August 30, 2013 at 1:39 am

Bob Wojnowski

Wojo's pigskin picks: Big Ten needs to regain its street cred - and in a hurry

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney devastating hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith in last season's Outback Bowl was a blow to the Big Ten's collective self-esteem. (Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images)

Its been eight months since South Carolinas Jadeveon Clowney knocked the helmet stripes off Michigans Vincent Smith in an unprovoked backfield assault. To this day, the video remains among the most popular in Internet history, not counting those involving cats, dancing babies or Miley Cyrus.

The imagery was powerful: Large, mean Southeastern Conference player clobbers little Big Ten guy. Its not exactly accurate as Michigan narrowly lost, but the visual sticks. And its about darn time the Big Ten stands up and proves, once and for all, its the greatest football conference in the entire Upper Midwest, arguably.

Theres work to do, because its gotten embarrassing. Just look at the past year:

■ Michigan and Michigan State burped all over themselves and combined to lose 11 games.

■ The Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland after getting turned down by William & Mary and Youngstown State.

■ The conference allowed Urban Meyer to slink in and go 12-0 with an ineligible band of branded Buckeyes.

■ Wisconsin edged Nebraska in a riveting championship game 70-31, then promptly lost its coach and a third straight Rose Bowl. The Big Ten got smoked in bowls, going 2-5.

Nobody seems to think much will change but I think theyre wrong, although Im approaching two decades of half-baked prognostication. Ohio State is ranked second and the next Big Ten team is No. 17 Michigan. Meanwhile, Alabama is No. 1 and Alabamas scout team is No. 8.

If the Big Ten is sick of getting Clowneyd, it should play with big ol chips on its shoulders (at the risk of slowing runners even more). And it needs to flex its desperation immediately against a gruesome opening slate of softies. The days of taking on non-conference powers such as Appalachian State and Alabama? Long gone.

We have a Pure Michigan showdown this weekend, with Michigan State hosting Western Michigan and Michigan hosting Central Michigan. Youd expect the Spartans and Wolverines to roll, but Mid-American Conference teams wear helmets and reportedly lift weights these days, so they believe they have a shot.

Theres a lot of booty at stake now as the power conferences wiggle and twerk for attention. College football is transitioning from the BCS to a four-team playoff, presumably to keep Alabama from pummeling Notre Dame every year. It starts next season, when Alabama will be forced to win an SEC division, then the SEC championship game, then the SEC national semifinal, then the SEC national championship game, likely against LSU.

The Buckeyes think they can kick in the door to that SEC party without charges being filed, but can anyone else? In Ann Arbor, Brady Hoke has proven to be a great recruiter and engaging raspy-voiced speaker, but hasnt won the Big Ten. This bothers him greatly, so he comforts himself by collecting truckloads of large, heaving linemen.

Michigan also has another dangerous quarterback in Devin Gardner, who should be better than Denard Robinson. I know this sounds like silly hyperbole, and it is, but since Texas A&Ms Johnny Manziel is signing away his Johnny (Autographed) Football moniker, any takers on Devin Football?

Up in East Lansing, Mark Football Coach Dantonio has something to prove too. Hes so determined to show last seasons splat was a fluke, hes instituting a highly unusual four-quarterback system. You might chuckle, but ask yourself this: How many quarters in a football game? How many downs in a series? How many tires on a car headed straight to Pasadena?!!

Andrew Maxwell will start, and who knows, Jeff Smoker might finish. Dantonio is keeping everyone guessing while pursuing that elusive Rose Bowl. Hes using the mantra Chase it, which is perfect for Spartans fans always eager to lift a shot glass and chase it.

With solid coaches such as Meyer, Hoke, Dantonio, Northwesterns Pat Fitzgerald and whoever took over at Wisconsin, theres a decent chance the Big Ten is about to enter an era of not being so bad. If so, it had better start with a batch of blowouts.

The picks

■ Western Michigan at Michigan State: Under the Friday night lights, the Spartans unveil a shiny new offense to go with their fierce defense. Thats important, because they cant win every game 17-13. Michigan State 17-13

■ Central Michigan at Michigan: Devin Football cant get all the hype, so watch for offensive tackle Taylor Lewan to stuff a Chip or two into a tuba. Its good to see the Wolverines continue the transition back to full-contact football. Michigan 31-13

■ Buffalo (not the Bills) at Ohio State: The savvy Buckeyes were prepared to launch Braxton Millers Heisman Trophy campaign, but had to hastily scrub plans for him to sign memorabilia at halftime. Ohio State 52-7

■Northwestern at California: Northwesterns continued insistence on contending is cute, but it doesnt exactly enhance the Big Tens national reputation. At least the SEC keeps its nerd (Vanderbilt) mostly in place. Northwestern 34-20

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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