Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Strange landscape screams protest

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Michigan students watch -- and don't watch -- the Wolverines' loss to Minnesota.

It's sad, and it has to stop. One of the great institutions in America is being systematically dismantled, brick by brick, gripe by gripe, gaffe by gaffe.

College football long has represented the best of American life — discipline, passion, elitism. Today, we take for granted such societal staples as the gigantic-headed mascot and the obnoxious booster, but you can trace their origins to this great game.

So with all due respect, what in the name of Beano Cook is going on?! Do you really want to live in a world where a Michigan-Penn State game has far fewer title implications than, say, Northwestern-Minnesota? Something has gone horribly awry when you look at the rankings and see not one, but two Mississippis in the top five. It's gotten so crazy, they've run out of goalposts to tear down in Mississippi, and the governor issued an emergency order to borrow some from Louisiana.

It used to be, students were either drunk or broke. Nowadays, students are either angry or apathetic, and it changes daily. Michigan State is having another great season, and yet Mark Dantonio was forced to scold the students for leaving last week's game early. It was cold, it was late and Michigan State was leading Nebraska, 27-3, and oddly, the players checked out early, too.

All across the country, student sections are shrinking, amid the ever-rising cost of tickets, tuition and iPhones. At Michigan, students are livid they've lost their God-given right to beat Michigan State, and they either want Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon removed or concession prices slashed 50 percent, I forget which. Michigan officials compounded the problem by handling the Shane Morris injury situation with the bungling precision of White House Secret Service agents.

Students expressed outrage by marching to the president's house and taking selfies to post on Instagram, which had to gnaw at the very soul of longtime Ann Arbor advocates. One of the great college towns used to garner national attention by protesting war, or police brutality, or baby-seal slaughters. Heck, students and residents once convinced the government to let them smoke whatever they wanted for a mere $5 fine, as long as they sat cross-legged on the Diag and strummed a guitar.

Surely the old hippies are shedding tears today, as students rail against ticket prices, sideline dysfunction and losing to the likes of Utah and Minnesota. Michigan has fallen on hard times, and by "hard times," I mean it lost to Rutgers and it wasn't an upset. The Wolverines are 2-4 and Hoke is trying his best to pretend his players are learning how to block, but you can't fool kids these days.

There are murmurs of a protest for Saturday night's game against Penn State, and near as I can tell, students might do the same thing they've done most Saturdays — arrive late, leave early. It's too bad, because it's a celebrated clash between traditional powers. I believe they're calling it "Under the Lights," or "Turn Out the Lights," or "Anyone Got a Light?" Michigan will wear snazzy, all-blue legacy uniforms, not as a marketing tool but as camouflage. As always, Penn State will wear its classic all-whites that look like prison garb.

To some, this is more crass commercialism. It's also the ideal time for students to march on the Big House while righteously chanting, "Hey hey, Hoke Hoke, losing to Utah is such a joke!" Then they plan to present a list of demands, which I've exclusively fabricated:

■Stop messing with the seating policy and allow students to sit wherever they want, including the end zones, which are rarely used by the Wolverines offense.

■Stop damaging the value of a Michigan degree by losing to Michigan State and Ohio State, and immediately restore the school to big-brother status.

■Require all university personnel to be trained in the use of headsets, including professors and teaching assistants.

Times certainly are a-changing in college football, faster than you can count one Mississippi, two Mississippi. For instance, Michigan no longer is in possession of the Little Brown Jug, which reportedly is now in Minnesota, making the rounds from town to town, displayed to the public as if it were a newly discovered artifact.

Even the good teams are under scrutiny, because with the new playoff system, it's not just whether you win, but whether you get outscored 33-0 in the fourth quarter of two key games. That happened to Michigan State against Oregon and Nebraska, which sparked Dantonio's annoyance with the students, which doesn't bode well for Purdue on Saturday.

Yep, Michigan State is about to enter the always-fearsome Indiana gauntlet — at Purdue, at Indiana, back to back. (Shudder). That won't help the ol' strength of schedule, and it's too bad the other member of the Hoosier State marauders, Notre Dame, fled.

The Spartans can only play the slugs placed before them. It's important to stay focused and avoid controversy, such as Nebraska's charge that Michigan State defenders were clapping to simulate the snap signal, confusing the quarterback. Actually, that might explain the late Cornhuskers rally, after the student clappers were gone. And that might be the perfect symbol of the sport's fickleness — clap on, clap off.

■Michigan State 37-10

■Michigan 23-18

The picks

Northwestern at Minnesota: It's a showdown for first place in the Big Ten's West, and I'm not even kidding. The Gophers have been swilling from little brown jugs for two weeks, while the Wildcats have beaten the Nittany Lions and Badgers. Again I ask, what world are we living in? Minnesota 27-21

Auburn at Mississippi State: This is the biggest game in the state of Mississippi in 100 years, or since last week when Ole Miss beat Alabama. Because all the state's goalposts were destroyed, the teams will be forced to kick between two fully extended forklifts. Auburn 38-34

Mississippi at Texas A&M: SEC powers keep devouring themselves, and that's good news for Michigan State and other playoff contenders. As soon as every SEC team has four losses, the Big Ten champ will leap right into the mix! Texas A&M 41-34