It was 1876 when the National League’s Hartford Dark Blues were accused of stationing someone in a shack on a telephone pole to relay when curveballs would be thrown.
Sign-stealing is in the DNA of American sports.
It is of no great shock that Michigan — like the Patriots, like the Astros, like the 1951 Giants — or any collegiate program would partake in such an act. It should also not distract from the far more compelling on-field drama.
Despite their alleged misdeeds, the Wolverines have not won a national championship since 1997. If they are to end that drought this season, they will do it without asterisks. They will have to beat Penn State and Ohio State. They will have to win the Big Ten title game and a pair of playoff games. They may also have to do it without Jim Harbaugh, who could be suspended for the second time this season.
As of now, Harbaugh is scheduled to be on the sideline in Happy Valley on Saturday. So, turn your attention to the coach who stands where Harbaugh once did.
Two years ago, the Michigan coach was 2-13 against top-10 opponents, and the Wolverines had gone more than 16 years without a league title. James Franklin has a 3-16 record against top-10 opponents despite four top-10 finishes at Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ lone Big Ten title in the past 15 years (2016) ended with them watching Ohio State in the playoff.
In Penn State’s only game against a ranked team this season, it was kept out of the red zone against Ohio State for the game’s first 58-plus minutes. It ended with first-year starter Drew Allar completing 43 percent of his passes.
Last year, Michigan scored a knockout in a 41-17 win. This season, the Wolverines are even better, sporting the nation’s best defense and an offense averaging 47.8 points over the past five games.
Soon enough, Michigan (-4.5) may pay. But James Franklin isn’t the one to collect.
Alabama (-10.5) over KENTUCKY
Timing is everything. The Tide have overcome their early-season struggles and are playoff contenders, while the Wildcats have lost three of four games since their 5-0 start. In three meetings between Nick Saban and Mark Stoops, Alabama has won by an average of 43 points.
Miami (+14.5) over FLORIDA STATE
The talent gap is not nearly as wide as the spread suggests. If the Hurricanes take one week off from turning the ball over every other possession — and summon motivation from last season’s 45-3 beatdown — they can avoid being embarrassed by their rival again.
Tennessee (-1) over MISSOURI
One month ago, Brady Cook set the all-time SEC record for consecutive passes without an interception (366). Since then, he has thrown five picks in four games, with four coming in the Tigers’ two losses. Another interception could be the difference in a coin-flip game.
Utah (+9.5) over WASHINGTON
The Huskies have narrowly avoided their first loss in three straight games. Washington might do so again, but the physicality of the reigning Pac-12 champs will results in another fight coming down to the final minutes.
IOWA (-1.5) over Rutgers
Finally, we can get a true sense of what the Scarlet Knights’ 1869 battle with Princeton looked like.
Oklahoma State (-2.5) over UCF
Ollie Gordon likely won’t become the first running back in eight years to win the Heisman, but he can still earn an invitation to New York. The nation’s leading rusher — averaging 7 yards per carry, with a pair of 200-plus-yard performances — will get plenty of opportunities to pad his stats against the nation’s second-worst run defense.
Stanford (+21) over OREGON STATE
The Beavers have never been favored by so much against the Cardinal, and it’s not clear they should be. Stanford has pulled outright upsets in its past two road games (Colorado, Washington State) and nearly upset unbeaten Washington. Don’t expect Oregon State’s “A” game, with its two biggest matchups (Washington, Oregon) following this low-stakes contest.
West Virginia (+12.5) over OKLAHOMA
The Sooners’ sagging confidence may lead to more mistakes. Oklahoma — which lost to the Mountaineers last season — has committed six turnovers and six false starts in back-to-back losses, while West Virginia (6-3) has scored at least 34 points in each of its past four games.
Ole Miss (+10.5) over GEORGIA
I don’t need extra reasons to keep betting against an overvalued team that has covered two of nine games this season. But the Bulldogs’ loss of All-American linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson (fractured forearm) before a meeting against a top-20 offense strengthens the case.
Texas (-10) over TCU
Even if Quinn Ewers doesn’t return from a shoulder injury, the Longhorns have put up an average of 34 points per game in his absence. The Horned Frogs can’t count on their freshman backup, Josh Hoover, who has thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions (seven) this season.
LSU (-13.5) over Florida
There’s no reason to bet until Jayden Daniels’ (concussion) status is revealed. The Tigers haven’t lost in Baton Rouge in more than a year, and the Gators — nearly a month removed from their most recent win — are 1-3 away from home this season.
Betting on College Football?
OHIO STATE (-31.5) over Michigan State
The Buckeyes’ offense doesn’t need a throwback performance, thanks to the nation’s second-ranked defense. The Spartans’ 130th-ranked offense scored a total of seven points in a pair of losses against top-five teams (Michigan, Washington)
USC (+15.5) over OREGON
Buy low. The highest-scoring team in the country should never be getting this many points. The unranked Trojans don’t have a ton to play for anymore, but potential No. 1 pick Caleb Williams still does.
Best bets: Michigan, Utah, USC
This season: 72-74-4 (12-17-1)
2014-22 record: 1,150-1,082-25