Wojo's Pigskin Picks: UM seeks identity, maybe a win

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
It's finally time for Mark Dantonio and Jim Harbaugh to take care of their business on the field.

Whew, that was fun. Jim Harbaugh just starred in college football's summer blockbuster, sometimes in various stages of undress, and America has not yet recovered. Neither have Michigan fans, still swooning at the mere thought of a square-jawed coach wearing a headset and squinting at a play chart.

But now the season is here, and it's important to remember Harbaugh is just a football coach who puts his khakis on one leg at a time. I mean, it's not like he's saving lives (OK, one accident rescue on I-94). It's not as if he chats up important people such as Supreme Court Justices, Michael Jordan and Madonna. It's not like anyone is building monuments to him, outside of the Fox Sports 1 "Harbus" adorned with a gigantic pair of pants (waist size: 48 feet), and surprisingly, a shirt.

Everyone needs to be careful, in case Michigan gets de-pantsed early. It opens in the thin air of Utah — see, told you he'd take the Wolverines to the mountaintop! — and nobody knows what to expect. There's a chance, albeit a slim one, the Wolverines won't go 11-1. There's even a chance Michigan will get hammered by Ohio State and Michigan State again, although Harbaugh is physically manhandling both on Twitter.

Michigan needed this kick-in-the-khakis after seven years of Hope and Hoke. And let's be honest, the Big Ten needed it, too, to avoid becoming the Big Two, Little 12 again. And yes, Mark Dantonio needed it because he was getting bored conjuring up flimsy slights to motivate his team against its rival. ("Did they just run onto our field with muddy shoes and jab something pointy into our sacred turf??!!")

So after the Summer of Harbaugh, here comes the Fall of Dantonio. Oh, calm down. I mean the Autumn of Dantonio, the time of year he dominates. It's unclear if pride comes before the Autumn.

I even think Urban Meyer needed this, so people wouldn't make fun of his next national title. The Big Ten has gained respect since Meyer arrived, but it's not like he's had to plow through a gantlet of top coaches. Quick, name Illinois' coach. (Clue: Not Ron Zook).

Meyer has lost one Big Ten game in three years, to Michigan State, and made a mockery of last season by winning it all with a third-string quarterback. Harbaugh took note and will try to win with several third-string quarterbacks this season.

It's good to see Harbaugh's return to his alma mater is being treated with calm reservation, and by "calm reservation" I mean "drooling anticipation." Ohio State is No. 1, Michigan State is No. 5 and Michigan is a 5-7 team somehow sporting a target on its back.

It's not totally fair to Harbaugh, who isn't even trying to stir things up in the football realm. Heck, he disappeared during training camp into Michigan's new multimillion-dollar "Harbmarine." Ask him about the Spartans and he'll politely call them "the biggest guy on the block," then stare blankly into space. Harbaugh is what experts call "quirky," which is somewhere between "brilliant" and "Daffy Duck crazy," to use the clinical terms.

Media and fans are obsessed with Harbaugh, which has caused others to become obsessed with the obsession. Fox Sports 1 will use a "Khaki Cam" during the broadcast tonight, focusing solely on Harbaugh. This is annoying to the nice folks in Utah, who feel they deserve recognition after smushing Michigan, 26-10, last season. Come on, TV people, give Utes coach Kyle Whittinsomething his own camera, too.

It's all mostly harmless, although it has gotten ridiculous at times. In between scouting reports on carburetors, Popular Mechanics magazine called the Utes a "cupcake," clearly unfamiliar with Utah's strict laws banning gooey cake products. Even GQ promoted a lengthy feature with the tag, "Can Jim Harbaugh save college football?"

Hmm. Sounds like an ESPN question to Dantonio. In case you missed it, Dantonio countered the Harbaugh publicity onslaught by spending a day at ESPN being interviewed by anyone who wandered onto the set. Near as I could tell, he was variously introduced as Mike D'Antonio, Mike D'Antoni, Mark D'Anthony and Mike Lupica.

I fabricated and recorded one of the interviews and transcribed it for your reading pleasure.

ESPN person: "So Mike …"

Dantonio: "Mark."

ESPN person: "Right. Anyhow, does Jim Harbaugh sort of scare you?"

Dantonio: "No. We're not selling hope, we're selling results. We've won 11 games four of the past …"

ESPN person: "Greeeeeat. Do you remember that one time Harbaugh coached against his brother in the Super Bowl? That was awesome. Do you have a brother?"

(Glare. Uncomfortable pause. Glare.)

Dantonio: "Actually, I do. I have a little brother."

It's on! And this sets up what should be one of the most-fascinating Big Ten seasons in at least 12 months …

The picks:

Michigan at Utah: Little is known about these Wolverines, and they plan to keep it that way. They're playing road games disguised in all-white uniforms in the hope they're mistaken for the Nittany Lions. At least Harbaugh updated his quarterback depth chart: Jake Rudock OR Shane Morris OR Jim Harbaugh. Utah 24-21

Michigan State at Western Michigan: This is the biggest happening in Kalamazoo since Elvis worked at the Burger King in the '80s. But just because the Broncos are a rising team with a refreshing coach in P.J. "Mike" Fleck, don't expect Dantonio to take it easy. Michigan State has to get its shoulder chips reattached in time for Oregon. Michigan State 37-13

Ohio State at Virginia Tech: The Hokies poked holes in the Buckeyes title dreams with a 35-21 victory last season, which was subsequently scrubbed from the books by clever Big Ten commissioner Jim "Mike" Delany. Curiously, Urban Meyer listed his quarterback depth chart like this: Heisman Candidate OR Heisman Candidate OR Heisman Candidate. Ohio State 35-21

Alabama vs. Wisconsin (Arlington, Texas): This should be a belly-whomper (football term), and the Badgers have plenty to prove. While Nick Saban still chews glass shards on the Alabama sideline, Wisconsin will unveil coach Paul Chryst, whose last name should not be confused with the new guy at Michigan. Alabama 34-17

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

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