Wojo’s Pigskin Picks: Upon further view, refs cause chaos

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Ah, the sounds of autumn. The thump of the marching bands, the crack of the decal-covered helmets, the gurgling noises after eating Aunt Margaret’s mayonnaise-based potato salad at the tailgate.

But truly, college football wouldn’t be the same without this sound: “You (bleep-bleeping), clueless (bleep-head), poor excuse of a (bleeping) ref!! WHAT GAME ARE YOU WATCHING???!”

Now I admit, sometimes that’s a fair question. Like when a Nebraska receiver veers out of bounds, finds his cheerleader girlfriend, makes a quick marriage proposal, then returns to the field in time to push a defender out of the way to catch the winning touchdown pass. Meanwhile up in the press box, the replay official is frantically punching the remote control trying to switch back from a “Law & Order” rerun.

I don’t know if college football officiating is appreciably worse than it used to be. (“Yes it is, you $%#*& idiot!”) After all, Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes would yell and snap yard markers over referees’ heads, and that was just in warm-ups. I do know there’s more attention than ever, more games and up-tempo teams than ever, and more people paid to go on TV — or unpaid to hop on Twitter — and rant about tragedy and injustice.

So apparently we have a crisis, and not just because Michigan State got kicked in the karma on that wildly bogus touchdown by Nebraska with 17 seconds left. Mark “Just Mark, Please” Dantonio is known for naming epic plays, and according to my imaginary sources, he dubbed it “Big Red Ref Gift: 3938.”

There are two ways to look at this. One is that it didn’t really matter, because the Cornhuskers had time to complete six or seven more passes against the Spartans’ young “Frequent Fly Zone” secondary.

Detroit News college picks: Week 11

The other is, accept the chaos — the next astonishing gaffe could go your way! I know that doesn’t make anyone feel better, especially those poor Duke kids who had about 37 chances to stop Miami’s ridiculous kickoff return, and instead allowed themselves to get burned by the refs.

Listen. Should the Big Ten and other conferences invest more in officiating, demand more accountability and do a better job of frisking refs for bourbon flasks? Sure. But for every life-altering miscue, replay review has corrected hundreds of others, most of them in favor of Notre Dame.

Expanding replay in an attempt to get every call and every penalty right would complicate things more, and turn four-hour games into two-day Woodstock festivals. Killing replay review isn’t the solution, either. The mistake is in thinking the replay system would solve everything.

As the ancient philosopher Wojofucius once said: “The higher you reach for perfection, the farther it slips away, as deeper scrutiny of the human condition reveals more imperfections.”

(Whoa, Wojie, getting heavy there. No pun intended.)

The point is, college football borders on semi-controlled confusion because there are so many disparate systems and programs and conferences. To staff all those games with highly trained referees, you’d need the government to set up Satellite Officiating Camps. There, candidates would be taught to rotate their arms crisply in the classic “false start” fashion, and would receive care from the finest eye doctors in America.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t solve the “crisis” because here’s the dirty little secret no one wants to talk about at their fancy dinner parties — no system is flawless when people dressed in stripes are involved. I mean, don’t we hear the exact same complaints in every sport, from the NFL’s processed catches to the NBA’s swallowed whistles to baseball’s replay rancor?

Like it or not, chaos is part of college football’s appeal, evidenced by the shrieking after each weekly ranking. I swear, no group of humans in the Western Hemisphere is crankier than college football fans, with the possible exception of Secretary of State clerks and Bill Belichick. Moaning is one of the game’s great pastimes, and not in a good way. Fans bicker and defile their rivals with horrifically demeaning names such as “ScUM,” and “Ohio,” and “Sparty.”

The main unifying force is disdain for officials. It may seem like every game is trapped in a Buffalo Wild Wings commercial, and some drunk named Tony is pressing a button that rattles the punter and sends the ball careening sideways with 10 seconds left. But if not for such craziness, we wouldn’t have so many historic finishes, and we wouldn’t have phrases such as “intent to deceive.”

That one ticked off Jim H’Arbaugh, who intended to order a long pass to tight end Jake Butt last week against Rutgers, but was penalized for being ruthlessly deceptive. Apparently, the rules specifically state coaches must register any tricky intentions beforehand — in essence, show your Butt. College football officials do precisely that at inopportune times, in dumbfounding ways. Upon further review, so does everyone else.

The picks

Maryland at Michigan State: After numerous failed attempts, Michigan State finally got a much-needed tough loss to impress the selection committee. Some would call it karma because the Spartans had been narrowly dodging defeat, while the Cornhuskers couldn’t dodge falling anvils.

The big task for Dantonio is to convince his team nothing is over, and you can’t expect to reach the playoffs losing every game 39-38. Pick: Maryland 39-38. Real pick: Michigan State 40-24

Michigan at Indiana: The Wolverines are the highest-ranked two-loss team in America, which is quite an accomplishment. To avoid becoming the highest-ranked three-loss team, they’re advised to revisit that defensive strategy where they don’t give up any points. Because the Hurryin’ Hoosiers can score. Michigan 37-27

Ohio State at Illinois: J.T. Barrett is back at quarterback after a one-week “study break,” and, hey look, just in time for the Buckeyes’ closing gantlet! Urban Meyer has made it clear his team won’t look ahead to Michigan State and Michigan, and even practiced by calling Illinois “That School Directly West.” Ohio State 45-19

Minnesota at Iowa: Normally, these programs just play for a bronze pig statue, Floyd of Rosedale. With the Hawkeyes inexplicably 9-0, they’re also playing for lipstick on that pig. Iowa is fifth in the playoff rankings, which may be hogwash to anyone (who, me?) not familiar with its snout, er, stout, defense. Iowa 31-10

Oklahoma at Baylor: The poor Bears continually hammer the Lamars of the world, 66-31, and still don’t get much respect. I mean, what exactly is the selection committee saying when it ranks 8-0 Baylor behind Iowa and one-loss Notre Dame? It’s saying you can’t reach the playoffs winning every game 66-31. Baylor 66-63

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

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