Now that Michigan State is ruler of the state and ruler of the Big Ten, it’s my duty, as arbiter of all that’s righteous and ridiculous about college football, to lay out the responsibilities for such a lofty position.
For starters, the Spartans will need to crank up the arrogance. Mark Dantonio has an edge to him, but he also has low-key slogans such as, “It starts here,” and “Scowl like a champion today.” My slogan suggestion: “This is Michigan State for God’s sake!”
The next step: Build a snazzy locker room to lure entitled recruits sporting more than two flimsy stars. That task is done, although lobster on the training table would be nice, and I wouldn’t skimp on the perfumed soaps and pedicure stations.
Finally, to prove it’s worthy of sustained national attention, Michigan State has to do something that will resonate forever in college football history. When expectations and aspirations are at their highest, you have to pull a shocker. Sorry, that’s the rule.
In East Lansing tonight, the Rose Bowl champs get their biggest test since grabbing the royal crown (not the Crown Royal, kids), and the only thing missing from their credentials is their very own “Appalachian State moment.” As fate would have it, Appalachian State is here, but the Mountaineers will be in Ann Arbor on Saturday to fulfill the Wolverines’ masochistic need to revisit humiliations.
Eager to assume the giant-slayer role is Jacksonville State, another good, speedy, lower-level program from an undetermined state. Sources say Jacksonville State is not in Jacksonville, Fla., as it should be, but somewhere in Alabama. That means the Gamecocks are close enough to swipe game plans from Nick Saban, after swiping their mascot from South Carolina.
Listen. I’m not here to frighten the Spartans, coming off an amazing 13-1 season. In fact, if Notre Dame had acknowledged its cheating scandal sooner — the one involving receivers’ repeated and dishonorable attempts to draw fake pass-interference penalties — Michigan State would have been 14-0 and national champion.
But consider this the first of several weekly warnings for the new champs. Complacency is an insidious disease that can lead to numbing redundancy, such as writing a picks column for 20 years. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, doomed to repeat it, doomed to repeat it.
The Wolverines made that mistake and are still trying to recover, after a 7-6 season in which they inexplicably decided to stop blocking. It’s gotten to the point where the school is rounding up aging Ann Arbor hippies and herding them into the student section to hit the coveted 100,001 attendance mark. I’m not saying ticket sales have been slow. I’m just saying regents recently voted down a proposal allowing cheerleaders to use T-shirt guns to fire small baggies of special brownies into the crowd.
In many ways, Michigan was forever altered by that fateful day in 2007, when Appalachian State marched into town and viciously blocked field goals in a 34-32 victory. And this is where it gets spooky. Michigan was coming off a Rose Bowl season and ranked No. 5 before that opener. Michigan State is coming off a Rose Bowl season and ranked No. 8 before its opener against Jacksonville State.
Michigan played Oregon the following week in 2007 and lost 39-7. Michigan State plays Oregon next week, and it’s absolutely imperative Dantonio keeps his players from looking ahead to a lopsided defeat. Not easy, as you can tell by this locker room speech, fabricated and secretly recorded, as always:
Dantonio: “We’re not even thinking about that game next week that could define our entire season and set us up for a spot in the new playoff system that we richly deserve! Right?!”
Players (in unison): “Right Coach!”
Dantonio: “So we got Jacksonville this week. What does that mean?!”
Player (raising hand): “The Jaguars? It means we get to hit Denard again!”
OK, this will be a challenge. The Spartans must forget about 2013, and that includes holding off on plans to erect a statue of Rose Bowl legend Kyler Elsworth. Almost everything went right for Michigan State last season, and almost everything went wrong for Michigan.
Now the pressure is on Brady Hoke, and if he would just name team captains and wear a headset, Michigan probably would go 11-1. As a test of Hoke’s warm-seat worthiness, he was strapped into an office chair this week and forced to watch the Akron game on an endless loop, as a bulky headset was slowly tightened. He reportedly survived, and is determined to prove it’s possible to overcome a 7-6 season, although it’s extremely rare, never, ever done in our area, unless you count Michigan State last season.
So the Wolverines want to replicate what the Spartans did, and the Spartans don’t want to replicate what the Wolverines did. And anything is possible, but you already knew that.
Pick: Michigan State 40, Jacksonville (not Fla.) State 10
Pick: Michigan 49, Appalachian State 13
Wisconsin versus LSU: In the new playoff era, conference strength is as important as schedule strength, which is far more important than deodorant strength. The big bad Badgers could strike a mighty blow for the Big Ten with rumbling back Melvin Gordon. More likely, the Tigers will show the SEC is still Les Miles ahead. Pick: LSU 22-10
Navy versus Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost Braxton Miller, so it can’t be long before Urban Meyer feels another sudden urge to spend more time with his family. Actually, Ohio State is hardly a sinking ship, although Navy’s famed ground game will present problems. Pick: Ohio State 27-13
Rice at Notre Dame: Notre Dame is missing four starters being investigated for some sort of academic misdeed. At other schools, this is called “cheating.” For the Fighting Irish, it’s called “shenanigans.” Pick: Notre Dame 31-20
Penn State versus Central Florida: Speaking of shenanigans, this game is in Ireland, where UCF coach George O’Leary used to be prime minister (according to his resume). The Nittany Lions are so excited about new coach James Franklin, he gets a mulligan here. Pick: UCF 34-20