Wojo’s Pigskin Picks: Sorry UM fans, Buckeyes aren't quite dead yet
You want to believe the Buckeyes are done. I know you do. I know how you think.
The moment you saw Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield stick a flag in the middle of Ohio State’s field, you thought of sad Urban Meyer chewing on cold pizza while contemplating whether he needs to spend more time with his family again. Hey, it’s a natural reaction, especially with the Buckeyes getting stomped in two of their last three games.
Listen. In case you haven’t noticed, tired old themes tend to repeat themselves over and over again in college football, much like the themes in this column. (Shut up.) And the sobering truth is, Buckeye fans won’t be sober until mid-December. The other sobering truth is, you can’t plant flags and bury teams too early, no matter how much fun it is.
I’m not saying fans are reactionary, and some even can be — how do I put this delicately? — bat-(blank) crazy. I’m just saying, when Michigan was clinging to a 17-14 lead in the second half against Cincinnati last week, Michigan fans were furiously crushing wine glasses against their foreheads and tossing sushi rolls onto the field.
Down in Columbus, as J.T. Barrett was distributing free footballs to friends and family in the front row, Buckeye fans were clawing their eyes out with the jagged edges of tobacco tins. It was all very unpleasant, and unnecessary. When fans say to me in mid-September that a season’s over — and they’re not talking about Rutgers — I just roll my eyes*. (*Harbaugh trademark).
So before anyone hands the Big Ten East title to Penn State, Michigan State or Maryland, let’s give the Wolverines and Buckeyes a chance to refine. Let’s wait a bit, unless either one loses this week, and then you can resume your role as Social Media Justice Warrior, hammering out CAPITAL LETTERS and *&$#&% Walton Spate!!” while tragically showing your incapable of basic grammer and punkcuation.
In a coincidental quirk, service academies Air Force and Army visit Ann Arbor and Columbus Saturday. These could be tougher games than people expect, unlike in the SEC, where Georgia reportedly is hosting Merchant Marine.
This is a big week for the Wolverines, who are ranked ahead of the Buckeyes for the first time since the Bennie Oosterbaan era. Air Force comes in with its tricky triple option offense, which is a misnomer because all three options are run, run, and also run. That’s different than Michigan’s triple option these days, which is run, overthrow, fumble*. (* Eye roll).
Michigan is a heavy favorite, but before you get cocky, you should know Air Force leads the nation in scoring offense, scoring defense, rushing offense, total offense and total defense. I could point out that’s all from one game, a 62-0 victory over VMI, but that would be TMI.
Nevertheless, the Falcons have won seven straight, and the Wolverines (2-0) can’t treat this like just another SEC patsy. For instance, Air Force’s prolific running attack pretty much eliminates Michigan’s best offensive weapon – the interception return for a touchdown.
If Air Force is going to refuse to make mistakes, Michigan will be forced to do the same. After a week of getting criticized for winning by a modest margin, I suspect when the Wolverines take the field in the Big House, we won’t hear boos from the stands. But, uh, we do need to hear boo from the offense.
Meanwhile in Columbus, the smoke has just lifted, and Meyer is done picking through discarded pizza boxes. The Buckeyes aren’t used to being embarrassed — I mean, for reasons other than off-field chicanery or fan buffoonery. And yes, Mayfield was completely within his rights to stick a flag in the middle of the O, after the Sooners’ 31-16 victory. His apology afterward was unnecessary, although he certainly should’ve offered thoughts and prayers to Ohio State’s battered secondary.
The problem is, Meyer is like a bloody, masked character from a horror film, only less charming. It takes more than one well-aimed jab to stop him from terrorizing innocent neighborhoods that don’t recruit as well. Last season, the Buckeyes were done after a 24-21 loss at Penn State, then got undone and reached the playoff, where Clemson stuck a 31-0 stick in them.
In 2014, the Buckeyes were done after an early 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech, then got undone and won the national title. It happens all the time. Clemson won the title last season despite a 43-42 home loss to Pittsburgh in November. Alabama won the title in 2015 despite a 43-37 home loss to Mississippi, back when the Rebels were only suspected cheaters.
The point is, you have to be careful how you react to big victories and big defeats. In college, you can never get too high (no matter how hard you try) or too low. When Duke shocked Northwestern last week, I heard the Blue Devils celebrated by smashing a chemistry beaker at midfield. When Alabama beat Fresno State by a mere 41-10, I heard Nick Saban strode to midfield and demoted half his starting offense.
And after Michigan State stunned Western Michigan, I heard the Spartans raised a MAC banner, then decided to take the week off. An odd strategy, but hey, this is an odd sport. I assume we’ll see a slight return to normalcy this week. Whatever that is.
Pick: Michigan 31, Air Force 13
Army at Ohio State: Boy, Meyer sure knows how to finagle things. His team’s pass defense appears to have a nasty allergy to the scent of receivers, so now here comes Army, which is averaging precisely — I’m not making this up — 8.5 passing yards per game. If there’s a flag-planting after this one, even the belligerent Bucknuts will have to salute. Pick: Ohio State 37-9
Clemson at Louisville: Clemson is the defending national champion and — gasp — might be even better. Lamar Jackson is the defending Heisman winner and – gasp – might be even better. The loser here is out of it, out of it, I tell you! No chance of recovery! Pick: Clemson 27-20
Notre Dame at Boston College: Notre Dame didn’t get a flag planted after a 20-19 home loss, but Georgia fans did take over the stadium. Let’s just say, the Dawgs went to midfield afterward and did their business. Pick: Notre Dame 34-13
Georgia State at Penn State: It was quite the snippy week in college football. Following the Nittany Lions’ redemption victory over rival Pitt, James Franklin sniffed, “for their win last year, it was like the Super Bowl. For us, it’s like beating Akron.” Not sure who should be more offended, Pitt or Akron? Pick: Penn State 48-7