We're coming out of that strange limbo period in the college football season when the season's not actually over so you don't want to do too much backward-looking analysis but the bowl game's too far in the future to seriously delve into preview mode. This season has represented the apex of my college football fandom levels, but this part still doesn't work for me. Bowl games feel more like offseason barnstorming events than an integral part of the season. Maybe I'll feel differently when I see MSU take the field against the defending national champions on New Year's Day.
Anyway, the plan is to start up with the Alabama/Capital One previewing soon. Meanwhile, let's look back at the games already in the books. Below, I've compiled the top five moments of the most exciting MSU regular season since, well, ever.
5. Keshawn Martin Takes It to the House: Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 24
What was a pretty big win at the time got even bigger as the rest of the season unfolded. Based on the final regular season AP rankings, this was the best win any team in the country posted this season. (You were just starting to let go of your shafted-out-of-the-BCS angst, weren't you?) And it was a fairly methodical win, as MSU outgained the Badgers by 150 yards to overcome a minus-3 turnover differential. MSU did trail through the first 6 minutes of the second quarter, though. Martin's 74-yard TD return gave MSU a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
I watched this game from the second row of the north end of the west upper deck, which was a good perspective to see that the Wisconsin punter had outkicked his coverage and the MSU outside blockers had contained the two gunners. Once Martin caught it, it was off to the races.
Moments four through one after the jump.
4. Denicos Allen Takes It in the Gut: Michigan State 35, Purdue 31
This wasn't necessarily a game-changing play. MSU had outscored Purdue 15-3 over the last 15 minutes and there were still 5 minutes left in the game, so they may very well have scored anyway. But it made things that much easier.
I was sitting in the south endzone (the end on which the play occurred). My morning-after description of the experience:
I don't usually know exactly what to be looking at (other than the ball) when I'm watching a football game, but I do know that, when your team only sends three guys after the punter, they're playing for the return. I was, therefore, somewhat shocked when there was no punt for Keshawn Martin to field and the crowd started going berserk. Denicos Allen didn't care so much about the set-up-the-return plan.
It would have been strange for a 10-2 MSU football season to be a source of emotional pain, but losing this game would have put us in exactly that position (assuming the team had still gone on to beat Penn State). Thank goodness for the Purdue personal protectors' lack of, you know, blocking, Denicos Allen's beeline to the punter, and Kirk Cousins' second-half precision passing on a bad ankle.
3. Mark Dell Breaks Free: Michigan State 34, Michigan 17
You could go with Edwin Baker's 61-yard touchdown run, which was the first burst of momentum for MSU after a TD-less opening quarter, but it was Dell's score that gave MSU a two-score lead early in the second half, putting them firmly in the driver's seat against the Wolverines.
My seat was directly extended from the opposite end of the end zone Dell scored in, which was a great vantage point to see Dell break free in the final 10 yards off the double move. I was briefly worried that the sunlight shining at the corner of the field would interfere with his ability to bring the ball in. It obviously turned out alright.
Honorable Mention: Larry Caper plowing through a crowd of defenders to score on an 8-yard TD run, putting MSU up by 21 in the 4th quarter and leaving no absolutely no doubt who the more physical team was that day.
2. B.J. Cunningham Hauls It In: Michigan State 35, Northwestern 27
I can't brag about the great seats I had to watch this one. My family had arrived in Orlando for a vacation that morning. I had managed to follow most of the game up until the end, watching portions at two different TGIFs and having my wife relay play-by-play details as she watched the game on her cell phone as I drove a rental van across Orlando. At this particular moment, though, we got a little lost while following the other vehicle in our party and she had to switch the phone over to get directions. So I totally missed this live. Which is probably a good thing, since I might have driven the van into a ditch.
Honorable Mention: The "Mouse Trap" that got the comeback rolling. Silly punter, season highlights are for quarterbacks.
1. Aaron Bates to Charlie Gantt FTW: Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31
In a very technical sense, the "Little Giants" play wasn't as big as the ones above. If you flip the result of this game and hold everything else constant, MSU is still a Big Ten co-champion and still goes to the Capital One Bowl. But this was obviously a seminal moment in how the season developed, giving the team momentum going into the Big Ten season (without its head coach on the sidelines for the next few weeks) and perhaps giving the team the confidence it needed to pull off the comeback wins that would follow. [/non-wonky sports-writers-believe-it's-all-about-emotion analysis]
Final instance of gloating regarding seat location (the advantage of not having season tickets was that I saw an MSU football game from every possible vantage point this year): I was sitting toward the top of the lower bowl in the corner Gantt scored in. My approximate train of thought as the play unfolded: He's going to miss he's going to miss it's a fake it's a fake no one's open no one's open HE"S OPEN TOUCHDOWN WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Honorable Mention Big Picture Moment of the Year: Brian Linthicum recovers the onside kick. Michigan State 28, Penn State 22. Big Ten champions.
Missing moments? Ranking quibbles? Personal 2010 MSU football memories? The comments section is yours.