Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Title path is clear and Wolverines can't mess it up

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

Everything is lining up nicely for Michigan, too nicely, too easily. It almost seems like a trap, destined to end with sobbing fans clutching their Jim Harbaugh action figures (khakis and glasses sold separately).

I mean, just look at how it’s unfolded. For some reason, nearly all the Big Ten’s usual powers opted to stink. Penn State remembered it’s coached by James Franklin and responded accordingly. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio forgot how to run the ball, then inexplicably started choosing his quarterback based on which one guessed the number he was hiding behind his back.

And of course, Ohio State has maintained an impressive one-scandal-per-week pace. Urban Meyer somehow still has the Buckeyes in contention, pending the next round of salacious texts, emails and missed tackles.

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So it’s sitting right there for Michigan, a chance to fully justify why it wrestled Harbaugh away from the NFL with a lucrative package, including unfettered access to Twitter. The Wolverines are 9-1 and fourth in the playoff rankings, and all they have to do to finally win the Big Ten is focus solely on the next game, don’t play video games until 3:30 a.m., lift a few weights, then swaddle themselves in bubble wrap to prevent injury.

That also means not listening to college football blowhards (except me) and not watching the TV pundits. The Wolverines alternately are declared the hottest team in the country and a certain playoff participant, or a lucky bunch that blew its only tough game at Notre Dame and will be passed in the rankings by multiple SEC teams.

By the way, per its cherished tradition, the SEC is taking its annual mid-November break to host clinics for youngsters from places such as Idaho, the Citadel, Liberty, Liberty Mutual, Middle Tennessee, Chattanooga and Central Tennessee Institute of Random Dentistry. Most of those are actual SEC opponents this week, and they’ll surely appreciate the opportunity to see what it’s like to give up 49 points in one half.

My advice for Michigan: Stick with this whole Revenge Tour thing, even if it takes a little creativity. For instance, Indiana comes to town Saturday, and do you know what those vile Hoosiers did? They had the audacity — the unmitigated gall! — to beat Michigan in 1987. The last time they actually won in Ann Arbor was 51 years ago, still too soon to joke about. This is vengeance for the Blue Hairs who lived through that horrific experience and retell the story to their grandkids in hushed tones. On Senior Day in the Big House, Michigan should do it for the seniors.

Oh, and another thing. Even though the Wolverines technically have won 22 straight in the series, Indiana showed complete disrespect by taking them to overtime twice in the past three meetings, and losing by only 10 last season. I’ve heard fans are so fired up for Michigan-Indiana week, they’re refusing to acknowledge the letter “i.”

So no way is Mchgan looking past Ndana and looking ahead to the annual historic showdown against its storied, bitter rival to the south — Northwestern. In case you missed it, the Purple Nuisances recently were awarded the Big Ten West title because, as noted previously, they hacked the computers and put themselves in with a 6-4 record. By the time the litigation is done, it’ll be too late to correct.

Speaking of revenge, you remember when Northwestern pounded to a 17-0 lead over Michigan early in the season? An insolent act that must be punished.

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, before they can play in the Big Ten championship game, they’re also required to beat Ohio State for the second time in 15 years. And please, don’t let Meyer’s mopey demeanor fool you. The Buckeyes are still capable of putting together a highly trained crew of long-time Columbus-area officials in time for Michigan’s arrival next week. New first-down chains already have been ordered, each measuring exactly 9 yards, 35 inches. 

The Big Ten’s national reputation is at stake here, and frankly, it needs Michigan to stop mucking around. With Northwestern’s apparent division crown, these are the teams that still haven’t played in the conference title game: Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Michigan-Ann Arbor campus. This is very humiliating for Wolverine fans, and it’s not acceptable to simply complain the divisions are unbalanced, even though they were slapped together years ago during a 36-hour drinking binge at Big Ten headquarters.

Indiana presents what football experts call a “trap game,” and all forms of traps are dangerous. You have the mousetrap, which is used to catch rodents, although a wolverine is not a rodent but an annoying weasel, a fact readily confirmed by fans in 49 states and half of Michigan. You have the booby trap (not the one on 8 Mile) that teases and ensnares unsuspecting victims. You have trap doors, fly traps and trap plays, which is what the Spartans run on third-and-17.

Right now, the Wolverines are strongly advised to shut their traps and ignore the hype. Although the path is clear, they shouldn’t expect any more favors. They learned that lesson last week, when Michigan State adamantly refused to score a touchdown against Ohio State, opting to alternate quarterbacks Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi to purposely and maliciously ruin the Wolverines’ chances of clinching.

The point is, you have to take care of your own business and stick to your strategy. For Michigan, that means exacting revenge from those that doubted you, or those that didn’t, or those that have no idea why you’re mad at them. Also, it helps to win every game 42-7.

Pick: Mchgan 42-7

The picks

Michigan State at Nebraska: The Spartans have all sorts of wounds, from ankles to shoulders to egos. They’re 6-4 and now face one of the hottest 3-7 teams in Big Ten history. With Michigan State’s offense sputtering badly, Dantonio and trusted sidekick Dave “Pop” Warner hope to turn it around with a ninth-string punter and new starting quarterback Rocky Lomwerke. Pick: Nebraska 23-16

Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (Yankee Stadium): The Fighting Irish are 10-0 but really haven’t beaten anybody, unless you count Michigan, which you’re now legally allowed to do. Syracuse is 8-2 and ranked 13th, but for the most part, Notre Dame has gotten the same schedule breaks as Michigan. Its alleged toughest opponents – Stanford, Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Florida State, USC (next week) — pretty much stink. I say that with the utmost respect for the presumptive Big Ten West champs. Pick: Notre Dame 30-23

Ohio State at Maryland: Speaking of trap games, this is claptrap for the Buckeyes, who oddly have declined to play defense or run the ball this season. No matter what happens, you know Meyer will be ready for Michigan, regardless of how many texts or Twitters emerge from disgraced former assistants who may or may not be close personal friends. Pick: Ohio State 45-31

Twitter: @bobwojnowski