bowl! — and have reached the stage where their defense now is specifically instructed to knock opposing players to the ground.
Even the Spartans (5-5) are returning to what they know — unfulfilled expectations and inexplicable losses, supposedly on a temporary basis. Michigan State closes its home schedule against Northwestern and needs a victory just to be eligible for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Arizona. That's an actual bowl, and judging by the TV commercials, it'll be fun to see how often the game gets interrupted by the guy in the sprinkler room.
For Michigan, it's all about connecting the traditional link and breaking the recent link. The Wolverines have lost three straight to the Hawkeyes (4-6), but this should be the day they lay a nostalgic beating upon an old foe. And if, at some point, a shoelace-flopping guy jogs onto the field, runs around a bit, then heaves a pass that bounces off three defenders and into the arms of a receiver as the clock expires, well, that'd be fine too.
Pick: Michigan 28-6
Northwestern at Michigan State: The Spartans used their bye to appear before a Congressional sub-committee investigating the Big Ten's interpretation of "pass interference." Also, in a continuing attempt to get fans to show up on time for games, school officials announced pastries and beer would be served in the student section starting at 10 a.m. (Wink-wink). Michigan State 24-17
Ohio State at Wisconsin: The Badgers already clinched a spot in this year's Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes already clinched a spot in next year's Big Ten championship game. Ohio State 38-31
Minnesota at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have been pulling out all sorts of wild victories, and you can bet this one won't be decided until the very end — the very end of the first quarter. Nebraska 41-10