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Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Michigan, Michigan State primed for Big Ten play (sort of)


Detroit — In case you missed it, the Spartans made the horrific mistake of heading out west in September and forgetting to pack a secondary. It was a journey of discovery, in a sense, to find out if they’re any good. Sometimes, it’s better not to know.

That’s Michigan’s philosophy, at least this season, and next season, and so forth, gliding to 3-0 by beating Colorado State-Hawaii-UConn by the combined score of 184 to minus-3. Now comes the first real test in the Big Ten opener Saturday, against Maryland. No, it’s not Maryland-Baltimore County or Maryland-Eastern Shore or East Central Maryland State. I double-checked and it’s the real Maryland, with the turtle mascot and everything.

I suppose this was unavoidable. There’s also a chance one of these Saturdays, the Wolverines will be forced to vacate the Big House, although that’s not confirmed. Listen. The Great Cupcake Crisis of 2022 isn’t really anything new. Scheduling in college football always has been a transactional endeavor designed to pad power programs’ records, while raising lunch money for the smaller schools. It’s honorable, in a way. Except in the SEC, where they frown on the term “cupcake” and prefer “moon pie.”

More:Detroit News scouting report: Michigan football vs. Maryland

More:Detroit News scouting report: Michigan State football vs. Minnesota

But as major conferences morph into bulging, heaving, ill-defined behemoths that don’t need to feed the less fortunate, things probably will change. For instance, when the Big Ten expands to 16 teams with USC and UCLA, you assume there’ll be more conference matchups and fewer ill-advised trips to Seattle. At least until Washington and Oregon join. In any event, a forward-thinking league surely would raise the competitive level and play 10 conference games, leaving room for only a couple of tasty treats.

Too late to save the Spartans. It was important for Mel Tucker to find out what his team really had, but he probably didn’t want the whole nation to see it too. In the blink of a 39-28 loss to unranked Washington, the Spartans fell from No. 11 to “also just barely receiving votes.” That’s not even the biggest insult. When they open their Big Ten campaign in the Wooden Shed in East Lansing against Minnesota, the Spartans will be underdogs.

I’m not sure why, other than every single play in that gruesome first half against the Huskies. Minnesota is 3-0 but narrowly edged Western Illinois, 62-10, and hasn’t beaten MSU since 2009. Maybe the Gophers are favored because they match up well. After all, MSU’s student section is called the Deep End, an imaginary water hazard designed to intimidate visitors. The Gophers will be ready because P.J. Fleck famously teaches his players to row imaginary boats. In addition, Fleck reportedly blasted loud music during practice to prepare his team for the noisy environment. (That story is true). He also ran drills where the players wore life vests. (That one I made up).

If the Spartans’ pass defense continues to abstain from contact, it won’t matter. MSU ranked last out of 131 teams in passing yards allowed last year. Tucker took a hands-on approach to the secondary, grabbed a bunch of transfers, and raised the ranking to 103.

It’s been a rough week. After getting chopped up by Husky/Hoosier QB Michael Penix Jr., Tucker accidentally lit an exploding cigar, called himself a “horse-(manure) coach” and vowed to shovel up the mess. According to my faux sources, a fuming Tucker later was spotted pounding on the door of the closed transfer portal, yelling, “I have receipts!”

The Gophers are the only unbeaten team left in the West division, also known as the Big Ten’s personal pastry shop. They have a fine running back in Mohamed Ibrahim, but after seeing MSU’s secondary, Fleck likely will limit him to four carries and order ninth-year sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan to throw 59 times.

Speaking of aerial shows, there could be one in Ann Arbor when Maryland brings in the prolific Taulia “Not Tua” Tagovailoa. The Terps are a classic mix of fearless and foolish, rolling up 439 yards and 15 penalties while beating SMU. Whether it was SMU or MSU, it’s extremely important the Wolverines respect the opponent. To hammer the point, Jim Harbaugh delivered a fiery speech to his team this week, which I manufactured and secretly recorded.

Harbaugh: “Onward, men! Remember, this opponent doesn’t come with sprinkles on top!”

Players: (Groaning)

Harbaugh: “Sorry, but the tape clearly shows Maryland is composed of more than enriched flour, sugar and vanilla extract.”

Sixth-string QB: “Ohhh, does that mean I don’t get to play??”

Harbaugh: “Probably not. Fellas, this won’t be like our first few games. No deli trays on the sideline this time!”

Players: “OK coach, got it. Hey, my mom and dad wanted to know when the Big Ten starts and if they’ll be able to get tickets?”

Oh, boy. You wonder if the Wolverines are sufficiently fortified after lounging in suites with sweets. You wonder if the Spartans’ burn wounds are sufficiently healed, and whether they found any stray transfers. You always wonder if college football scheduling strategies are supposed to make sense or make money. (Both).

Pick: Michigan, 52-27

Pick: Michigan State, 30-23

More:Detroit News predictions: Michigan football vs. Maryland

More:Detroit News predictions: Michigan State football vs. Minnesota

Other picks

Wisconsin at Ohio State: The Buckeyes finally seized control of the state of Ohio after a relatively convincing 77-21 win over Toledo. But here come the Badgers, who have allowed only 24 points all season. Unfortunately for them, 17 came in a loss to Washington State. Ohio State was so humiliated by last year’s defeat in Ann Arbor, the school passed a resolution ordering the team to start playing defense. Pick: Ohio State, 34-7

Buffalo at Eastern Michigan: The 2-1 Eagles went to the desert and shocked Arizona State, 30-21, a huge boost for Chris Creighton’s Crafty Crew. Alas, you know your program still has a long way to go when the other team’s coach (Herm Edwards) gets fired on the field immediately after losing to you, no matter how badly he deserved it. Lighten up, Sun Devils! It’s not like you lost to Nebraska and the Coach Formerly Known as Scott Frost. Pick: EMU, 27-14

Bet-at-your-own-risk picks

CMU at Penn State: Clearly inspired by others, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said he’s done playing Power Five programs in the non-conference, even after squashing Auburn, 41-12. Not sure what his complaint is. There aren’t many easier opponents than Auburn these days, and the Big Ten West doesn’t count. He basically said if everyone is piling up home games against confectionary products, he wants a better sweet role. Hey James, beware of Fired-Up Chips, masters of the backdoor cover. Pick: Penn State, 45-23

Iowa at Rutgers: Something I stumbled across that can’t possibly be true but is: Iowa is second in the nation in scoring defense, behind only Georgia. Rutgers reportedly also makes tackles at a respectable pace. But when I look at both teams’ offensive numbers, my eyes spurt blood. The key here will be which squad can keep its own offense off the field. According to my bookie Fat Finger Freddie, the over-under point total for the game is 13.01. Pick: Iowa, 8-5

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bobwojnowski