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Wojo, Niyo, Chengelis, Charboneau preview UM, MSU's opening games The Detroit News

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In case you somehow forgot, Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten title in 14 years, hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road in 12 years and hasn’t scored a point against Notre Dame in five years. Now the Wolverines face the nastiest schedule imaginable, and in Jim Harbaugh’s fourth season, fans are starting to think it might take a while to reel off three or four consecutive national championships.

It looks daunting, opening against the Fighting Irish Saturday night and closing Nov. 24 against Ohio State and interim coach Luke Fickell. But you know what I see? I see a great opportunity for the Wolverines to show they truly are back and they mean it this time and if not this year then next year for sure.

Why? Well, my sources in Schembechler Hall confirm Michigan has plans to block this season, and will make a new concerted effort to not let the quarterback get hit all the time. And that quarterback is Shea Patterson, or as he’s known around Ann Arbor, the Shea-vior.

Is it too much to ask a highly touted transfer to single-handedly revive an offense that was so bad, Michigan fans got drunk and reminisced about the days of Rich Rod? Yes, it’s too much.

Is it too much to ask a burly defense returning nine starters to hold its opponents scoreless until at least mid-October? No it is not.

OK, maybe it is. But let’s examine this “daunting” schedule a bit more closely.

Notre Dame sent many of its best offensive players to the NFL, and there’s a chance Brian Kelly will get frustrated and pull quarterback Brandon “Thurston” Wimbush III after his first incompletion. And the last time these rivals met in 2014, Notre Dame squeaked out a 31-0 victory, so Michigan will be doubly motivated to try blocking again.

You know what else? That loaded Big Ten East might not be quite as formidable as you think. It’s a long way until Alabama and Clemson play for the national title on Jan. 7, but the Big Ten has work to do if it wants to earn the right to lose in the college football playoff.

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Michigan State returns 37 of 22 starters, which seems like it should be against the rules, but loses its most cherished weapon, the Disrespect Card. After going 10-3 last season, the Spartans are ranked 11th and considered a sleeper playoff pick. Mark “No Apostrophe” Dantonio, was so infuriated his team was ranked higher than Michigan, he reportedly accused AP of rigging the vote.

Dantonio rightly feels disrespected by the sudden lack of disrespect, and he responded by recycling the Spartans’ team motto. He’s using “#Heave,” referring to the collaborative heave required in a tug-of-war. Oddly enough, “#Heave” was the slogan during the nauseating 3-9 season, and is considered a popular activity after the bars close in East Lansing.

And where do we begin with our friends down in Columbus, where the slogan under Urban “Mire” Meyer remains “#IDidn’tNoNuthin’.” I’m not saying the Buckeyes bury their heads in the sand. I’m just saying The OSU should stand for The Ostrich State University. I’m also saying a new tradition should feature the band dotting the “i” as it spells out script “L-I-E.”

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Meyer is suspended three games for lying at a press conference (eh, who doesn’t?), for allegedly deleting incriminating texts (“Zach, what’s in the box that just got delivered?”), and for taking way, way too long to fire an assistant who allegedly did horrible things. It took strong investigative work by reporters to uncover the misdeeds and force the school “president” to deliver a harsher punishment. I can’t confirm it, but I heard the original sanction for Meyer was a ban on eating cold pizza while sitting on the back of a golf cart.

You see my overall point, right? The East division has holes, and I’m not just talking about the unholy messes at Rutgers, Indiana and Maryland. There are questions, even if Penn State was granted a seventh year of eligibility for quarterback Trace McSorley, and even if Michigan State has McSorley Lite in Brian Lewerke.

Before Michigan can think about finishing higher than third, it has to take care of the Fighting Irish. As you know, Notre Dame only counts as a traditional rival if the Wolverines lose (Harbaugh 1-6 against rivals!). If Michigan wins, it beat a non-conference patsy (Harbaugh still 1-5 against rivals!).

It’s good to see the storied series resume, because it ended with hard feelings when Michigan accused Notre Dame of chickening out, and the Fighting Irish clucked off in a huff. The Wolverines remain staunchly anti-chicken, as Harbaugh recently called it a nervous bird not suitable for consumption. From what I understand in Michigan’s updated training methods, players are force-fed beef and use sandpaper to wipe the juice off their chins.

Strange things happen when these old foes meet, and the home team has won seven of the past eight. But Michigan’s last road victory against a ranked opponent indeed came against Notre Dame, 47-21 in 2006. I’m not here to put pressure on the Wolverines, not one tiny bit. I am here to say their offensive linemen apparently have grown bigger muscles, and the Shea-vior has been working diligently on his Touchdown Jesus impersonation.

Pick: Michigan 27-16

The picks

Utah State at Michigan State: In a Friday night opener on a holiday weekend, you can bet #Heave will be in full force for Spartan fans. Michigan State needs to be careful here because the Utes have a solid history of, uh, excuse me for a second. Oh, this is the other Utah? Never mind. Pick: Michigan State 41-20

Oregon State at Ohio State: A classic clash of OSU versus OSU, Buckeyes versus Beavers, Ryan Day versus Jonathan Smith (Buckeyes fill-in coach versus Beavers filler coach). Meyer isn’t allowed on the sideline, so campus police will be on the lookout for a shadowy figure in a scarlet windbreaker crouching atop one of the ivory towers. Pick: OSU 52-10

Appalachian State at Penn State: College football hasn’t been the same since Appy State went into Ann Arbor in 2007 and refused to act scared. Now every little upstart thinks it can win any game. It’s out of control. Next thing you know, you’ll have cute clubs like Central Florida declaring themselves national champs. Pick: Penn State 37-22

Louisville vs. Alabama (in Orlando): Louisville’s quarterback is a sophomore named Jawon Pass, no kidding. He replaces Heisman winner Lamar “Run” Jackson. Against No. 1 Alabama’s defense, expect to see plenty of Jawon “Batted-Down” Pass. Pick: Alabama 42-13

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

twitter @bobwojnowski

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