Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, and Angelique S. Chengelis preview the Michigan-Ohio State game from Schembechler Hall. The Detroit News
I’m warning the Wolverines – don’t fall for it. Down in Ohio, they’re very good at playing possum, and also very good at preparing opossum (roasted, with a sweet bourbon-and-chestnut glaze).
Trust me, people, I’ve been doing this for a long time, long enough to remember when That School Up North always referred to Michigan, never Michigan State. I remember when Bo and Woody would exchange snarky telegrams. I remember when Ohio State’s John Cooper was so popular, he could’ve won multiple terms as Michigan governor.
I know we’ve been told this is the year the Wolverines (10-1) return to their cherished tradition of beating the Buckeyes (10-1), and there are legitimate reasons to actually believe it. Michigan’s defense is so good, players get helmet stickers only when they hit a ballcarrier hard enough to knock out his mouthguard (toothguard, for Buckeyes). Jim Harbaugh finally has a quarterback in Shea Patterson fully capable of running for first downs, handing off to a fullback and not throwing interceptions.
It’s a showdown for the ages and the aged Saturday, and Michigan looks primed to win in Columbus for the first time since 2000, win the Big Ten for the first time since 2004 and reach the college football playoff for the first time in infinity. Ohio State’s defense inexplicably has instituted a limited-contact policy. And Urban Meyer seems more tired and anxious than usual, like he’d prefer to watch the game chewing cold pizza on the back of a golf cart while deleting text messages.
Just be careful about assumptions. This was quite a competitive rivalry back at the turn of the century, before the Buckeyes won 13 of 14. Anything can happen, even if the same thing usually happens. For instance, there’s a chance the Buckeyes spent the week learning how to tackle, cover receivers and not give up 51 points to Maryland. There’s a chance the 49-20 loss to Purdue was just a prank. There’s a chance record-setting quarterback Dwayne Haskins can complete passes with eight Michigan blitzers in his lap.
Frankly, there’s a chance it’s all part of an elaborate scheme to get Michigan over-confident, sort of like the elaborate scheme Meyer used to get three weeks of unpaid vacation to start the season. Michigan is favored in Columbus for the first time in 14 years, and that should get lower-intestinal tracts quivering in Ann Arbor. It’s not because the Wolverines don’t deserve to be favored; they do. It’s because there’s nothing more dangerous than a riled-up, disrespected Buckeye (redundancy alert), like the drunk at the bar who gets beer spilled on him and whirls around to fight everyone.
They’re a rabid people down there, proud but simple folk. During Michigan week, they X out all the M’s, which gets confusing at the Walart when customers try to buy plain or peanut “&’s”. Also, sports writers have trouble finding their Arriott hotel.
They do love their legendary coaches, from Cooper to Ji Tressel to Urban Eyer, right up until they leave in shame and disgrace. Eyer is trending in that direction even though he’s 6-0 against Michigan, if you count all games with controversial first-down measurements conducted by Ohio State booster club members (unsubstantiated!).
The Wolverines want and need this badly, so they don’t have to update Bo’s famous phrase, “Those who stay will be champions,” to “Those who stay will have a chance to share division titles.” Harbaugh wants and needs this badly, because I’m guessing there will be slightly different perceptions based on the outcome.
If Michigan wins: Harbaugh is exactly the genius he was purported to be, worth every dollar and every trip to Paris, and is prepared now to dominate Meyer, James Franklin and Mark “No O” Dant’ni’, while marching toward the first of five or six consecutive championships.
If Michigan loses: Anyone still have Rich Rodriguez’s phone number?
I kid, of course. Brady Hoke would be called first.
OK, stop it. Harbaugh is a better coach than his rivalry record reflects, 38-12 with three 10-win seasons in four years. The goofy thing about this sport is, you do have to confirm what seems apparent. You do have to beat Ohio State at some point, just for accounting purposes.
It’s so important, Michigan’s Karan Higdon felt compelled to answer a loaded question about maybe guaranteeing a victory. It was a flippant response but you know how these stories spread. Later that day, several Michigan State players jumped on social media to guarantee victory over Rutgers, which actually is a bolder prediction.
With his Karantee, Higdon took the bait, which is fine, as long as the Wolverines don’t nibble on Buckeye bait. This is the year Michigan runs up and kicks that darn football, right? Lucy is not walking through that Horseshoe tunnel, right? This is it, right? I respond with the utmost confidence: I kind of think so.
Pick: Michigan 34-24
Rutgers at Michigan State: To ensure someone is sitting in the first few rows at Spartan Stadium before the 4 p.m. kickoff, school officials plan to show the Michigan-Ohio State game on the videoboards. Another possible promotion: Buy four tickets and you get to call an offensive play. Rutgers is winless in the Big Ten, which is not a surprise. The 6-5 Spartans are favored by 26, which is a surprise considering they’ve decided to stop scoring touchdowns for the season. Pick: Michigan State 9-6
Auburn at Alabama: In heated rivalries, you always expect the unexpected, and you also expect to see dozens of videos of brawling tailgaters with at least four fat dudes shirtless. In the big Alabama-Citadel showdown last week, the score was unexpectedly 10-10 at halftime, and I’m not making that up. That either means Alabama is vulnerable, or Auburn is about to take a thumping meant for someone else. Pick: Alabama 37-10
Notre Dame at USC: There’s still great motivation in this dusty old rivalry. The Fighting Irish are 11-0 and can clinch a playoff spot with a victory. The Trojans are 5-6 and desperately want to get bowl-eligible and save the job of their beloved coach whose name they can’t always remember but he seems like a nice guy. Clay something, I think. Pick: Notre Dame 34-27
Oklahoma at West Virginia: No offense, but it’s still hard to take the no-defense Big 12 seriously. These teams watched the classic Rams-Chiefs 54-51 game, nodded, and said, “’ere, hold my flask.” In an attempt to sway playoff committee members, the Sooners keep sending game tapes with all the defensive players’ faces blurred. Pick: Oklahoma 64-61.