Meet Michigan State's star offensive player — defensive end Shilique Calhoun! He narrowly beats out the punter and tuba player. (Dale G. Young)
Sorry I’ve been away, but I was busy with grand slams the past couple weeks, and not just the Denny’s variety. When last we chatted, before the Tigers bullpen served up steaming grand slams, I distinctly recall Michigan eking out victories over lame opponents, and Michigan State’s defense humbling its own offense.
Now I’m back. And apparently, I didn’t miss a thing.
The primary offensive weapon for the Spartans remains the fumble, followed closely by the interception. No offense, but Michigan State’s top 10 individual performers come from these units, in no particular order: Defense, defense, defense, defense, defense, defense, punter, defense, defense, tuba section.
Michigan State is the least-dynamic 6-1 team in the Big Ten’s modern era, which doesn’t hamper its title contention one bit. Meanwhile, Michigan is the flimsiest 6-1 team in recent college football history, as NCAA officials continue to pore over game tapes to determine if 6-1 was accurately calculated.
This is all fairly troubling. Don’t get me wrong, having the Wolverines and Spartans a combined 12-2 is fun and everything. But with the instate grudge match a week away, neither squad has revealed much of anything.
Maybe this speaks to the renewed heat of the rivalry. Mark Dantonio is so intent on beating Michigan, he has kept his offense under wraps, saving all the good plays — both of them — for next week. I heard Dantonio won’t even make the trip to Illinois this weekend so he can stay in his office and scowl at Michigan tapes.
Clearly, Michigan State is in danger of looking ahead, a reasonable thing to do considering Illinois has lost 16 straight Big Ten games. But the rivalry no longer is a one-sided obsession. Heck, Michigan is so focused on the clash, it looked past Akron, Connecticut, Penn State and Indiana. By my count, this is the sixth bye for the Wolverines this season, and according to unfounded rumors, they specifically petitioned to be off this week. In response, the Spartans requested to play the Illini, which is approximately the same thing.
Obviously, the Wolverines have been hiding their real defense, opting instead for a cardboard cutout version. I’m not saying they’ve struggled with the new-age concepts of “tackling” and “standing sort of close to receivers,” surrendering a combined 90 points the past two weeks. I’m just saying it appears someone chloroformed Greg Mattison and replaced him with former coordinator Greg Robinson. The Wolverines have looked positively RichRod-ious at times, right down to the wild offense directed by Ol’ 98, Devin “Shoelace” Gardner.
Brady Hoke planned to use the bye for extra defensive drills, and as a motivational tactic invited a sophomore engineering student, Josh Dorfenberger, to stand in as a tackling dummy. It reportedly backfired, as Dorfenberger suffered nothing more than a grass stain.
If this sounds harsh, well, standards are high around here. Someone has to keep up with Ohio State, and we have no idea if Michigan and Michigan State are remotely qualified to do it. It’s the final season of the Big Ten’s Legionnaires and Lepers divisions, and it’s up to the Spartans or Wolverines to protect the state’s honor against the Buckeyes, who inexplicably received a bye into the championship game.
There’s no margin for error, although I’m a bit concerned about the Spartans’ approach. Imaginary sources tell me the entire Michigan State scout team wore No. 98 in practice this week, and it wasn’t to honor Tom Harmon. Looking past Illinois is an issue, based on this transcript of a team meeting, which I fabricated and secretly recorded.
Dantonio: “Men, keep your eyes on 98 at all times!”
Defensive players: (Staring at image on screen)
Dantonio: “Hit him hard! Hit him high! Knock that ball loose and run like heck and don’t stop until you get to the end zone!”
Defensive players: “Yeeeaaahhh!!”
Dantonio: “Any questions?”
Unnamed quarterback: “Do we get to run some plays, coach?”
Dantonio: “Sit down, son.”
There’s reason to be nervous about Illinois, and not just because quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is still around. Note to NCAA: Instead of picking on poor Miami, you might consider investigating how Scheelhaase has remained eligible at Illinois since the turn of the century.
I’m sure Michigan State’s defense will knock a few unnecessary vowels off Scheelhaase. But like I was saying before getting rudely interrupted by the Denny’s servers, the Spartans can’t expect to win every game 14-0.
Pick: Michigan State 14-0
■Penn State at Ohio State: The Buckeyes are 19-0 under Urban Meyer and should have no problem keeping the streak alive. The Nittany Lions are still wobbly after taking last week off to join the campus-wide celebration commemorating the nine missed Wolverines field goals in that four-overtime game. Ohio State 37-17
Northwestern at Iowa: Expectations were very high for the Wildcats this season, until it dawned on them they still run a gimmicky offense and wear purple helmets. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, continue to surprise people that they’re not completely awful. Iowa 34-26
Nebraska at Minnesota: Don’t look now — seriously, don’t watch this game — but the Cornhuskers are unbeaten in the Legionnaires division. If Michigan and Michigan State spend too much time sizing each other up, Nebraska just might waddle past them. Nebraska 31-14