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Kirk Herbstreit is playing defense now.
The ESPN college football analyst apologized Tuesday night after suggesting without evidence that Michigan may try to avoid playing No. 4 Ohio State this month under the cover of COVID-19, in order to keep the Buckeyes from the Big Ten Championship game.
“I still think Michigan waves the white flag, potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week, and then they’ll potentially get a game on the 19th,” Herbstreit, the former Ohio State quarterback, said on the College Football Playoff rankings show. “Michigan could opt out, basically, of that game, and keep Ohio State out of six games to qualify for the Big Ten championship. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
At 2-4 with two games to go in the coronavirus-marred season, the Wolverines are in fifth place in the Big Ten East, their worst start under coach Jim Harbaugh. They have lost eight straight times to the rival Buckeyes, who sit atop the division the season at 4-0, and will be heavily favored in the Dec. 12 matchup.
Multiple college football games have been postponed because of COVID-19, but Herbstreit, without backing it up, said it was because, “they don’t want to get humiliated or lose with the team they have. They don’t want to get embarrassed.”
Herbstreit’s sons Jake and Tye play football at Clemson, where coach Dabo Swinney ripped underdog Florida State for causing the postponement of its game against the No. 3 Tigers in November. “COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game,” Swinney told media.
After the ESPN show ended, however, Herbstreit pulled out the apology playbook, saying he had “no business at all saying that” in a video posted to Twitter.
“It was completely unfair to the University of Michigan, to Jim Harbaugh, to his players and coaches, and I just wanted to apologize,” he said. “We all go through some ups and downs, many downs for a lot of people during this COVID crisis that we’re all in. For me, in college football, I really struggle with where we are. Players opting out, teams canceling games, it just seems like it’s a downward spiral.
“I think, typically I try to remain positive and upbeat, and I think sometimes we all have our breaking points and right now, at Week 14 with so much negativity surrounding the sport, I think that’s sometime a pressure point for me.”
Herbstreit did say he hoped the Wolverines play against Maryland on Saturday, as well as on Dec. 12 against the Buckeyes.
“I’ve got a 25-year track record of not being a guy that pokes at Michigan even through I’m an Ohio State guy,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in being fair, and I was not fair tonight and I apologize.”
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