Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo break down Michigan and Michigan State for the 2017 college football season. Detroit News
So much intrigue, so much uncertainty. I can’t remember a college football season opening with this many deep, fascinating questions, unless you go all the way back to last season. But this seems much deeper, based on my limited research.
Is Michigan officially ready to do more than raise a third-place banner, or will it continue to lose big games by an average margin of .04 points?
Was Michigan State’s 3-9 record a fluke, or merely the first payment on Mark Dantonio’s deal with the underworld?
Did Urban Meyer really take Big Ten officials on an all-expenses-paid cruise to Aruba, or is that merely the baseless conjecture of bitter, whiny Michigan fans?
And finally, who exactly was the naked chubby man on top of the dead shark in the controversial photo that emerged during the offseason? And if it wasn’t Florida coach Jim McElwain — he says it wasn’t —is there a chance he has an identical twin?
That’s a good place to start, with the Michigan-Florida grudge match in Dallas, featuring two storied programs that may or may not have starting quarterbacks. As you probably know, Jim Harbaugh created a stir by refusing to release his roster, or the name of his starting quarterback, although I’m fairly certain it rhymes with “Milton Crate.” (Oddly enough, up in East Lansing, Dantonio refused to release the name of his starting punter.)
McElwain responded by saying he might use all three of his quarterbacks Saturday, before he settled on redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. Still unclear is who will catch or run the ball, which are only vague concepts anyhow in Florida’s rudimentary offense. At last count, 10 Gators are suspended, including their leading receiver and rusher, an obvious ploy by McElwain to hide his true starting lineup. Harbaugh responded by opting to disguise his team in bright yellow outfits for the game, an obvious ploy to confuse the opponent.
It was the latest in a series of unorthodox moves by Harbaugh, which include taking his team to Rome, recruiting faster players and ruthlessly beating Florida in a bowl game 41-7. All the hysteria caused McElwain to grumble Harbaugh must feel he needs to do stuff to be “relevant.” McElwain took his own stab at relevance by telling fans at a pep rally the Gators were going to “beat the heck out of Michigan.” Then he dropped the mic and left to suspend more players.
I’m not sure why McElwain would engage Harbaugh in a battle of wits, because everyone knows if you swim with the game’s sharks, you’re liable to end up sun-burned and photographed with a goofy grin. Again, let me be clear. McElwain flatly denies any dalliances with sea creatures, and only in college football can a random photo of unknown origin create such a ruckus.
I apologize for belaboring the issue, but I don’t make up the lampooning (or harpooning) rules. I’m really not doing this on porpoise. It’s just that he’s proving to be quite the entertaining character, while somehow leading the Gators to back-to-back SEC East crowns.
To his credit (or debit), McElwain reacted swiftly to his players’ credit-card scam, which was uncovered when the culprits allegedly used the cards where football players are expressly forbidden, the campus “bookstore.” All the suspensions put the pressure squarely on the Wolverines, who now are solid favorites despite returning only five starters. They’re so young, I heard the alternate maize jerseys feature a “onesie” option.
One upside to having Harbaugh as your coach is you get tons and tons of publicity, some of it even related to football. The downside is, people assume your team automatically is good no matter how many players you inexplicably ship off to the NFL.
The rumor is, this might even be the year Michigan resumes the ancient tradition of beating Ohio State, although that Aruban junket complicates matters. But first, the Wolverines will desperately try to break their nasty habit of losing close games. They’re 20-6 under Harbaugh, with four of the losses decided in the final seconds, an exasperation unknown to mankind.
This is quite the stage to unveil a brand-new team, in the Jerry Dome, where the gigantic end-to-end videoboards pose a potential problem. Because the screens are so large, and because Michigan’s uniforms are so luminescent, fans are encouraged to wear their solar-eclipse glasses and not stare directly into Harbaugh’s eyes.
The future does look bright. And this game should be tense right to the very end, when the coaches meet for the post-game handshake and Harbaugh stuffs his depth chart down the back of McElwain’s shirt.
Pick: Michigan 20-13
Bowling Green at Michigan State: Bowling Green is the perfect opponent to launch a redemption tour, after Green failed to go bowling last season. Apparently the Spartans got bored winning 11 games every year, so they decided to start over. To mark the occasion, we’re giving Dantonio his original pronunciation back, until further notice. Pick: Michigan State 31-10
Florida State vs. Alabama in Atlanta: This is billed as the Greatest Season Opener Ever, with the winner becoming a playoff favorite and the loser, uh, remaining a playoff favorite. But hey, there are still stakes! You have to wonder if this finally is the year Nick Saban gets back to winning national championships, ending a drought that stretches to 2015. If the Crimson Tide fall, it’d be their second two-game losing streak since 2008. Unconscionable. Pick: Alabama 34-21
Temple at Notre Dame: Just when we think the world is a sad, ugly place, Notre Dame goes 4-8 and reminds us there’s still hope. Brian Kelly might be coaching for his job this season, and he responded appropriately — he hired new coordinators and partly blamed last year’s woes on the burden of fund-raising duties. Oh, if he somehow goes 4-8 again, there will be Notre Dame fans raising funds all right. Pick: Notre Dame 37-17
Akron at Penn State: I double-checked, and Penn State indeed is the defending Big Ten champ, technically. The Nittany Lions supposedly are loaded again, and if James Franklin isn’t careful, he might complete the tricky trek from most-overrated coach to most-underrated coach. Pick: Penn State 40-17