November 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Wojo's picks: Nastiness returns to Michigan-Ohio State game

Big Ten fans are still reeling after the conference announced it would add two schools and reconfigure into what's tentatively being called the Cash and Credit divisions. At least the money-hungry Jim Delany recognized one thing. When your powerhouse programs are struggling, find them more patsies to play!

So give Maryland and Rutgers a warm Midwest welcome, stuff cash down their shirts, then shove them out of the way. Frankly, all this expansion nonsense shouldn't be happening during The Week, because in these confusing times, we need Michigan-Ohio State more than ever.

After a brief period in which Michigan stopped tackling and Ohio State refused to stop cheating, The Game is back, almost as big as ever. Michigan is 8-3 and can win its division if Nebraska commits 15-16 pass-interference penalties and somehow loses to Iowa. The Buckeyes are 11-0 and on probation, but could win a national championship if drunken AP voters somehow overlook they've been lyin' dogs.

That would be a shame, because last year our Buckeye friends executed one of the dumbest strategies in college football history. They could've thrown themselves at the stinky feet of the NCAA and self-imposed a bowl ban with a 6-6 record. But noooo, they just had to play in that fabled Gator Bowl. I have no idea why, although I suspect Jacksonville's array of Hooters establishments was a major draw. Now they have to serve their sentence with an unbeaten record, which shows it's still relatively easy to dupe a Buckeye.

At least the animosity is back, thank goodness. Brady Hoke understands it, referring to Michigan's main rival as Ohio. That's slightly different than his maligned predecessor, who referred to Michigan's main rival as Toledo.

Urban "Myth" Meyer understands it too, back in his home state after taking time off to be burned out. He calls Michigan "That School Up North," torn from the playbook of Woody Hayes, who also preached "three yards and a cloud of dust." Under Jim Tressel, it was "three yards and a cloud of suspicion."

The Buckeyes have gone from the Sweater Vest to the Smarmy Pest, which should knock some energy into a beaten-down conference. Michigan has dominated this storied rivalry for 12 full months, including the 40-34 victory last season. Before that, the Buckeyes reportedly won seven in a row, which would be more impressive if players weren't supplementing incomes by selling memorabilia out of the trunks of their cars.

This is a momentous week, a sentimental recognition that Ohio State remains one of the ugliest specks of dirt on the college football map. See what I did there, besides guarantee my Columbus hotel room won't have hot running water? I paid respect to what makes the sport so compelling — bitter rivalries. We should cherish the few enduring traditions, and by "cherish," I mean "demean."

Isn't it great that ol' Notre Dame is unbeaten and headed toward the national championship game despite needing eight overtimes to beat Pitt? Of course it is! And not just because the Irish will lose to Alabama by the conservative estimate of 37-3.

Isn't it honorable that Michigan State stopped encroaching on the real rivalries and quietly retreated to the darkness of the Big Ten basement? Sure it is. If there's anything we've learned about the 5-6 Spartans, it's that they only stay good when nobody says they'll stay good. No more compliments for you!

Isn't it touching that all across America, debt-ridden schools are smearing on lipstick and eye-liner to attract conference suitors? The Big East is such a mess, its divisions now are the Big East East and the Big East West. I wish I was kidding, just like I wish someone would confirm the Legends and Leaders thing was a joke concocted over multiple cases of brandy.

Isn't it great the SEC has won the last six national championships and has approximately 24 teams in the polls' top 25? The ruthless SEC mentality even affected the poor Buckeyes, who lost sight of their primary goal as an "academic" institution — keep your players publicly eligible and privately tattooed.

To be fair, things are different in Columbus now. School officials, led by powerful bow-tied president-warden Gordon Gee, no longer must ask permission to use the bathroom in the football offices. The Buckeyes were so embarrassed by their transgressions, they responded as any program would — they went straight to the belly of the beast and hired SEC scourge Meyer.

I want to make something perfectly clear here. I wouldn't waste all this valuable time and space mocking our Buckeye friends if I didn't respect the program's history, determination and relentless obnoxiousness.

There simply aren't enough things you can count on in college football anymore, and Buckeye irrationality is one of them. According to my sources, they're so offended by being called "Ohio," the band planned to introduce a new halftime formation: Script "T-H-E O-H-I-O S-T-A-T-E." Unfortunately during practice, a half-dozen tuba players were treated for exhaustion. Now they'll try something more emblematic of Ohio State fandom: A script finger.

The Buckeyes also are marking the 10-year anniversary of their 2002 national championship this weekend. That means Tressel will be there, along with several key players, pending work-release approval. To commemorate it, the team will be introduced, and approximately three minutes later, officials will throw penalty flags.

Hoke knows it will be a tough environment, but anytime you give the Buckeyes something to think about, you have a chance. Near as I can tell, Michigan's starting quarterback will be Devin Gardner, Denard Robinson, Brian Griese or John Navarre. I'm sure if Meyer wins, he'll immediately launch a whiny campaign to face Notre Dame in the national title game. For the right price, Delany might even allow it.

Pick: Ohio State 24-17*

* Estimated to be vacated in 2016

The picks

Michigan State at Minnesota : After clinching a spot in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the Spartans will celebrate their new tradition by clutching chicken wings in their teeth. Pick: Michigan State 30-16

Nebraska at Iowa : The Big Ten likes to make newcomers feel welcome, so expect Nebraska to be escorted to the championship game. Can't wait for the Rutgers-Georgia Tech title matchup in a few years! Pick: Nebraska 31-26

Notre Dame at USC : No one is denigrating the Irish's magical 11-0 season, despite needing 17 interceptions to beat the Wolverines. Actually, most of America wouldn't mind if Notre Dame knocked the slime out of Lane Kiffin and USC. Pick: Notre Dame 27-24

Bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Twitter.com/bobwojnowski

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith didnt self impose a bowl ban last ... (Terry Gilliam/Associated Press)
Quarterback Braxton Miller has led Ohio State to victories in its first 11 ... (Jay LaPrete/Associated Press)