Sunday, December 4, 2011

Their Own Worst Enemy: Michigan State

I know I'm going to take a lot of heat for this, but it's how I feel. It's my opinion. I don't want Michigan State fans I know to take this personally, because it's not personal, it's what it is. So sit back, and enjoy.

So yesterday 6th ranked Houston was upset at home by #24 Southern Mississippi, ruining the then undefeated Cougars chances of going to a BCS game. As expected, #1 LSU destroyed 12th ranked Georgia in the SEC title game. Third-ranked Oklahoma State embarassed #10 Oklahoma in the bedlam game in Stillwater last night 44-10. Why does any of this matter so heavily to Sparty-nation today? Well last night 13th ranked Michigan State had a 36-28 lead going into the 4th quarter of the inaugural BigTen(12) Championship game against 15th ranked Wisconsin. The Spartans had already beat the Badgers earlier in the year on a last-second hail-Mary in East Lansing. They had also beaten Wisconsin last year, gotten a piece of the BigTen crown title. Well last year Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl, and MSU got left by the side of the road with the Capital One Bowl. The discontent in East Lansing was growing, especially after getting railed by Alabama in that game.

Now going into the innaugural conference championship game in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Spartans took the first ever Legends division title and beat Michigan for the fourth consecutive year. On top of all of this was an added pressure. The Michigan Wolverines had a 10-2 record, and were ranked 16th in the BCS listings as of Dec. 3rd. Yup, they were right there, the BigTen's only other ten-win team, so close that MSU could feel them breathing down there neck, despite having beaten them 28-14 back in October. What if MSU lost? They were a 9.5 point underdog going into the game despite having beaten Wisconsin the last two times they faced them. Sparty was feeling disrespected and they had every right to be. On ESPN's College GameDay all four anchors picked Wisconsin to roll the Green and White.

So here we sat at the beginning of the final quarter of play. Sparty has the lead and the chance to end all criticism, end all curses, end the disrespect and shove everything down the media's throat. It was there, for the taking. The next fifteen minutes the Spartans would have only themselves to blame for how it all ended.

First task: All MSU had to accomplish was stop a driving Wisconsin team. Russell Wilson and Monte Ball drove down the field and pulled within two, 36-34. Showing signs of hope that things would break their way, Wisconsin's two point conversion attempt failed. the feeling that this would haunt the Badgers later hung heavy in the air.

Second task: Respond. Kirk Cousins and his offense had to answer the Wisconsin score in like-fashion. Not only that, but they needed to grind some time off the clock. They ate up 4:57 off the game, but having gotten down to the Badger 8-yard line and facing a 3rd and 5, Cousins threw an incomplete pass to KeShawn Martin. 4th And 5, eight yards away from six points and a two-score lead a decision had to be made. Do you take the points with a field goal and trust in your defense, or go for it and have good field position if you fail? Coach Dantonio and Sparty went for the points. An easy FG made the game 39-34 8:28 eternity.

Third Task: Stop Wilson and Ball and the Badger offense. Prayers were not answered on this drive and MSU could not stop the Badgers on two third down plays and they converted a fourth down play which set up the go-ahead score with 4:43 remaining. Wisconsin 42, MSU 39. Still tons of time.

Fourth Task: Respond again. :54 Seconds later the Spartans had only moved the ball two yards in three plays. Stuck on their own 39 yard line facing 4th and 8, they seemed to have capitulated the game and punted with 2:51 remaining. Sparty-nation fell silent and ill.

What happened next brought renewed hope for MSU. With just over two minutes left, the Badgers had been stopped cold! The MSU defense has risen to the occassion! Had they been given a last breath? Was this the epic final turning point? Was this the legendary drive that would propel MSU into the history books??

At about 1:57 Wisconsin punted the ball away from their own 24 yard line. The next few seconds witnessed Sparty-nation explode into a frenzy of exuberance. They had taken the kickoff and returned it all the way to the Badger 10 yard line!! the script for Michigan State's coming-of-age was being written. A sure ESPN Classic was in the making. Only ten yards for all the marbles!! Then yellow was spotted on the field. Silence among the green and white...a block in the back? Holding on the return team? A late hit??? Worse...Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis broke through the line on the kickoff and his momentum carried him into the kicker. Whether purposeful or more likely on accident, a roughing the kicker call was issued. That was was over. From exhaltation to sheer pain and shock. It was over. Wisconsin was going to the Rose Bowl and Michigan State had no one to blame except themselves.

Sparty-nation's anger and pain was evident in the minutes that followed on Twitter and Facebook. "The kicker flopped!!" "He dove!!" "Total B.S.!! The refs decided the game!!"...all sentiments were flying fast and furious. Right or wrong, you have to admit, that if the setup was revered MSU's kicker would have done the SAME THING.

What could be worse than this?? There is something that East Lansing fears that may be brewing tonight. Remember all those other scores I layed out at the start of the story? Here's where they matter. They matter because along with a Michigan State loss, those were all things that needed to happen to help MICHIGAN possibly move up in the rankings and snag an at-large BCS birth, while MSU is left with possibly the Outback Bowl, or worse, the Insight Bowl. The biggest insult could come around 8:15 tonight. The final pound of salt into an open, bleeding and festering wound. What was a wonderful opportunity for MSU might actually set the program BACK if their nightmare scenario is played out tonight. Michigan waits...and licks it's chops.

Such is the backwards world of the BCS. It's a beauty contest they've put together. The prettiest, wealthiest and most popular profit from the system designed to keep any smaller programs from eating at the dining table of FBS success. That being said, Michigan State has no one to blame but themselves. Michigan State hasn't been to a BCS bowl since 1987 when they beat USC 20-17. That 25-year streak will very likely continue tonight.

Best wishes to all, and to all a good night!

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