Well, that didn’t take long.
By all indications, the Spartans already are back, again fully determined to swipe their rival’s most-prized possessions.
The Paul Bunyan Trophy? Last seen being hustled up the Michigan Stadium tunnel wearing a Michigan State helmet and a goofy grin.
Jim Harbaugh’s complex playbook involving multiple formations, wasted fade routes and a reduced emphasis on blocking? Stomped in the damp darkness.
Michigan’s plans to dominate the state and the Big Ten as it did for many, many years, some even occurring after 1948? Placed on hold.
Apparently, Mark “Call Me Big D” Dantonio, isn’t stopping anytime soon. The Spartans are headed to Minnesota, and after they beat the Gophers on Saturday night, I heard they’re planning to march straight to Ann Arbor to grab the fabled Little Brown Jug. I also heard the Spartans contemplated adopting the Buckeyes’ practice of awarding gold-pants trinkets to their players every time they beat the Wolverines, but the cost was way too prohibitive.
See, this is what happens when one side takes a rivalry deathly, obsessively seriously, and the other side pretends to take it seriously but spends too much time watching highlight videos and reading worn, yellowed clippings. You gotta admit, the Spartans’ game plan in their 14-10 victory was brilliant. They declined to waste time getting first downs in the rain and opted to keep punting the ball, especially when they realized Michigan would just keep throwing the ball back to them.
By the time the Wolverines figured out what was happening, they had five turnovers and ol’ Paul was cloaked in a green poncho being whisked to East Lansing for the eighth time in 10 years. Naturally, this has created quite the wild reaction on both campuses, as you can tell by this fabricated conversation between two fans that I secretly recorded late last Saturday night.
Sparty: “Hahaha! You lost to us again and we’re not even supposed to be your big rival! You should be so embarrassed!”
Wolvy: “I am.”
Sparty: “You should be! You and your crazy khaki man! Hahaha!”
Wolvy: “I know. We understand losing to a power like Ohio State. But losing to a program like yours? Yes. You’re right. Very embarrassing.”
Sparty: “I know! … Wait, whhhhhaaattt?”
OK, it’s not completely logical at times. Michigan is rightly roasted for falling again and for inexplicable play-calling — “Rain? Yay! Time to start throwing with a quarterback making his first start of the season!” But the more you denigrate the Wolverines, the more you unwittingly minimize what Big D has done. Last year’s 3-9 is shifting from “ominous trend” to “mild blip,” and he clearly knows how to grasp the Wolverines’ tattered shards of arrogance and beat them over the head with it.
So here’s my suggestion to the Blue folks: Go practice your rivalry etiquette against a lesser foe for a while. Someone like, say, Indiana. The Wolverines have won 21 straight in the series, so if they make the Hoosiers their adoptive little brothers and treat Saturday in Bloomington as if it’s the final Saturday in November, perhaps they can start fixing Harbaugh’s 0-2 record in rivalry games (1-4 if you bother to count Michigan State).
It’s perfectly symmetrical, actually. The Hoosiers’ offensive coordinator is Mike DeBord, who was Michigan’s coordinator when it won 50.1 percent of a national title in 1997. The Hoosiers’ quarterbacks coach is Nick Sheridan, who once was an ill-fated Michigan quarterback. And the Hoosiers’ running backs coach is Mike Hart, who elevated the Lil Brother debate to a state referendum with his comments a decade ago.
Michigan needs some sort of emotional boost, because narratives have dramatically shifted, whether it makes complete sense or not. Suddenly, Michigan fans are scurrying to find tickets for the TaxSlayer Bowl, while Michigan State fans are planning their semi-annual trek to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Harbaugh Aura Era definitely has taken a hit. Paul Finebaum, one of college football’s most-respected blithering buffoons, mocked Harbaugh and said “Urban Meyer owns this guy,” and like almost everyone else, neglected to mention Big D. There’s a growing wail for accountability in Ann Arbor, to the point the school president reportedly might order Harbaugh to wear traditional sweat pants instead of his beloved khakis.
After one historically sloppy game, Harbaugh somehow has gone from a Quarterback Whisperer to a Quarterback Mumbler. He doesn’t have reason to listen to me, but here’s my advice: Silence the critics and solve all sorts of issues by adding Colin Kaepernick to the roster before Saturday’s game.
Whatever the Wolverines do, they’re advised to do it quickly, before too many people notice Harbaugh and Brady Hoke have the same 24-7 record after 31 games (#FakeNews).
Maybe, just maybe, the Wolverines can learn something from the Spartans’ latest clever game plan — when everyone doubts you, just reach back and punt them in the mouth.
Michigan State at Minnesota: This is kind of awkward. The Gophers have their own celebrated Harbaugh type in P.J. Fleck, whom some considered a nice fit for the Spartans. Except that Dantonio has no intention of vacating the big green seat anytime soon. We’ll see if Fleck has any intention of winning a Big Ten game anytime soon.
Pick: Michigan State 27-19
Michigan at Indiana: Harbaugh has a couple million-dollar offensive assistants in Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton, and they have some explaining to do. Michigan’s defense might be good enough to win most games 3-2, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach. Be careful, because if the Wolverines don’t get their offense cranked up, Harbaugh might have to write a big fat check to bring DeBord back to Ann Arbor.
Pick: Michigan 23-13
Ohio State at Nebraska: Since losing to Oklahoma and causing a few deranged Buckeye fans (redundancy) to question whether Urban Meyer knows what he’s doing, Ohio State has won by 31, 33, 56 and 48 points. The poor Cornhuskers are 3-3 and must draw hope from last year’s spirited battle, when they were very competitive for the first 26 seconds before falling to the Buckeyes 3-62.
Pick: Ohio State 38-17
Purdue at Wisconsin: The Badgers are still trying to convince people they’re good enough to be in the playoff discussion. The Boilermakers are still trying to convince people they’re good enough to not be considered completely terrible. This game will confirm neither.
Pick: Wisconsin 30-17