Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Stop crying, Wolverines and Spartans have stuff to play for

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

I see the mopey faces and hear the dopey wails. Waaahh waaaahhhh my team lost and now it can’t win the national championship that it never wins anyhow. Wah.

Oh please. In many ways, this is the most important part of college football (other than recruiting and transfer-portaling). So your team has two losses, or three loses, or an offense averaging 3.8 points, and you’re wondering what’s left to play for?

Easy. It’s called Fraud Management, a necessary tactic to keep the sport healthy and vibrant. The way it works is simple. Once your team has removed itself from championship contention, its mission is to expose others who have no business pretending to be in championship contention.

Michigan and Michigan State have the exact same task this weekend, facing storied top-10 opponents who would lose by five or six touchdowns if they stumbled into the playoff. Did the Wolverines and Spartans aspire to be Fraud Busters two months ago when they were fresh-faced and hopeful they’d tally more than two touchdowns per month? Of course not.

But here they are, ready to shake things up. The Wolverines (5-2) welcome No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1) to Michigan Stadium, the final meeting in this historic rivalry until they decide to start playing again, like an aging rock band’s 18th final tour. You might have heard, the Wolverines rarely beat top-10 teams under Jim Harbaugh, a blemish that has reduced the number of Harbaugh-to-the-NFL rumors from 15 per year to about 10. Obviously, the NFL doesn’t have rankings, so it doesn’t care about top-10 records.

Harbaugh was so annoyed by the latest stupid rumor on collegefootballspitballingandnonsense.com, he strongly refuted it in a letter to the parents of Michigan’s players. That part is true. This next part is fabricated. I’ve managed to obtain the first draft of Harbaugh’s letter, recounted here for your reading pleasure:

Dear Wolverine-related people,

Like many of you, I’m amazed a coach who gets criticized for his big-game record somehow gets mentioned for every NFL opening. Apparently, there are teams that desire to reach the NFC championship game three years in a row, as I did with relative ease. However, this is a distraction to our program. If NFL teams want to bother someone with this total crap, I can give them Ryan Day’s phone number. Or James Franklin’s phone number. Or Lovie Smith’s mailing address.

In the meantime, I request they leave me the (blank) alone.

Yours in Business and Blueness,

Jim H.

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines will look to extend their home winning streak against Notre Dame this weekend.

See, it still can be fun this time of year! Just ask Mark Dantonio, who’s having a blast now that Michigan State (4-3) no longer faces the pressure of a taut Big Ten race, officially fraudified in blowouts to Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Spartans welcome No. 6 Penn State (7-0) this Saturday, and they’re fully capable of pulling the upset if they opt not to gift the Nittany Lions a 21-0 lead.

That’s the mistake the Wolverines made last week, even though they did respond with their “Finest Hour,” as Harbaugh declared at halftime. We’re still waiting for Michigan’s “Finest Three-and-a-Half Hours Without Fumbling or Jumping Offside,” but it’s a start.

Both teams still can make something magical happen, and by “magical” I mean “salvageable.” The Wolverines could beat one of their three biggest rivals: Notre Dame, Michigan State or Ohio State. The Spartans could beat one of their three biggest rivals: Overconfident Michigan, Sloppy Michigan or Nervous, Rain-Soaked Michigan.

Something stirring has to happen, because we can’t keep letting ill-prepared teams crash the Alabama-Clemson-LSU-Ohio State-Oklahoma-New England championship party. I mean we can, but then you risk a Clemson 30-3 rout of Notre Dame, or some random 38-0 silliness.

I’m not saying Notre Dame and Penn State have skipped through soft schedules. I’m just saying the combined record of their opponents is 15-67, or something like that, do your own flippin’ math. The best team Penn State has beaten is, technically, Michigan. The best team Notre Dame has beaten is, technically, Georgia, even though it was recorded as a loss for some reason.

Again, Fraud Management, people. If the Wolverines don’t eliminate Notre Dame, the Irish’s next toughest game is, uh, hmm. At Stanford?

It’s a necessary thinning of the herd, and when done right, it’s great for the college football ecosystem. For instance, when South Carolina ambushed Georgia, 20-17, in overtime, that ended talk of an all-SEC playoff field. Perfect. Then just last week, Illinois and Lovie Smith shocked Wisconsin, 24-23, as 30-point underdogs, eradicating the Fraudgers. Excellent. Then BYU stunned Boise State, 28-25, mercifully halting the annual give-the-little-guy-a-chance blather before it got started. Wonderful.

College football needs upsets like that, otherwise it gets so boring at the top, you end up with ESPN's "College GameDay" going to Brookings, S.D., for this week’s North Dakota State-South Dakota State matchup, a classic clash of Bison and Bunnies (Jackrabbits, to be precise). Fret not and fear not, Wolverines and Spartans. Your main mission may have ended, but there’s another deeply gratifying mission ahead: When exposed, take pride in exposing others!

The picks

Notre Dame at Michigan: It’s time to give this crazy series a break. A non-conference game in late October and it isn’t an Alabama-Citadel special? Puh-lease. The Irish are shrewd little buggers. They’re coming off a bye, and I’m not sure they’ve ever played the week before facing Michigan. Last year it was the opener, a 24-17 Notre Dame victory. The Wolverines have beaten the Irish four straight in the Big House and have more ghosts to shoo. Pick: Michigan 23-19

Penn State at Michigan State: Dantonio’s big-game prowess is being severely tested, with a third consecutive top-10 opponent. Technically, if you beat a team in the playoff picture, does that mean you’re in the playoff picture in a supporting role? James Franklin is 1-4 against Dantonio and has been known to freeze in big moments, yet it’s unclear why his name has not yet surfaced on collegefootballspitballingandnonsense.com. Pick: Penn State 20-10

Wisconsin at Ohio State: Wisconsin leads the nation in total defense and has four shutouts, and will blank the Buckeyes until approximately two minutes after the “i” gets dotted. Ohio State has won all seven games by at least 20, but look out, major challenges await against Maryland and Rutgers. (Also scheduled: Penn State and Michigan). Pick: Ohio State 38-20

Maryland at Minnesota: The Gophers are 7-0 for the first time since 1960, thanks to a cushy slate that inexplicably has them playing Rutgers three times. Their only modest tests remaining — Penn State and Wisconsin — are at home. Theoretically, they could go 12-0, which is why critter control is essential, from badgers to gophers to (Nittany) lions. Pick: Minnesota 45-31


Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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