Michigan’s Rashan Gary discusses how he and his family handled the criticism while he was out with a shoulder injury, Nov. 6, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Michigan is on a path to the College Football Playoff. Michigan State, meanwhile, could be on a path to the Rose Bowl.
For the Spartans to get there, they’ll need their arch-enemy to knock off Ohio State — assuming MSU can beat the Buckeyes Saturday in East Lansing. This means Spartan fans will have to hold their noses and root for the Wolverines.
Worse, they’ll have to spend an off-season listening to U-M fans chirp about a run to the College Football Playoff. And if the Wolverines actually win it?
Is a Rose Bowl really worth that?
Meanwhile, Wolverines’ fans would do well to root for MSU on Saturday against Ohio State. A Spartan win over the Buckeyes would almost certainly give U-M the Big Ten East title, unless the Wolverines lose to Rutgers or Indiana, which is not happening.
Also: U-M gets to watch the Buckeyes lose. Again. And if the Wolverines beat Ohio State, too? Then the program in Columbus would finish the regular season with three losses and a lot of questions.
Surely, that would be fun.
On the other hand, defeating a wobbly Ohio State team wouldn’t provide the same psychological punch. U-M has been waiting for this moment for what feels like a generation. And it would be more satisfying to take down a Buckeyes team that is still playing for the Big Ten East.
There is also the matter of quality wins. Even if the Wolverines win out — including the Big Ten title game — they are not guaranteed a spot in the playoff. And while style points matter, wins against ranked opponents matter more.
Entering this weekend, Ohio State is ranked 10th in the CFP Top 25. If the Buckeyes beat MSU, and Maryland the following Saturday, they will almost certainly move up in the rankings because Oklahoma and West Virginia are both ranked higher than they are, and those two teams face each other next week.
That win would help U-M if, say, Georgia somehow knocks off Alabama in the SEC title game and the committee must choose between the Wolverines and the Crimson Tide.
That win would also help if Notre Dame loses, and the committee is trying to decide between the 11-1 Irish and 12-1 U-M, despite Notre Dame beating U-M to start the season.
It’s hard to imagine the committee keeping a 12-1 U-M team out of the top four spots, especially if the Wolverines keep suffocating their opponents, and if they crush a top-10 Ohio State team on the road.
So while a MSU win over Ohio State Saturday virtually locks up the Big Ten East title, U-M fans are better off rooting for the Buckeyes.
Spartan fans, however, don’t have it as easy.
If they want their team in the Rose Bowl, which would be a terrific and unexpected end to an uneven season, they’ll have no choice but to pull for Michigan the rest of the way, and then hope the Wolverines get blasted in the playoff by Alabama the way MSU did three years ago.
A Rose Bowl appearance — and potential win — coupled with a U-M loss to one of the big boys, would temper the off-season chatter. Or at least give Spartan fans the kind of ammunition Wolverine fans got when MSU fell apart in the semis against the Crimson Tide.
Even so, it’s hollow ammunition. The truth is a playoff appearance by U-M won’t be fun for MSU supporters.
This time of year often gets dicey for fans involved in heated college football rivalries. Sometimes you must look the other way and root for the enemy.
And sometimes you don’t.
In the season of the Wolverines’ rebirth, fans of the team now get to savor a possible playoff run and root for their true rival — let’s be real, it’s the Spartans — to lose … and then lose some more.
It’s partly what makes college football so much fun.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.