Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio finally could be emerging from a quarterback controversy, with Connor Cook entrenched as his starter. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
It isn’t easy for college football coaches these days. They’re constantly harassed by school presidents, smarmy columnists and scummy opportunists with secret recording devices. They’re responsible for every detail in their program, right down to choosing players’ impermissible benefits.
It’s an exhausting business, and the scrutiny never ends. For instance, Michigan State is 3-0 and didn’t even need a desperate final play to avoid getting humiliated by a Mid-American Conference team. And yet, Mark Dantonio got heat simply because he forgot to name a starting quarterback. Hey, it happens! Now he has Connor Cook in time for the showdown at Notre Dame, a place famous for strange decisions.
You might recall, Notre Dame dropped Michigan from future schedules but kept Michigan State, which didn’t make sense considering the Spartans regularly win in South Bend. Brian Kelly got all sorts of flak for suggesting Michigan was a regional rival, then he lost to the regional rival. That’s why coaches would rather play regional patsies, although the pressure goes up when the patsies decline to serve as game-day pastries.
Just ask Brady Hoke. Michigan graciously donated $900,000 to a little school in Ohio called “Akron,” and you know how it got paid back? The Zips marched into Ann Arbor as if it was Ypsilanti and scared the Wolverines so badly, ol’ Blue fans were spotted in the parking lot afterward spitting up their shrimp salad.
Coaches can’t have a letdown, not in front of microphones, not in front of MAC teams from Ohio. When Hoke suggested the noon kickoff last week made it a “glazed doughnut game,” we had no idea the Wolverines would spend the afternoon licking their fingers and sucking their thumbs. They held on 28-24, and you hope they learned their lesson about nutritional choices.
Was Michigan overlooking Akron? Judge for yourself, based on the pregame locker room speech I was lucky enough to fabricate and secretly record.
Hoke: “OK fellas, quiet, quiet. Listen up! Who had the jelly-filled and who had the French crullers? Anyone? Anyone?”
I’d go with custard, but I digress. Sometimes programs do silly things, like hiring a skywriter to scribble “Go Blue” above your third-biggest rival’s campus. Perhaps Michigan should send a plane to skywrite over Akron’s game this week.
Misguided passion is everywhere. A few days ago, Nebraska fans got their overalls in a bunch after a two-year-old tape surfaced of Bo “$&*%*” Pelini swearing about them. I assumed fans knew coaches swore about everything, but apparently they’re a simple folk there. The tirade was secretly recorded by an actual human weasel, with the specific instruction to not release it unless Nebraska surrendered 38 straight points and lost to UCLA, 41-21.
This is downright sleazy, and I say that as someone who has been secretly recording fake — FAKE — conversations for years. If the Cornhuskers want to get rid of Pelini, they don’t have to pop in a tape of his expletives. They can pop in a tape of his &*%$#* defense.
Defense and toughness should be evident in South Bend on Saturday, where you’ll see two of the sternest, scowlingest coaches. When Dantonio offers a rare smile, you can hear his lips crack. Kelly’s face is known to turn red when the 7-Eleven clerk is slow to ring up his Tums.
The Spartans are excited to remain part of this sub-regional rivalry, without realizing the Irish kept them because they expect to beat them. It’s a tricky subject, as you can tell in this fake conversation, furtively recorded as the coaches chatted on the phone.
Kelly: “Mark, do you have any idea what it’s like being an arrogant, historic program and having to listen to some lesser school act like it’s your biggest rival?”
Dantonio: “Can’t imagine.”
Kelly: “Anyhow, we got you on the schedule, and there won’t be any need for ‘adjustments’ as long as your offense remains stodgy and ineffective. Got it?”
Dantonio: “Got it.”
Kelly: “And if you ever pull that ‘Little Giants’ fake field goal stunt again, we’ll drop you faster than your receivers drop passes. Understood?”
Something tells me the Spartans will keep their promise on offense but not on defense. Problem is, you can’t expect to win every game 23-9.
Pick: Notre Dame 23-9
Michigan at Connecticut: ABC somehow picked this for its prime-time slot, perhaps thinking it was a basketball game. It’s the first trip for the young Wolverines, and Hoke’s primary concern is making sure they all wrote their names on the waistband of their pajamas. Also, the pregame meal has been changed from doughnuts to deep-fried rusty nails. Michigan 37-13
Purdue at Wisconsin: The Big Ten is so weak, it can’t even stop the clock in an orderly fashion. Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen is furious officials wouldn’t allow his team to kick the winning field goal at Arizona State. I’m not excusing the incompetent refs, but maybe they figured the big ol’ Badgers couldn’t get back up in time. Wisconsin 38-20
South Dakota State at Nebraska: Under new stadium guidelines, fans will not be allowed to bring in purses, seat cushions or effigies. Also, microphones will not be permitted anywhere near Nebraska’s #*%&$ defense. Nebraska 56-55