Wojo’s Pigskin Picks: UM-OSU part of nation's rivalry crisis

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Urban Meyer is 5-0 against Michigan and Jim Harbaugh is 0-2 against Ohio State.

Rivalries are important, irreplaceable, the very foundation of our great nation. Long before the Buckeyes were coming, the British were coming, and thankfully they were stopped just short of the line, no matter what the Big Ten replay system would have ruled.

But you have to be careful with rivalries. They must be fed and nurtured, stoked with vitriol and splattered with insults, otherwise they wither. For instance, do we still care whether the British use phrases like “gobsmacked” and “dilly dilly,” and intentionally misspell words such as behaviour, honour and D’Antoniou? Well, yes we do, but it isn’t worth fighting about anymore.

Michigan-Ohio State is still worth fighting about, and in fact, America needs this rivalry more than ever, and not just because of last year’s 30-27 double-overtime classic. If we’re going to thrive on irrational divisiveness, let’s do it over things that really matter, like whether J.T. Barrett was an inch short of a first down, or as Michigan fans clearly saw, several yards short.

Years ago, when Michigan repeatedly beat John Cooper’s Buckeyes, I advocated a merciful approach, and the Wolverines eventually complied. In retrospect, not a good idea. Letting the Buckeye barbarians seize control of the rivalry with 12 victories in 13 meetings is, frankly, irresponsible. It’s like letting the little crazy guy with the bad hairdo seize control of the U.S.-North Korea rivalry.

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So what can the Wolverines do to change it? I suppose they could go ahead and win Saturday, but let’s explore more realistic options.

Jim Harbaugh is 0-2 against Urban Meyer, who’s 5-0 against Michigan. In fact, in 13 years, the only Ohio State coach to lose to Michigan is interim Luke Fickell in 2011. So that’s an idea. Michigan could send operatives back into the Columbus tattoo parlors, uncover violations similar to what happened under the Sweater Vest, and force Ohio State to bring in an interim. Fickell would suffice again.

Another idea: Get the Big House crowd fired up with old-fashioned gamesmanship. Harbaugh could treat Meyer like Jim Schwartz and deliver an exuberant backslap, knocking the smarm right out of him. Or the Michigan band could introduce a new script M-I-C-H-I-G-A-N formation and spend so much time dotting the i’s, Ohio State’s band never gets on the field.

Something has to change, because college football is facing a rivalry crisis. Remember when USC-UCLA and Florida-Florida State used to be big deals? I heard the Bruins and Trojans quietly met last Saturday, and the Gators and Seminoles are both 4-6 and reportedly playing this weekend, although double-check your local listings.

Remember when Oklahoma and Nebraska used to wage epic battles while throwing a combined three passes? Or when Georgia-Florida was the much-anticipated “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” a distinction now held by Western Michigan-Central Michigan? Remember when Michigan-Michigan State used to be hotly contested?

Sigh. Now we’re relying on Alabama-Auburn in the Iron Bowl, an in-state tiff that always has the sad, heavy whiff of burnt pig and probation in the air. We’re looking at the Egg Bowl, especially rotten because Mississippi shockingly is in NCAA trouble, and Mississippi State shockingly might have helped.

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Maybe that’s what Michigan-Ohio State needs, a new name. Washington-Washington State has the Apple Cup, and Oregon-Oregon State is the Civil War because people in Oregon are blissfully civil. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State is called Bedlam, which should be the name for every rivalry ever. Michigan-Ohio State is known simply as The Game, and while this might be cumbersome, we could update it to “The Game Before Ohio State Plays in the Big Ten Championship Game.”

There are no excuses for Michigan, none whatsoever. It doesn’t matter that the rule requiring a full 10 yards for a first down apparently is only a loose guideline. It doesn’t matter that the Wolverines are so young, few of their current players were born when these teams met in the No. 1-versus-No. 2 showdown in 2006. (Buckeyes furiously doing math, will start blubbering momentarily).

Now the Buckeyes are 9-2, although 9-0 if you don’t count the games they were completely embarrassed. The Wolverines are 8-3, although 8-0 if you don’t count the games their starting quarterback was hurt or it was windy and wet.

Michigan actually has a shot Saturday, similar to the shot it had in 2013, when Brady Hoke’s squad was a 16-point underdog and lost 42-41.

These Wolverines are 12-point underdogs but have a dangerous defense capable of holding opponents to plays of 0, 1 and -2 yards, followed by plays of 56, 69 and 78 yards.

Michigan fans need this, mainly for self-esteem reasons. Harbaugh needs this so critics can stop complaining that he’s overrated and loses every big game, yet somehow remains touted for every pro and college job outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

It’s not easy rekindling a rivalry once it turns lopsided. I mean, look at some of the great competitions in American history that ended in tragic pummelings:

Netflix over Blockbuster

Twitter over rational thought

Stuffing over Aunt Edna’s butternut squash

Foot Locker clerks over Big Ten refs

Arithmetic over Buckeyes

I’m not suggesting Michigan will end up like Blockbuster in this rivalry. I am suggesting you need to spring your own blockbuster every now and then.

The Wolverines came as close as you possibly can last year but they need to move on, which means they probably should change the passcode at Schembechler Hall from “hewasafootshort.” Also, if quarterback Brandon Peters is healthy enough to play, the Wolverines are strongly encouraged to block (not duck) when they see the Buckeyes coming. Dilly dilly!

Pick: Ohio State 27-13

Other games

Michigan State at Rutgers: Two stirring comeback stories. The Spartans went 3-9 last year just to see how it felt, and now churn toward 9-3. Rutgers was 0-9 in the Big Ten last year, and now has three conference victories. When these rivals meet, you toss the record books out the window and hope they don’t land on a pedestrian. Pick: Michigan State 20-10

Alabama at Auburn: If Auburn pulls the upset, it wins the SEC West and keeps alive its playoff hopes, despite two losses. No. 1 Alabama keeps alive its playoff hopes whether it wins, loses or spontaneously combusts. Pick: Alabama 23-13

Wisconsin at Minnesota: The 11-0 Badgers are lugging the Big Ten’s honor around like a sack of soiled socks. This is the most-played rivalry in major college football, and incredibly, the record is 59-59-8. It’s also another rivalry threatening Blockbuster status, with Wisconsin winning Paul Bunyan’s Axe (as well as his boots, flannel shirt and heavy wool pants) 13 straight times. Pick: Wisconsin 27-16