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Wojo's Pigskin Picks: UM must slug with Big Ten blubber-butts

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News


Jim Harbaugh

In case you missed it, there’s growing evidence to suggest Michigan football is back. The coach is square-jawed and revered, the fans are whispering “Heisman” at their fancy September dinner parties, and the players are wearing adult-sized shoulder pads again.

All is becoming right in the college football world, if the college football world only existed within a 25-mile radius of Ann Arbor. Everyone else in the college football world — the free world, actually — finds it thoroughly obnoxious.

But before the return can be deemed official, there’s one small piece of housekeeping left: Michigan still must prove it can slug with the Big Ten’s traditional blubber-butts. You know, hulking teams like Michigan State and Ohio State. And yes, Wisconsin.

The Badgers will be in the Big House on Saturday, bloated from all the free treats they received in East Lansing. The Spartans did the Wolverines no favors, naturally. Rather than soften up the Badgers, they buttered them up and let them leave town thinking they’re actually, possibly, perhaps sort of fairly good.

I’m not saying Michigan State’s defense let down in that 30-6 loss. I’m just saying Mark dantonio will have to earn his capital D back. And frankly, we here at Snarky Column Central are part of the problem. We’ve been saying very nice things about the Spartans since they beat the Irish, pretending they didn’t lose most of their best players, even foolishly suggesting all they had to do to replace Connor Cook was find another quarterback with “Connor” in his name and call him a captain.

Our bad. We chipped away at the Spartans’ chip supply in their Warehouse of Disrespect and made them feel comfy. According to my imaginary sources, dantonio was furious the Spartans weren’t considered underdogs. As a favor, I’ll remedy the situation and lob some doozies.

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For instance, did you know Michigan State has lost two of its past four games by a combined score of 68-6? (Spartans: “Grrrr.”) Did you know Michigan State hasn’t beaten a legitimate FBS opponent all season, barely slipping past Furman and Notre Ame, also missing its D? (Spartans: “GRRrrrrr.”) Did you know respected media people (they do exist) think Indiana might beat Michigan State on Saturday night down in the hotbed of Bloomington? (Spartans: “You’ve gone too %$#@* far!”)

At least there will be a big game in Ann Arbor, where the Old Blues have dug out their dusty cardigans and wear them proudly again in the stadium suites, while griping about the tartness of the Pinot Noir. Nostalgia is flowing for this top-10 showdown, although it’s actually nothing new for the Badgers.

No. 8 Wisconsin already has beaten two top-10 teams this season — LSU and Michigan State. No. 4 Michigan hasn’t topped a top-10 team since edging Wisconsin in 2008. Inexplicably, it has come to this — Jim Harbaugh is trying to do something only Rich Rodriguez has done in nearly a decade. It’d be a significant step, even bigger than when Harbaugh banned seltzer water from Schembechler Hall and implemented forced consumption of whole milk with extra lactose.

If that’s an attempt to beat the visitors at their own gut-clogging game, the Badgers aren’t easily frightened, and I doubt they’ll be dropping cheese curds all over the field Saturday. But the Wolverines will take their shots at young quarterback Alex Hornibrook. I don’t know if the Spartans were unaware he was a freshman, or if they just spent every team meeting giggling at his name, but they had no idea how to stop him.

Michigan will have an idea thanks to defensive coordinator Don Brown, aka Dr. Blitz, who holds a Ph.D. in Blitzology with a minor in Mustache Management. He’ll harass Hornibrook with all sorts of heavy blitzes, which is different than the Spartans’ strategy of enticing him with all sorts of heavy blintzes.

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It’s also an intriguing coaching matchup between Harbaugh and Paul Chryst, which is sure to confuse rapturous Michigan believers. Harbaugh vs. Chryst? Isn’t that the same as Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh?

No sacrilege here. Just an old-fashioned measuring-stick game between bruising squads evenly matched in all the key statistical categories — rushing defense, waist size, cholesterol level. Actually, the Badgers numbers might have spiked after heading straight from East Lansing to Frankenmuth last week and loading up on sausages, sauerkraut and exotic mustards, or so I heard. Someone will be especially hungry Saturday. I think we know who.

The picks

Wisconsin at Michigan: The Wolverines have scored 40-plus points four straight games and are threatening to be as prolific as Fielding Yost’s “Point a Minute” teams. It’s a vast improvement over some of Michigan’s recent “Punt a Minute” teams. Multi-dimensional Jabrill Peppers is expected to further his Heisman candidacy by adding the following duties: Drum major, side judge and guy who holds Harbaugh’s headphone cord. Also, he might try place-kicking and long-snapping (on the same field-goal attempt!). Michigan 31-13

Michigan State at Indiana: If I say anything remotely positive about the Spartans, dantonio will be furious. So let’s talk about the trophy for this game, the Old Brass Spittoon. Why a drool receptacle? What, the Old Wooden Toilet Seat wasn’t available? The Spartans D (or d) better be ready for the pass-happy Hoosiers, because they need to get their capital back. Michigan State 38-31

Rutgers at Ohio State: Urban Meyer rarely shows mercy, and I doubt he will against his former assistant Chris Ash, who took over a Rutgers program desperately in need of an identity. Ash has been trying to pluck pieces of Michigan’s recruiting identity and is considering a previously used tactic — closing all the bridges into New Jersey. Meyer will be prepared for a battle, and I strongly suspect he’ll kick Ash. Ohio State 45-13

Western Michigan at Central Michigan: It’s a showdown between the second- and third-best teams in the state. (Tell me when to lay off, Spartans.) After rolling past two Big Ten teams, the Broncos finally hit the challenging part of their schedule, and it should be quite the party. It’s such a big event in Mount Pleasant, I heard the National Guard was trucking in emergency supplies of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Western Michigan 44-38

Louisville at Clemson: A top-five clash with major playoff and award implications. Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson has posted incredible numbers and is the early Heisman favorite, although Wolverines fans sniff that he hasn’t even returned a punt for a touchdown yet. Good point! Clemson 35-28