Wojo’s Pigskin Picks: Hype gives way for actual games

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Mark Dantonio's Spartans won the Big Ten last season but few are predicting a repeat in 2016.

Every year it gets bigger and more bloated, and I’m not talking about the effects of my salad-free diet. I’m talking about college football, where everything keeps escalating, from rivalries to stakes to the number of rules proposed by the Southeastern Conference to make Jim Harbaugh go away.

It has been a volatile few months, and it just culminated with Michigan’s second consecutive College Football Offseason (CFO) national championship. The Wolverines dominated in every facet, from satellite camps to rap videos to Twitter outbursts. The trophy will be presented before the opener against Hawaii on Saturday, when Michael Jordan arrives to commemorate Michigan’s new collection of football gear bearing the image of a jumping basketball player.

(Meanwhile in East Lansing before the opener against Furman Friday night, Michigan State will unveil its own line of football accessories, including stretchy wristbands, socks with green stripes, and oddly enough, Big Ten championship rings.)

It should be an amazing opening weekend, with more big games and more Big Ten intrigue than I can ever remember. Somehow, Michigan has pulled off the implausible, racing past Ohio State and Michigan State without, technically, pausing to beat either one.

OK, timeout. That’s hyperbole, and it has no place in the game — except that it’s everywhere in college football, which is what makes the sport great. And by “great,” I mean “pathologically irrational.” No debates are hotter than college football debates, and no fans are more passionate and inebriated than college football fans.

Detroit News season predictions for Michigan

You have the Big Ten-SEC argument, which actually is real now that Ohio State and Michigan State have shown up in the playoff. Heck, the Big Ten has as many national champions the past two seasons (one), as the SEC (one). Alabama has only captured three of the past five titles, so you can see why an agitated Nick Saban is determined to build a wall around the state and force Auburn to pay for it.

I’m not saying the sport tilts toward the extreme. I’m just saying, at some point ESPN will have to apologize for a graphic video of SEC honk Paul Finebaum’s eyes melting while he rips Harbaugh for craving attention. I’m just saying LSU’s Les Miles either will win his second national championship, or have “For Sale” signs planted in his front yard. I’m just saying Dabo Swinney either will lead Clemson to the title or turn “Getting Dabo-ed” into a thing.

The controversies never end, such as the issue of paying players, and not just the ones in certain SECtions of the country. The scandal at Baylor was horrific, but in Texas they’re much more worried about determining whether Charlie Strong is weak. In the poor Big 12, which has 10 teams, they’re desperately trying to expand, and reportedly tendered invitations to numerous interested parties, including Houston, BYU, Manchester United and Tim Tebow.

Here in the Big Ten, which has between 12 and 16 teams at last count, we have our own hot topics. Such as: Has Harbaugh turned No. 7 Michigan into an instant national contender, or has the media perpetrated the craziest premature anointment since Charlie Weis dented the Notre Dame sideline? Answer: Yes.

Michigan, which has not bothered to order Big Ten championship rings since 2004, is picked by some pundits to reach the four-team playoff, and Ohio State is picked by others. This surely pains Michigan State, which is running out of cruel ways to beat its rivals, yet has no plans to voluntarily stop. Waiting until the final 10 seconds was particularly inventive, but I assume Michigan won’t fall for that one again.

Detroit News season predictions for MSU

The truth is, the Big Ten is as big and bawdy as ever — if you don’t count the lower half of the East division, the entire West division and Michigan State’s untidy loss to Alabama. Three teams are ranked in the top 12, and if you want to add No. 17 Iowa — which gets a nine-week bye to the conference title game — it should be quite the race.

Urban Meyer is still angry the Buckeyes didn’t win it last year and has vowed to start treating the Spartans with respect. He might even install an actual game plan when facing them, although that’s not confirmed. All the Spartans do is keep mauling opponents and acting like nobody notices. That’s the genius of well-known coach Mark D-(insert random letters and punctuation). If he’s not careful, he’s going to run out of motivational toys, although it’ll help when a TV broadcast touts new quarterback “Tyler O’Malley.”

Let the games begin. And if you really want to see some embarrassing competition, join the News picks contest, where you have a chance to be humbled by the ever-ever-expanding Wojodamus.

The picks

Hawaii at Michigan: The Rainbow Warriors circled the globe to get here, and no one’s sure why. They opened in Australia and now face the daunting task of guessing who Jim Harbaugh’s quarterback is. We should know by noon Saturday, or perhaps by mid-October. Harbaugh doesn’t reveal much, although he denied suggestions he wouldn’t give Hawaii a scrimmage tape, even though Michigan had tape of Hawaii’s 51-31 loss to California. I heard he did offer a copy of his rap video and a signed mini-football. Michigan 52-10

Furman at Michigan State: Mark D named a starting quarterback, and in a strange twist, also named Tyler O’Connor a captain. This is the final year the Big Ten will allow games against FCS opponents, an edict that came nine years too late for Michigan. Obviously, everyone is sick of these lopsided exercises in competitive futility. (Hi, Appalachian State!) Michigan State 44-10

Notre Dame at Texas: The Irish suffered a recent rash of arrests but should be healthy for this one. It’s a big year for the Longhorns, who are 11-14 under Charlie Strong and really need to provide new programming for the Longhorn Network. Rodeo highlights and repeat airings of the 41-38 victory over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl are getting tedious. Notre Dame 34-27

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Lambeau Field): Les Miles has threatened to punish any LSU player who does a Lambeau Leap because it would draw a 15-yard celebration penalty under the NCAA’s archaic guidelines. If such a rule existed when the Lions visited Lambeau over the years, the Packers would’ve incurred approximately 1,485 yards in penalties. LSU 26-20

Western Michigan at Northwestern: Broncos coach P.J. Fleck has his team on the rise, as does Wildcats coach Pat “P.J.” Fitzgerald. If Western Michigan follows up on back-to-back 8-5 seasons, it just might draw that coveted Willy Wonka-like golden-ticket invite to the Big 12. (R.I.P., Gene Wilder). Northwestern 30-20

USC vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas): This is a big-time coaching showdown between Alabama’s Nick Saban and, uh, I had it here a minute ago, the guy at USC. Fans at Jerry World will get to see two storied teams — Alabama’s first team and Alabama’s second team. Alabama 28-10



Wojo: Wolverines stand on level ground with Spartans