It finally came back to haunt them. The MSU football team had been living a charmed life so far this year. Yeah, they're pretty good -- but not all that. Were they deserving of the #7 ranking in the country with aspirations to reach even higher? Yes and no.
Yes, they remained undefeated and that counts with the pollsters. But they continue to schedule non-conference patsy games (electives) to pad their stats. Western Mich, Central Mich, and Air Force? Please. Thing is, they didn't exactly roll over such inferior competition.
Then there was the Michigan game. The people that bleed green said the Spartans eked out a win by pure determination. These folks are obviously delusional. Let's recount what it took for MSU to win that game.
UM had them beat. Time was running out, the Spartans had no time-outs left, and all Michigan had to do was punt the ball. A routine play. And then the perfect storm happened. The kicker fumbled the snap, somehow managed to fumble it again into the hands of an MSU defender, and he somehow ran 40 yards or so without being tackled into the end zone for the winning score as time expired. It was a maximum Murphy's Law play for UM, and a miracle handed to MSU. The Spartans abso-freaking-lutely deserved to lose that game. But they didn't. The football gods smiled on them.
Going to Nebraska wasn't supposed to be much of a problem for MSU. After all, the Cornhuskers were totally unranked, had a brand new head coach, and a losing record to boot.
Though the Huskers put up a worthy effort, it appeared the Sparties had finally pulled away towards the end of the game. A couple late scores had them up 38-26. Their QB, Conner Cook, had thrown for his usual 300+ yards and four TDs. Just another day at the office. And there were only a few minutes left. Another win was sealed and the Spartans would continue to be undefeated and in the chase for big-time glory down the road.
But like in the Michigan game, something very strange happened. Nebraska scored a touchdown to close the gap. In the ensuing series, they held MSU to a 3 and out to force a punt. With time very short, Nebraska had the ball deep in their own territory. Then bang, bang, bang. The Huskers gouged the vaunted Spartan defense for one huge play after another. Next thing you know, THEY'RE in the end zone celebrating a last-second winning TD. This wasn't supposed to happen -- but it did.
MSU trudged off the field in shock, knowing they just let a sure win slip through their fingers -- exactly what had happened to UM at their hands a couple weeks before.
It could fairly be surmised the football gods finally got around to evening up the breaks with the Spartans. They had been under whelming against teams they should have smoked, and caught the miracle against the Wolverines to stay technically unblemished. Again, unbeaten is unbeaten.
But no more. A former #7 team that was still in search of the elusive "respect factor" getting beat by an unranked team, even on the road, will likely take a nosedive in the polls. Any already improbable national championship aspirations likely just went poof. The gridiron deities doinked the Green in Lincoln. What goes around comes around and the Spartans just got a heaping spoonful of justice. There are no doubt plenty of wry smiles in Ann Arbor. How's THAT feel, big boy?
Is all lost for the Spartans? Not exactly. After a likely walkover game at home against weak sister Maryland, MSU travels to Ohio State. You remember those guys. Reigning national champs and still undefeated this year. If the Spartans can pull off a victory in Buckeye Land, it would certainly be an attention getter. And the following week, OSU has to travel to Michigan. That should be another heavyweight slugfest. Ohio State hasn't exactly been a steam roller this year, and it should also be remembered that a close opening game loss at Utah notwithstanding, Michigan is a fluke play away against the Spartans from being in the Top Ten themselves. If they beat the Buckeyes, that will get them there. But two losses have already denied them any shot of playing for the national championship.
Yet if things work out just right for MSU, including winning their last three regular season games while other contests play out in their favor, they still have a shot. Not a good one -- but a shot. Ironically, UM, MSU, and OSU all play in the same division of the Big Ten. Only one can come out on top. It might very well come down to various "tie-breakers", but only one will go to the Big Ten conference championship game.
And don't look now, but in the other Big Ten division, Iowa remains undefeated themselves at 9-0. The Hawkeyes have been flying under the radar, but are in the Top Ten nationally. Whoever emerges from the UM/MSU/OSU fracas will have a worthy opponent waiting for them in the Conference championship game.
Between those four teams, whoever emerges as Big Ten champions will be given serious consideration for a berth in the football Final Four. One of them will likely be in. But no more than one. The others will go on to bowl games elsewhere, but the selection committee is highly unlikely to seed two Big Ten teams in the top four when it matters most.
The SEC is guaranteed a berth, likely Bama. If Clemson stays clean, and they might because they're the real deal, already #1, and have three very winnable games remaining they could very well romp through, count in an ACC representative as well.
That only leaves one spot. The committee will want somebody from west of the Mississippi. It won't be TCU. They just got torched. Or Baylor. Stanford's decent, but nobody in the Pac 12 really stands out.
It could well be whoever comes out of the Big 12. Especially Oklahoma. Yep, they got beat at Texas earlier in the year, but have killed everybody since. Their final three games are @ Baylor, TCU, and @ Okla State. Not exactly patsies. Whoever survives that rodeo will be battle hardened indeed.
Notre Dame is a maybe -- if enough of the big boys elsewhere knock each other off in the next few weeks. The Irish could sneak in if everything falls their way. Lord knows, they remain media darlings. If there's a way.....
In the end, there will be at least a couple teams with legitimate beefs as to why they didn't get selected to play in the Final Four. Even if the format was expanded to eight, which yours truly strongly advocates -- it would only be one more round of play and take in all the legitimate contenders -- numbers 9 and 10 would still find a way to complain. But hey, if they didn't finish in the top 8, there's no way they're going to pull off three upsets in a row against superior teams anyway.
But back to where this started. Michigan State had it all right there for the taking. But they pretty much blew it in Nebraska.
Or perhaps the football gods giveth sometimes -- but they also eventually taketh away.
Seems fair enough.
As for Michigan State, justice was finally served.