Saturday, November 19, 2016

Mich/Ohio State

Well OK, Michigan beat Indiana 20-10. That's a good thing for the Blue. Head coach Jim Harbaugh called it a very satisfying victory on senior day at the Big House. But when you're favored at home by almost 4 touchdowns (26 points) over a conference also ran like Indiana and only chalk up a 10 point win -- that's going to impress absolutely nobody -- not the least being the almighty Selection Committee that is still trying to figure out which teams will make the Final Four. For that matter, UM trailed at the half for the first time all year. Not a good sign.

Perhaps a great deal of it could be attributed to UM being without their starting quarterback Wilton Speight. He was injured in the game last week at Iowa -- reportedly suffering a broken collar bone. Yet something seemed odd when UM took the field against IU. There was Speight. No arm in a sling, which we normally would expect of such an injury -- and in full uniform. The extent of harm to his damaged wing is unknown. Could he be ready to go next Saturday against Ohio State?

He better be, because his back-up, one John O'Korn, looked underwhelming at best. If he had trouble moving the ball against the lowly Hoosiers, he and his team will be in deep doo-doo when they travel to Columbus to take on the fearsome Buckeyes. That's no picnic with everybody 100%, and the Wolverines may well get trashed regardless. Certainly, they'll be underdogs.

Yet Ohio State has been a strange animal itself this year. One never knows which team is going to show up. The steamroller? Or the bunch of guys that look very vulnerable to a half way decent team?

Cases in point. OSU blasted a very good (#10) Nebraska team 62-3. But they barely squeaked by unranked Northwestern 24-20. They trashed Maryland by the same 62-3 and defeated #8 Wisconsin -- in Wisconsin. Impressive. But in turn they were taken down by Penn State 24-21 (their only loss to date) and just today were taken to the limit by a bad Michigan State team. It appeared the Spartans had scored the tying touchdown towards the end of the game. But their head coach, Mark Dantoni, decided to go for the two point conversion and the win, instead of the game likely going into overtime. The attempt failed and the Spartans went down 17-16.

No doubt, Dantoni is catching some flak for that decision, but he shouldn't. After all, he had nothing to lose. MSU's season went into the dumpster long ago. They can't even reach the very low bar threshold of six victories to become bowl eligible. So there will be no bowl game for the Spartans. Very embarrassing considering how good they were for several years -- even making the Final Four once -- right up until this season. Then the wheels fell off.

There's 112 Division 1-A football teams in the country and a total of 38 bowl games (39 if you count the championship game). That means 76 schools out of 112, about two thirds, will play in one bowl or another. The bowl field has become pitifully diluted to the point where a team has be just about terrible NOT to make it in this shameless money grab. Even Bowling Green will take on South Alabama in the Camellia Bowl -- ever hear of it? But Michigan State got shut out. Oh my.

Nonetheless, this is Michigan's big chance. Knock off the Buckeyes in Columbus and the Selection Committee will sit up and take notice. If they can then get by likely Wisconsin in the Big 10 conference championship game -- the Wolverines will be a lock to make the Final Four. No pressure.
Otherwise they'll go to some second fiddle bowl or another. A sunny getaway for the team, marching band, and die hard supporters that can travel and afford to attend. But it won't be the same as making the playoffs and everybody knows it.

Maybe the "vulnerable" Buckeyes will show up this Saturday, Speight will be good enough to go, and Michigan can somehow find a way to beat the dreaded Buckeyes in the "Horseshoe". Something they haven't been able to do since way back in the year 2000. A guy named Clinton still occupied the White House. How long ago was that? In the 15 games played since, UM has triumphed exactly twice, both times at home.

But I wouldn't count on it. Not in this rivalry. Urban Meyer's scarlet and gray crew will be raring to go against the team from "up north". And if the same Michigan team, with or without Wilton Speight, shows up as did against Indiana -- this could get downright ugly.

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