CLOSE

John Niyo, Bob Wojnowski, Angelique Chengelis and Matt Charboneau on the end of the regular season, as Michigan faces Ohio State and Michigan State faces Penn State this weekend.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Ann Arbor – Finally, it’s back to the way it should be, the way it used to be, when a riveted nation tuned in every November to watch Michigan and Ohio State execute crisp 3-yard runs, then kick field goals to decide who got to lose in the Rose Bowl.

Finally, Michigan State had the decency to politely get the (bleep) out of the way and permit Ohio State-versus-Michigan to regain its rightful standing as the greatest rivalry in the free world, not counting Ohio State-versus-Libraries. It’s back and it’s epic, slightly updated from the Big Ten’s famed Big Two-Little Eight era. I’m sure everyone in college football welcomes the return of the pageantry and arrogance, and it doesn’t bother the rest of the Big Ten one tiny bit, does it?

Rest of Big Ten: (Gagging noises)

Rutgers: “Fine with us!”

This is what a rivalry is supposed to be, minus the whole lopsided part. Michigan-Ohio State is glorious in its passion, obnoxious in its hype and entertaining in its hubris. Of course, the hype dropped a bit as the Buckeyes won 11 of the past 12, a stretch so dispiriting for the Wolverines, they couldn’t even muster the strength to beat the Spartans anymore.

In a scary, unsettled world, it’s comforting to revisit a cherished past, as long as the retro 1970s don’t include disco, pet rocks and the Captain and Tennille. Once again, we have iconic coaches in Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer, although Jim-versus-Urban doesn’t sound quite as inspiring as Bo-versus-Woody. Once again, everything is at stake, from the Big Ten title, to a playoff berth, to bragging rights between Wolverine lawyers and their incarcerated Buckeye clients.

You knew this was coming the moment Harbaugh came home. Sure, the Buckeyes instinctively marked their territory – like drunks behind Columbus dumpsters at 2 a.m. – and rolled 42-13 last year. That was a sobering experience for the Wolverines, a state of mind unfamiliar to most Buckeyes.

When the 10-1 teams collide Saturday, it will be a nostalgic renewal, unless it’s a rout again, which I doubt. ESPN is providing unprecedented coverage, launching its College GameDay broadcast at 7 a.m., just about the time Harbaugh will be guzzling his second gallon of whole milk and Meyer will be complaining about his soggy oatmeal.

The network is planning all sorts of special features, including – and this is true -- four cameras in each of the eight end zone pylons, in case the replay official needs 32 angles to properly blow a call. Unfortunately, ESPN declined my suggestion, to have Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit finally ditch their collegial pretense and leg-wrestle for their alma maters.

I suppose it’s fair to question the hype for a clash that might not send the winner to the Big Ten Championship Game. Penn State, last seen wobbling aimlessly in a 49-10 loss to Michigan, reportedly would advance if Ohio State wins, but this can’t be confirmed.

The theory is, this could be the start of another Ten Year War, famously waged by Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes from 1969-78. Hopefully it’s more entertaining than the recent Ten Minute Wars between the teams. It’s gotten so mundane for the Buckeyes, their fans don’t even resist anymore when told it’s time to go back to the Big House.

Ten years ago, Michigan and Ohio State waged their last epic battle, and when the No. 1 Buckeyes beat the No. 2 Wolverines 42-39, Michigan was so exhausted it took the next decade off. Now it’s back, although you couldn’t tell if you listened to Harbaugh, who publicly sticks to his “just-another-championship-game-so-stop-asking-me” mantra. Previously, he removed all the rivalry countdown clocks from Schembechler Hall. Conversely, the Buckeyes still set their clocks to the Michigan game, and also to Animal Planet reruns of “Hillbilly Handfishin’.”

Listen, I’m not here to stir up trouble, no matter how obvious it looks. The Buckeyes’ ode to the rivalry is to cleverly X out every M on campus, but it usually creates chaos. For instance, returning alums can’t find their favorite restaurant, cDonald’s. Students don’t know where to purchase meal staples such as acaroni and cheese and Raen noodles, or where to get their favorite candy, X & Xs. It’s even difficult for coach eyer to make a dinner reservation.

The harsh truth is, the Wolverines have entered the game too many times without X’s or O’s, or even a D. I strongly suspect that’s about to change, although there could be a slight complication. Quarterback Wilton Speight’s left shoulder is either hanging by a ligament or merely sore. That means backup John O’Korn could play, and no team marches into the Horseshoe with a backup quarterback and beats the Buckeyes.

Well, no team other than the Spartans. Just last season. With an O’Something backup. I’m sure Mark Dantonio deeply, deeply regrets giving Michigan a map to success.

It’s not so simple anymore, Buckeyes, and I bet you actually like it better this way, spittin’ vitriol with purpose. You think Harbaugh is a bit crazy and Jabrill Peppers is a bit overrated. You might change your mind when Harbaugh dons his secret X-ray Woody glasses, or when Peppers shoves aside the tuba guy and does a backflip to dot the i. Or when Peppers shares the backfield with O’Korn in Michigan’s innovative PepperKorn formation.

Oh yes, our addled friends, these are not the Wolverines you’ve mercilessly dismissed. These are the Wolverines you’ve sorely missed, the ones that force you to invent new ways to swear. They’ll make The Game compelling again, and might even start winning it again. At least that’s the plan, and the reason everyone will be watching, like it or not.

Pick: Ohio State 20-17

Michigan State at Penn State: The Spartans continue to attempt two-point conversions at odd times, too early in close contests, too late in blowouts. It’s hard to say what’s more stunning, that Michigan State is 3-8, Penn State is 9-2 or Eastern Michigan is 7-5. The Spartans will try to crush the Nittany Lions’ title hopes, then flush the season as quickly as possible. Penn State 34-13

Minnesota at Wisconsin: The Badgers can clinch the West division, and also retain Paul Bunyan’s Axe for a 13th consecutive year. This is different than the Paul Bunyan Trophy in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, or the lesser-known Paul Bunyan Stinky Boot awarded the winner of Rutgers-Maryland. Wisconsin 34-16

Auburn at Alabama: It’s the Iron Bowl, so named because these bitter rivals never iron out their differences, or something like that. Alabama had better be careful -- if it loses here and in the SEC title game against Florida, it could plummet from the No. 1 playoff seed all the way to No. 2. Alabama 27-13

Toledo at Western Michigan: Another border war, and you can bet animosity still runs deep. Toledo was forced to become part of Ohio back in 1837, and in return, Michigan was awarded a chunk of the Upper Peninsula and the future rights to Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. The 11-0 Broncos will fetch another good bounty, including a Cotton Bowl berth. Western Michigan 34-27

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE