Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Hold off on gloom and doom, fans
Everything sounds so gloomy and doomy around here, and I'm not sure why. (OK, that's a lie, I know why.) But college football is a goofy endeavor, and right when you think you know what's going to happen, it doesn't happen, or the complete opposite happens, or Jameis Winston hops on a campus table and gets suspended.
According to the dire script, Michigan is headed for a 3-9 season that will result in all sorts of changes, including removal of multiple sections of the Big House, reducing capacity to 45,000.
According to the dire script, the Big Ten is so bad, Michigan State shouldn't waste time thinking about the four-team national playoff, and just accept that a 12-1 record with a 63-7 victory over Nebraska in the conference title game will guarantee a snazzy bowl trip to Orlando.
This is all shortsighted nonsense. Of course the Spartans are still in national contention — do you people even watch college football?! Every week, a contender falls, or nearly falls, or indicates it's about to fall. Michigan State is the highest-ranked one-loss team at No. 9, and by November, school officials will have completed "Operation Duck Duck" and erased all videotape evidence of that fourth quarter in Oregon.
Meanwhile, Michigan opens conference Saturday exactly where it wants to be — undefeated in the Big Ten with Minnesota coming to town. It's the famous Little Brown Jug game, and to commemorate it, school officials put together a clever promotion. With the purchase of two little brown bottles of Coke, customers received two tickets, two hot dogs, two Advil and two VCR tapes of a 1970s game of their choice.
I'm not saying Michigan is in danger of ending its 100,000-plus attendance streak. I'm just saying I received an email the other day from a Nigerian prince offering tickets in exchange for help transferring millions from his late father's trust fund. I found it suspicious when the message said, "Seats offer majestic view of padded gladiators from 64-yard line."
Michigan is struggling, and by struggling I mean its offense has swung between awful and sort of awful. Now, Brady Hoke is mulling a quarterback change and will choose between Shane Morris, Devin Gardner and Chad from the trombone section. Hoke has declined to announce his decision, but the starter is expected to be delivered by drone in a pregame ceremony Saturday.
All is not lost for the Wolverines, and I mean that fairly sincerely. There's still plenty salvageable with a solid defense, and I know what you're thinking: "Wojo, you must be on another cookie sugar high." Not so fat, my friends. Not so fast, either.
College football seasons can turn inexplicably, and no, I'm not forecasting a dramatic rise for Michigan. Just be careful pegging teams too quickly, and as evidence, I offer every college football season ever played.
But let's stick with last season. One year ago, Michigan was 4-0 and ranked 18th and Gardner was leading the way to dramatic victories over Akron and Connecticut. (Work with me on this.) By the end, the Wolverines were 7-6 and Gardner could barely walk.
Also one year ago, Michigan State was 3-1 and unranked and fans couldn't name the starting quarterback if you spotted them C-o-n-n-o-r (space) C-o-. Today, Connor Cook is on his way to the first of several Heismans, and Mark Dantonio has a 12-game winning streak outside the state of Oregon. You think I'm being flippant? Please. I've done my research, for a change.
At this time last season, here was the AP Top 10: Alabama, Oregon, Clemson, Ohio State, Stanford, LSU, Louisville, Florida State, Georgia, Texas A&M. You see eventual national champion Florida State there, sure. But where was eventual Rose Bowl champion Michigan State? Unranked. Where was eventual national runner-up Auburn? Unranked. Where was Akron? Unranked.
Now, we're not even into October and three members of the preseason top 10 have lost. More telling, several have narrowly avoided upsets — Oregon over Washington State (38-31), Auburn over Kansas State (20-14), Florida State over Clemson (23-17, OT), Notre Dame over Michigan (31-0).
Remember those ominous suggestions the Big Ten's horridness would cost Michigan State any shot at the playoff? Well, it still might. But our beloved bloated conference went 12-1 last week, marred only by Michigan's 26-10 slip-and-slide against Utah.
My point is, early angst and critical analysis are warranted, but calamitous predictions aren't always accurate. Some Michigan fans are frantically speed-dialing random Harbaughs, as if anyone would happily ditch a cushy NFL job to come listen to them gripe. People are clawing their faces into bloody streaked messes, except for the students, who are chewing on pens in the library. Attendance is an issue everywhere, but don't tell that to Michigan fans swaddled in nostalgia, as if it were a Maize and Blue Snuggie.
Toughen up, people. College football is supposed to hurt, and there's only one way to make the pain go away. I suggest hitting the little brown jug hard.
■Minnesota at Michigan: I know gophers naturally burrow into the ground, but this is a bit ridiculous — Minnesota completed exactly one pass last week. Heck, when they're in the mood, the Wolverines can complete one interception every quarter. Michigan 27-9
■Wyoming at Michigan State: Dantonio insists he won't run up scores to impress the selection committee, and truthfully, 73 points against Eastern Michigan is about average. The Cowboys will be tougher, but this isn't the Spartans first rodeo. Michigan State 38-6
■Cincinnati at Ohio State: The Buckeyes haven't lost to an in-state opponent since 1921, when John Cooper was the coach. The Bearcats present a legitimate challenge, and if they actually win, I assume the state will be left in smoldering ruins, even worse than normal. Ohio State 38-28
■Maryland at Indiana: Maryland makes its Big Ten debut with the first of many scenic trips to the state of Indiana. Imagine the Terps surprise when they get there and realize the Hoosiers aren't as lame as advertised. Indiana 37-30