Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Empty seats are the new tradition

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

College football has a problem, a much bigger problem than Jameis Winston's colorful oratory skills or seafood shopping habits. At the risk of sounding like a crab, I have to ask: What's up with the kids these days?

It used to be a cherished rite of passage in America, to spend your college years painting your face and cheering wildly for players you never see in class. Around here, adults and students would dutifully file into Michigan Stadium, squeeze together cheek-to-cheek (at least 200,000 cheeks, by my math), and spend three glorious hours peeling mushy bread off discolored hot dogs while griping about Bo's conservativeness.

It didn't matter if the opponent was from Ohio or Ypsilanti, it was the experience that mattered. In the higher reaches of the student section, it also was the sweet, pungent odor that mattered, if you get my meaning. Now you look around the country, from Michigan to Georgia to Alabama, and you see vacant patches in the student sections. And no, the kids aren't in the library, because as I understand it, libraries in the Southeastern Conference are converted on Saturdays into hospitality and dining areas, with books used as drink coasters.

This weekend, Michigan will host a team from Utah, while Michigan State will host a team from Michigan, and no matter what the attendance figures say, there will be empty seats. Michigan State sold a near-record number of student tickets after winning the Rose Bowl, but Saturday's game against Eastern Michigan is scheduled to start at noon and essentially be over by 12:23.

In Ann Arbor, there's always anxiety now. It used to be, fans would only get nervous if the tailgater next to them happened to serve the same exclusive pickled herring. The outcome of the game usually was a given, and every Saturday since 1975, at least 100,000 fannies hit the cold steel benches and didn't move.

That streak supposedly is in jeopardy, based on erroneous reports that Michigan football tickets were being given away in McDonald's Happy Meals. I don't buy it, because there actually will be some intrigue in the Big House. Utah is 2-0 and averaging 57.5 points, while Michigan is 2-1 and averaging 18.3 turnovers, or thereabouts.

The attendance issue is spotlighted here because Michigan has the biggest stadium and because Brady Hoke doesn't wear a headset and because Michigan is going through an identity crisis, unsure if it wants to be really good or just run the largest memorabilia outlet in the Midwest.

Student-ticket sales dropped about 40 percent, but this is going on everywhere.

Places like Iowa and Texas have scrambled to sell tickets, and even at Alabama, Georgia and Florida, no-show rates for students can run from 25 to 60 percent (actual numbers I didn't make up).

As always, I have theories.

Theory one: Kids these days are entitled lazy brats who would rather stare at their phones and text dirty pictures to each other than watch some &*$#%* football.

Theory two: Every game is on TV and TVs are huge and fancy, so it's easier to watch at home where you don't have to wait in line to go potty.

Theory three: Ticket prices are too high because schools are in an arms race to build locker rooms with wine cellars and waterfalls, and because someone has to pay for the golf team.

Theory four: Fans are weary of soft home schedules that guarantee seven or eight victories, and would rather see Michigan play Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma and New England so they can exercise their inalienable right to call for the coach's job.

As always, I have solutions.

Solution one: Win every game, preferably by four to five touchdowns.

Solution two: Give class credit to students who attend, including the players themselves. It can be called the Ohio State Initiative.

Solution three: Sell beer at campus stadiums (but check those fake IDs!). If that turns out to be a disaster, follow the lead of the most-popular league in America, the NFL, and blissfully ignore the problem until it becomes a tragic referendum on society's ills. Then lie about what you knew.

Solution four: Not sure why no one has thought of this: Fireworks!

College football remains immensely popular based on TV ratings and money spent. But I'm telling you young people, don't waste your college years playing those video games and taking selfies.

It's your duty to preserve one of America's great cultural experiences, and then one day, annoy your kids reminiscing about it.

The picks

Utah at Michigan: Brady Hoke refuses to discuss injuries, except for the occasional clinical reference to a "boo-boo" or a "nasty rash." This leads to irresponsible speculation on social media, which can be very distracting to those of us who wade through social media for the fake outrage and provocative bacon photos. This much we know: Michigan needs Devin Funchess healthy enough to catch passes, and Devin Gardner accurate enough to throw them. Michigan 38-27

Eastern Michigan at Michigan State: The Spartans were so devastated by their loss to the Ducks, they opted to take back-to-back byes. The Eagles have a fiery new coach emphasizing toughness, and based on the team's introduction at the opener — players needed several whacks to knock down a cinder-block wall prop — there's work to do. For now, the Eagles will run onto the field through a gantlet of soap bubbles. Michigan State 41-6

Miami (not Ohio) at Nebraska: Ah, one more chance for the Big Ten to show it can hang with the big guys, or in the case of the Hurricanes, former big guys. The Cornhuskers are one of only two unbeatens in the Big Ten, which should fill the conference with gut-wrenching shame. Nebraska 30-27

Clemson at Florida State: Jameis Winston is suspended for the first half after shouting a profane phrase in the middle of campus, which was breathlessly reported on Twitter by approximately 18,509 students. You might recall, he previously was cited for leaving a grocery store without paying for $32 worth of crab legs. If he keeps this up, Winston really will stain the Heisman Trophy, and not just with melted butter. Florida State 47-23