Wojo’s Pigskin Picks: Lifting the haze on MSU, UM

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Tyler O'Connor

We’re two weeks into the college football season, and pretty much the only thing we’ve learned about the local teams is Jim Harbaugh occasionally sees an irritating, mythical four-inch character named Freddy P. Soft. Freddy’s goal, apparently, is to distract you from working and tempt you to settle for a scholarship offer from, say, Purdue.

And speaking of irritating, mythical four-inch characters, it’s time again to deal with the leprechauns. Michigan State opened with consecutive byes for no apparent reason, and now heads to Notre Dame for a showdown Saturday night. It’s one of several juicy games in a weekend that should settle a few unanswered questions.

For instance, will quarterback Tyler O’Connor set aside his Irish leanings to direct a Spartans offense that may or may not actually exist? Will Mark DanO’Tonio have to be restrained from punting a leprechaun down the field when strange things start happening?

You might recall the last time the Spartans went to South Bend in 2013, their defensive backs repeatedly were accused of assaulting Irish receivers, even though security footage was inconclusive. Five pass-interference penalties were instrumental in Notre Dame’s 17-13 victory, the only blemish on Michigan State’s 13-1 season.

The Spartans crave vengeance for that bitter defeat, as well as the bitter 10-10 tie in 1966, when the No. 1 Irish wimpily ran out the clock rather than, oh, line up for a punt with 10 seconds left. It’s the 50th anniversary of that “Game of the Century,” a list that now includes approximately 4,903 “Games of the Century.” Recent addition: Central Michigan stunning Oklahoma State on the final play after the final play, then getting chased out of town by the mustachioed Cowboys mascot with the gigantic orange hat.

You always can count on weird things in a sport with so many vague rules, erratically enforced by officials who know about half of them. Michigan State has lost three straight to Notre Dame, but its last victory came on a fake field goal in overtime, the famed “Little Giants” play.

While Michigan State spent the past two weeks reenacting “Little Giants,” pausing long enough to scrimmage Furman, Michigan had only slightly tougher tasks. The Wolverines opened with consecutive patsies and aren’t scheduled to leave the state for an actual football game for several months. So if we’re basing it on accomplishments, the top three teams in the state right now are, in order, Central Michigan, Western Michigan and the Lions.

Really, what have we learned about the fourth-ranked Wolverines? It appears Jim Harbaugh is adept at picking (a quarterback), even if he denies it. And the defense looks dominant, although you can’t definitively say the entire 11-man starting unit will be drafted in the first round, yet.

Michigan has its own anniversary to celebrate Saturday, and by “celebrate” I mean “publicly eulogize.” Twenty-two years ago, Colorado unveiled a new-fangled play called the Hail Mary, and Kordell Stewart’s 64-yard tipped pass to Michael Westbrook turned the Big House even quieter than normal. Lately, there have been all sorts of Hail Marys, Kick Sixes, Punt-Snap Sixes and Postgame Hook-and-Lateral Sixes, but that was one of the originals.

A lot has changed since then, including the peculiar decision by Colorado to reduce its competitive fervor. The Buffaloes were 11-38 the past four seasons, and I’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with a certain Colorado law passed in 2012 that made it possible to play at a really high altitude. I’m not saying the Buffaloes melllllloooowwwwed out, I’m just saying they replaced energy bars and Gatorade on the sideline with Doritos and Mountain Dew.

Now they’ve opted to return to an aggressive manner, and are 2-0 with a high-octane offense that runs on actual football principles, not special brownies. Oh, there still are signs the Buffaloes are blowing smoke, evidenced by their depth chart this week that included Elmer Fudd at quarterback and Olive Oil (to be historically accurate, Oyl) at the “thin receiver” position. Fudd, listed at 5-foot and 165 pounds, operates out of the shotgun, naturally. Oil (Oyl) can be jammed at the line of scrimmage by Bluto, but boyfriend Popeye usually opens up a cannabis and calms everyone down.

Oddly, Harbaugh wasn’t amused by Colorado’s attempt to mock Michigan’s lack of a depth chart, and in fact he’s determined to stamp out the existence of depth charts in his lifetime. He probably won’t be happy either when the Buffaloes show up in the same uniforms they wore in 1994, although that’s unlikely to be the reason Harbaugh orders Wilton Speight to throw Hail Marys deep into the fourth quarter, regardless of the score.

The Wolverines have more at stake than vengeance. I’m a tad sheepish mentioning this, but there’s a chance Michigan could be No. 1 by Sunday morning. The top three teams face tough road contests — Alabama at Mississippi, Florida State at Louisville, Ohio State at Oklahoma — so it’s not completely implausible. If there’s one thing we’ve learned so far, from Freddy P. to Mr. Fudd, it’s that you can conjure up anything with an imagination, or some of the good stuff.

The picks

Michigan State at Notre Dame: The Spartans cleverly showed nothing in their scrimmages, and according to my half-baked sources, even ordered running backs to fall down after 3-yard gains. Irish coach Brian Kelly, meanwhile, opened the season with two quarterbacks and no defense, and now hopes to have one of each. Notre Dame 27-17

Colorado at Michigan: Thanks to his four-week NFL vacation, Tom Brady will be an honorary captain, continuing Michigan’s strategy of placing intimidating icons on its sideline. Colorado tried to counter, but due to airline seat restrictions, Ralphie the Buffalo no longer is allowed to travel. Michigan 45-20

Ohio State at Oklahoma: They used to call Bob Stoops “Big Game Bob” until NCAA auditors noticed Oklahoma actually lost a lot of big games. Urban Meyer wins a lot of big games, as long as the opponent isn’t Michigan State. Oklahoma 35-30

Florida State at Louisville: Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson has been so unreal, I bothered to look up his stats: 1,015 total yards, 13 touchdowns in two games. We haven’t seen speed and elusiveness like this since Bobby Petrino last hopped on his motorbike. Louisville 48-44

Western Michigan at Illinois: Western Michigan already has beaten Northwestern, so now it can capture the Big Ten’s Land of Lincoln division. The Broncos are favored, which is only surprising if you haven’t watched the Illini the past 15 years. Western Michigan 22-21

UNLV at Central Michigan: Oklahoma State fans pleaded with Central Michigan to give back its 30-27 victory, which was kind of hilarious. Yes, the refs erred in awarding the Chippewas one last play. But by my count, the Cowboys erred in failing to kill the clock, failing to know the rule, failing to impede the Hail Mary throw, failing to impede the Hail Mary lateral and failing to take seriously the finest team in the state of Michigan! (For the moment). Central Michigan 38-17