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Wojo's Pigskin Picks: College Football Playoff doesn't need no stinkin' expansion

Bob Wojnowski   | The Detroit News

Ah, my favorite time of year in college football. Rivalries. Ridiculous rants. Riveting runs to the playoff, followed almost immediately by declarations that the system is dumb and needs to be fixed and why does the SEC always get more spots than the Big Ten even though SEC teams long ago stopped playing real non-conference games in favor of controlled scrimmages against area high schools.

This is the big weekend, the one that’ll separate the fakes from the double-takes. You have the showdown between No. 1 LSU and No. 1a Alabama, and the stakes are enormous. The winner likely will go to the playoff, while the loser likely will go to the playoff. So, yeah.

The real biggies are in the Big Ten — Penn State-Minnesota, Iowa-Wisconsin, Michigan State-Illinois. The Nittany Lions and Golden Gophers are 8-0, same records as LSU and Alabama, which is odd because LSU would beat Minnesota by the approximate score of 67-6. The Hawkeyes and Badgers will bang bellies to stay alive in the Big Ten’s mild, mild West. And the Spartans or Illini will get ever closer to punching a ticket to the Quick Lane Bowl, where the winner gets a free oil change and the loser gets a free coaching change.

My, how times have changed. I remember when going to Detroit for Christmas meant something. And I remember five years ago when college football finally instituted its four-team playoff and everyone said that was perfect, don’t worry, we won’t ask for more, promise. And everyone lied.

Now people want more, even though the system has proven to be an equitable and entertaining way to determine who’s better, Alabama or Clemson? Just for accounting purposes, other teams get invited — Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Not Michigan — but it’s halfhearted, like asking the boss to your kid’s middle school graduation.

But because enough is never enough in our gluttonous society, there are debates about expanding to a six-team system, an eight-team system, a 16-team system. Even an 11-team system, an actual formula put together by Jim Harbaugh, and I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way — no, it doesn’t guarantee a spot for the third-place team in the Big Ten East.

People keep searching for plans that are more “fair” or “inclusive” or “better equipped to suck dollars from TV networks so the NCAA can pay athletes $5 for their likeness so everyone can stop whining about how lopsided the system is.”

The truth is, college football always has been lopsided, due to geography, history, the varying wealth and sizes of institutions, and the inability of some programs to cheat as adeptly as others. No amount of finagling can balance such a broad spectrum of inequity. There’s no salary cap — not even in the SEC — and no commissioner to step in and tell Alabama, no, I’m sorry, you cannot sign all 10 of those five-star recruits, you have to be nice and give one to Vanderbilt.

People cry for the little guy, yet most little guys are like the kid at the playground who’s perfectly content not to be picked for dodgeball and doesn’t need anyone to sympathetically ask him to join so he can get his glasses broken because Bret the bully thought he was trying out for the National Dodgeball Association. (In theory!)

No one was happier than UCF two years ago, and don’t let them tell you otherwise. The Knights went 13-0 and received tons of publicity for not getting the opportunity to get hammered in the playoff and instead got to beat a disheartened Auburn team in the Peach Bowl. That allowed Scott Frost to claim an illegitimate national title for the second time in his life. Now that he’s at Nebraska, he won’t have to worry about any more illegitimate championship campaigns.

I do understand the hunger for more, sort of. Coaches want a bigger playoff pool partly to pad resumes. You made the playoff? Great, here’s a 12-year contract with country club privileges!

And if more teams were eligible, perhaps more players would compete to the end of their final seasons instead of selfishly ditching the team when it’s convenient. (Did I say that out loud?) Actually, I understand players need to protect their health, and I’d suggest that’s another reason not to force another team to play Alabama or Clemson.

Sorry, I don’t think the sport is diminished if Utah or Baylor or Memphis gets shut out of the playoff. I only think it’s diminished when Ohio State won’t get out of the &*%$#% way and let someone else stand up for the Big Ten.

In this week’s initial CFP rankings, the Big Ten has the same number of teams (Ohio State, Penn State) in the top four as the SEC (LSU, Alabama), which means absolutely nothing because someone gets eliminated when they meet. It would mean even less if all four already were guaranteed a spot in a larger playoff.

All I know is, No. 14 Michigan is hot and nobody wants to play them now (other than Ohio State). I suspect Harbaugh used the bye week to binge-fax his 11-team proposal to the NCAA for immediate consideration. Hey, it might not even be necessary. If Michigan beats Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State; and Ohio State loses to Maryland; and Penn State loses to Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio State; and there’s a horrific outbreak of academic ineligibility throughout the SEC … haha, good one.

The picks

Illinois at Michigan State: Just in time for the holiday season, Lovie Smith is bringing his gigantic beard to town, as well as a three-game winning streak. The Spartans are 4-4 and better not get caught looking ahead to their visit to Ann Arbor. I heard they set aside practice time this week to choreograph their pregame storming of Michigan Stadium. Pick: Michigan State 20-12

Penn State at Minnesota: The Gophers are 8-0 for the first time since 1941, and although they’re fraudulent, they’re learning how to play the SEC schedule game. Their non-conference opponents were South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern, and they barely beat each. It earned P.J. Fleck a seven-year contract extension, which buys a lot of used cars. Pick: Penn State 31-27

LSU at Alabama: It’s the first one-versus-two regular-season matchup since 2011, and who can forget LSU's thrilling 9-6 victory over Alabama. Since then, both programs decided to start employing quarterbacks, and Nick Saban refuses to lose to the Tigers, winning eight straight. This could be different because quarterback Tua (Lots of random letters) has an ouchy ankle. Pick: LSU 38-34

Iowa at Wisconsin: For reasons that remain unclear, these 6-2 teams still are listed with playoff odds, albeit extremely long ones. This is a classic clash, a throwback to when real teams played defense and the Big Ten didn’t need no stinkin’ national title even if they expanded the field to 64! Pick: Wisconsin 16-13

Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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