Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Urban's back, and so is the Michigan-Nebraska spat

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Urban Meyer will be back leading OSU against Tulane on Saturday. The Buckeyes went 3-0 in his absence due to a well-publicized suspension.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get more embarrassing for the Big Ten, we welcome back the team that keeps embarrassing opponents, led by the coach who keeps embarrassing himself. Oh yes, Head Buckeye Urban Meyer returns after taking three weeks off to author a series of rambling clarifications and half-apologies, while allegedly trying to learn how to use a cell phone.

And strangely, sadly, it appears all is normal again in the Big Ten. Let’s face it, despite the purported power of the East Division, the conference just doesn’t have the cutthroat ethics or mindless fan bases to be invited to the national playoff party most years. Well, except for Ohio State, which wears its scarlet tarnish without shame.

As the conference season fully launches, let’s start with a quick quiz. What do Temple, Kansas, Troy, South Florida and Akron have in common?

Anyone? Anyone? No, those aren’t the opponents lined up for the SEC’s annual November cupcake break. Those are just a few of the teams that beat Big Ten squads last week. I’d list all of them, but we’re dealing with limited space here. For the first time since the AP poll began in 1936, back when Lee Corso was donning headgear for no apparent reason on a radio broadcast, seven Big Ten teams lost to unranked non-conference foes on a single Saturday.

More: Detroit News college football picks: Week 4

At least Michigan and Michigan State weren’t part of the historic awfulness, wisely getting their ugly losses out of the way early. Wisconsin keeps threatening to join the elite, and keeps discovering you can’t tromp into the ballroom wearing bib overalls and work boots. As a 23-point favorite, the Badgers lost to BYU 24-21, further devaluing the Big Ten.

Some thought Northwestern and Purdue might be contenders, and that lasted about 15 seconds. Nebraska convinced a few drunkards it was pretty good and is 0-2. Now Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota have hopped aboard the pretend contend carousel at 3-0.

That leaves Ohio State and Penn State with unblemished records, although not unblemished teams. Conference officials are so concerned, they’re considering major changes, according to my imaginary sources. For instance, I heard the Big Ten Network might drop the Big Ten and pick up the American Athletic Conference. I also heard the conference has stopped returning Rutgers’ phone calls and is exploring possible replacements, although there aren’t many attractive candidates. Among the options: Temple, Kansas, Troy, South Florida, Akron, UCLA, USC, Florida State and the Lions.

Someone has to take a shot at Ohio State, right? As the Big Ten stands now, it’s the Big One-and-a-half, Medium Three-and-a-half, Little Eight and Rutgers. Meyer’s three-week suspension for misleading or misstating or misremembering, or actually, you know, lying, might have wounded him, but it didn’t slow him. Rumors are, the Ohio State band will honor Meyer at halftime of the Tulane game by spelling out a script Twitter apology. AD Gene Smith will dot the i and cross the t’s, of course.

To its credit, Ohio State tried to learn the truth, and hired a crack investigative team (Scooby-Doo and Associates) that apparently didn’t know how to dig up text records. I’m not saying the school simply gave the appearance of diligence. I’m just saying this is an actual fabricated exchange between an investigator and Meyer, secretly recorded as always:

Investigator: “Urban, are you sure Shelley Meyer didn’t tell you about the text messages in question?”

Meyer: “I don’t even know anyone named Shelley.”

Investigator: “Uh, that’s your wife.”

Meyer (pausing): “I’d like to clarify that statement. I do know a Shelley, but not that Shelley.”

Investigator: “OK, thanks. Sorry to bother you.”

At least the Big Ten can lean on its storied past. That glory will be celebrated Saturday in Ann Arbor, where Michigan and Nebraska meet to finally, once and for all, settle who actually deserved the 1997 national championship. It’s the perfect time to do it, with Nebraska now coached by Scott Frost, who was the quarterback of the ’97 Huskers and relentlessly whined for a share of the title.

Frost hasn’t lost a step, as he led UCF to 13-0 last year and relentlessly whined for a share of the title. The ’97 debate remains very heated, because as you’ll recall, the Cornhuskers got votes simply and totally out of sympathy for the retiring Tom Osborne. Michigan had such a tremendous defense led by Charles Woodson, many experts suggest the Wolverines would’ve beaten the Cornhuskers 28-3. Others strongly disagree, and insist Michigan would have won 31-3.

It’s a great argument that will finally be resolved Saturday, winner take all. It’s pretty much even right now. Nebraska is coached by one of its favorite sons, Frost, brought back to teach the Cornhuskers how to tackle again. Michigan is coached by one of its favorite sons, Jim Harbaugh, brought back to teach the Wolverines how to block again.

Nebraska is on a six-game losing streak for the first time since 1957, and fought admirably in a 24-19 loss to Troy. Michigan is on a two-game winning streak for the first time since 2017, and didn’t lose to SMU. We won’t need to vote after this one!

Pick: Michigan 30-16


Michigan State at Indiana: The Hoosiers are 3-0 and actually might be dangerous under highly respected coach, uh, hmm, I had his name here a minute ago. Anyhow, everyone knows the name of Spartans coach Mark D’Antonio, and you can bet he’ll have his team motivated to bring home the coveted Old Brass Spittoon. In this rivalry, the game is usually tight, but the Spartans always expect to expectorate. Pick: Michigan State 27-24

Tulane at Ohio State: Once again, it’s up to the Buckeyes to restore the Big Ten’s competitive luster against a feared non-conference opponent. Meyer might not be adept with a cell phone, but I figure he still knows how to operate a headset. Ohio State averaged 56 points in his absence, but watch out for a major letdown here. Pick: Ohio State 55-7

Wisconsin at Iowa: The Hawkeyes are 3-0 despite a grueling schedule that featured Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa and Northeastern Dubuque State. The Badgers plummeted from sixth to 18th in the country after BYU pretty much said BYE to their title chances. But hey, they get to blemish another unblemished Big Ten “power.” Pick: Wisconsin, 21-19

Boston College at Purdue: The Boilermakers were touted by many to not be lame, but have lost three games by a combined eight points. Boston College is 3-0 and ranked for the first time in 10 years. You can understand Purdue losing to the Eastern Michigan Eagles, sure, but to the Boston College Eagles? Ohhh, someone get the Big Ten a fresh supply of ice packs. Pick: Boston College 33-30

Twitter @bobwojnowski