Michigan State 28, Penn State 22: Congratulations - I'm Sorry

As I said Saturday, almost all streaks will eventually be broken.  Two of Michigan State Football's most notorious ones - 20 years without a Big Ten title, and 45 years without a win in Happy Valley came to an end yesterday as the Spartans played three very good quarters and one that was last-decade vintage MSU to win 28-22. State claims a share of the Big Ten Title along with Ohio State and Wisconsin, and although I'm elated to purchase all the Big Ten title merchandise I can, I can't help but feel a tinge of regret for how Michigan State will most likely be screwed out of a BCS berth.

The game could not have had a better start for MSU.  A 9-play, 72-yard drive consisted of two passes and seven runs by Edwin Baker for 40 yards including the 9-yard TD scamper.  Matt McGloin and Evan Royster retaliated by driving right back down the field, but stalled at the MSU 17 when Johnny Adams had his first of two near-interceptions on the day.  A Penn State field goal later, it was 7-3.   For the rest of the first half the teams alternated drives with some offense before punting (there was only one three-and-out in the first 30 minutes), with the one exception being the eight-play, 80-yard MSU touchdown drive highlighted by a Keshawn Martin reverse for 35 yards and an 8 yard TD pass to B.J. Cunningham where he had all of western Pennsylvania to himself.  

The score coming out of halftime was 14-3.  For the third quarter the defense was much improved as the linebackers were now sealing off the holes that Evan Royster hit in the first half.  PSU combined for 10 plays and 32 yards on their first three drives out of the half, while MSU went up 21-3 thanks to a series that saw Kirk Cousins complete 4-5 passes.  All aspects of the game were trending towards an easy victory...but that's when everything went a bit sideways.

When pressured, McGloin tended to throw the ball deep, but these passes were incompletions.  With a little bit of protection however, he focused on the intermediate throws and his accuracy showed on Penn State's  first touchdown; the last three passes went for at least 14 yards.  MSU returned with a drive highlighted by two plays: a Keshawn Martin pass across the field to Keith Nichol for a first down, and a TD pass by Nichol to Charlie Gantt where my reaction could be summed up as NOOOOOOOOOYEESSSSSSSSS!!!!  This concluded the MSU scoring for the game, and most of the competent play as well.

McGloin drove Penn State down the field for another touchdown, and MSU had the first of its two turnovers, a fumble by Edwin Baker whilst trying to run out the clock.  The silver lining here was that the Spartans had two first downs on this drive and were able to grind down the clock and make Penn State use all their timeouts.  The Nittany Lions once again moved the ball down the field to a first and goal, which is when Michigan State's checkered past came back with a vengeance.

Facing pressure, McGloin forced a ball into the end zone.  The ball deflected off a defender into the hands of Trenton Robinson.  Game, set, Big Ten title right? NOPE.  Robinson runs out of the end zone and into the hands of Derek Moye, who manages to strip the ball.  The kicker out of all this was that Penn State actually gained yards on this turn of events, going from the six to the three.  I was so angry I couldn't swear; I could only put my hands on top my hands and gape.  Predictably, the next play was a touchdown pass to Moye.  Following the botched extra point snap Penn State was within a touchdown and I was maintaining my distance from all pointy objects.

If these were the Same Old Spartans, Penn State recovers the kick, and McGloin throws a touchdown pass to Moye with no time left for the touchdown and a good extra point.  Michigan State loses, and I sober up sometime around Valentine's Day. I waited for the kick and thankfully there was no doubt - Brian Linthicum fell on the ball.  Two kneeldowns later Michigan State had claimed a share of the 2010 Big Ten title.

About 40 hours later, the first emotion I'm feeling is elation.  After two decades of a couple close calls and a lot of very long ones, Michigan State won a Big Ten title by looking equal parts dominant (Michigan and Illinois games), capable (Minnesota, Wisconsin), and using 4th quarter/overtime heroics to overcome underwhelming performances (Notre Dame, Northwestern, Purdue).  They haven't looked as good as the Badgers and Buckeyes in the past few weeks, but at the risk of sounding utterly trite, wins are the only statistic that matters and MSU has just as many of them as any Big Ten team this year.

On the other hand, it's a bit frustrating to realize that all those wins will mean a trip to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl. Wisconsin will get the Rose Bowl spot with the highest BCS ranking, and Ohio State will most likely get the at-large.  It's unfair, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the win. Playoff systems can be proposed until the cows come home, but unless it's a 16-team version MSU would most likely still be left out.  You can hope that the BCS executives will choose the Spartans over the Buckeyes, but that would require a bucking of convention - one thing I have zero faith in.

While the bowl will still rankle for some time, the next time fans enter Spartan Stadium for a football game, the year 2010 will be alongside the years 1990, 1987, 1978, 1966, 1965, and 1953.  Although this football season may not have ended as perfectly as hoped, the disappointment of a less-than-storybook ending will fade, and the memories of a team who overachieved and shed the "same old Spartans" label will last on.

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