Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the UM-Penn State and MSU-Maryland games. The Detroit News, The Detroit News
As everyone knows, revenge is a dish best served cold, preferably with a tall glass of whole milk. It’s one of the great motivators in life. I mean, nothing stirs desperate urgency quite like revenge, with the possible exceptions of “full bladder” and “last call.”
Revenge is a demand for respect, to be taken seriously, an appropriate sentiment when you lose five games one season and are branded as soft underachievers. Michigan is currently on its self-proclaimed #RevengeTour2018 and is entering the tense “last call” stage, trying to consummate what seemed highly unlikely after the sloppy Happy Hour opener at Notre Dame.
It’s all right there for the Wolverines, 7-1 and fifth in the playoff rankings, as long as they don’t get cocky and look ahead to next week’s showdown against Rutgers. This is a huge weekend to sort out college football’s playoff picture, and by “sort out,” I mean “dramatically complicate.” Michigan is officially being taken seriously, and not just by people who order maize and blue undergarments on Amazon.
Penn State is next on the tour, for obvious reasons. The 14th-ranked Nittany Lions (6-2) are wounded and coached by James “Fourth-and-5” Franklin, and are big underdogs in the Big House. They beat Michigan 42-13 last season, which avenged a 49-10 loss to Michigan the previous season.
The Nittany Lions made matters worse by trying to score another late touchdown, which so deeply offended the Wolverines, they’re reportedly planning to march in during pregame warmups with arms locked, swatting at Penn State players’ headphones.
But here’s where I offer the type of sage perspective you don’t get at the barbershop or in line at Starbucks — college football is a funny, funny game, with brash proclamations uttered one week, then utterly refuted shortly thereafter.
For example, not long ago Alabama was viewed as one of the greatest teams of all time, winning by an average margin of 38.3. In an unexpected twist, the Crimson Tide now must face an actual legitimate opponent, LSU in Baton Rouge, and runs the very real risk of having its victory margin plummet to 36.4.
OK, Alabama isn’t the best example of college football’s absurd unpredictability. But everyone else is.
A short while ago, Jim Harbaugh was perched on some imaginary hot seat, incapable of beating rivals, stuck in his ways. Approximately 15 minutes later, huge swaths of Ann Arbor kids are dressing like him for Halloween, and his name again is attached to every NFL opening.
Notre Dame is technically undefeated, but according to experts, hasn’t beaten anybody. The Wolverines don’t count as anybody because they haven’t beaten anybody, except Wisconsin, which hasn’t beaten anybody, except Iowa, which hasn’t beaten anybody.
Michigan has zero victories over a current top-25 team, although Michigan State was ranked at the time.
The Wolverines have the nation’s No. 1 defense by a wide margin, yet have they faced any good quarterbacks? No! Maybe! Leave me alone!
Mighty Alabama? It has one top-25 victory, over Texas A&M. Mighty Georgia? One top-25 victory, over flighty Florida. Mighty Oklahoma? None, with its lone loss to Texas looking nastier.
And please, don’t whine about SEC teams cannibalizing each other. They play such lame nonconference schedules, they should be more ashamed of themselves than normal.
Clemson is 8-0 and ranked No. 2 but has beaten — wait for it — NOBODY, unless you count Texas A&M and Syracuse (eye-roll emoji). Now the Tigers somehow must survive a gauntlet that includes a possible ACC title showdown with, cough, cough, Virginia.
And of course, still lurking is Ohio State (7-1), which fought admirably in a 49-20 loss to Purdue. The Buckeyes have beaten nobody except Penn State, which is trending toward nobody status after losing at home to Michigan State.
My point is, not everybody can be a nobody, and one loss doesn’t have to define you, especially if you’re Alabama, which can lose 3-4 times and still get into the playoff.
Again, I’m using alarmist hyperbole there. Trust me, nervous Michigan fans, if the Wolverines win out, including a victory in Columbus, they’ll be in the playoff almost absolutely pretty much for sure.
Well, unless Ohio State keeps wobbling and turns into a nobody by the time they meet.
OK, just stop it. Somebody has to be a somebody, although if Washington State, Kentucky and UCF count, I might demand a recount.
For the Wolverines, the task is to stay focused and completely ignore the Internet trolls who now lavish them with fake compliments. They shouldn’t even think about a possible Big Ten championship rematch against Northwestern, where Michigan would be seeking revenge for the Wildcats’ audacity in running up a 17-0 lead.
The Wolverines won that game 20-17, which helped turned Northwestern from a somebody back to a nobody, now flirting again with somebody-ness. I doubt Michigan will be sleeping on Penn State, based on the fact defensive coordinator Don Brown says he wakes up every day thinking about last year’s blowout, before pouring Red Bull on his morning bowl of nails.
It should be cold Saturday, and dishes should be served.
Pick: Michigan 31-14
Michigan State at Maryland: Like Rocky himself, the Spartans got up off the mat against Purdue. Like Lombardi himself, Mark Dantonio preaches hard work and persistent scowling. Like quarterback Rocky Lombardi himself, the Spartans might have found new hope. Pick: Michigan State 30-23
Alabama at LSU: It’s No. 1 Alabama against No. 3 LSU in a preview of the national-championship game! (Shaddup with that.) If LSU wins a close one, another all-SEC title matchup could get mildly plausible. But this is Nick Saban versus Ed Orgeron, and Alabama is on a mission to prove it could handily beat the Oakland Raiders. Pick: Alabama 30-10
Georgia at Kentucky: Georgia has won eight straight against Kentucky, and John Calipari is not walking through that door. But the Wildcats lost 42-13 last season — hmm, sound familiar? — and crave revenge and respect. The winner is granted the honor of getting disrespected by Alabama in the SEC title game. Pick: Georgia 38-21
Notre Dame at Northwestern: Quarterback Ian Book has been tearing it up, so it’s the Book-strong Irish against the book-smart Wildcats. Somehow, Northwestern is in first place in the Big Ten West despite a 5-3 record and home losses to Duke, Akron and Michigan, nobodies and pending somebodies. The Irish are easily the shakiest top-four team, and if they mess around here, the Wildcats will knock them off the Somebody Stand. Pick: Notre Dame 27-24