Michigan State football finished #3 in the final polls, and I'm okay with that. Sure, a #2 ranking would have been great, but considering how--once again--the Big Ten floundered in its bowl games, it's not surprising that Auburn, from the SEC, finished ahead of the Spartans. In the BCS national championship game, Auburn acquitted itself well, holding the lead for much of the game and only losing in the last minute. The Tigers are deserving of a #2 finish in the polls. Realistically, MSU's only shot at finishing #2 was if Auburn had been blown out by Florida State, and if Ohio State had been able to defeat Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
As far as the Big Ten's showing in the bowl games goes, I was disappointed. I thought that this bowl season was the conference's best shot in several years to finish over .500. Minnesota should have beaten a mediocre Syracuse team in the Texas Bowl, but instead looked like the proverbial "deer in headlights." Seems like the Gophers still have some bowl game growing pains, similar to the ones MSU experienced in the first four years of Mark Dantonio's tenure. Michigan looked completely uninspired against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and lost in a blowout. Iowa surprisingly hung with LSU in the Outback Bowl, but lacked the firepower to win the game. Wisconsin lost quarterback Joel Stave in the third quarter of the Capital One Bowl and and fell to South Carolina. At least Nebraska beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl, but I still have a difficult time thinking of the Cornhuskers as a full-fledged Big Ten team, and it's difficult to root for Bo Pelini.
So there you have it, yet another disappointing bowl season for the Big Ten Conference.
I watched the replay of the MSU/Ohio State basketball game, and without having to worry about the possibility of cardiac arrest, I was able to study it analytically. Through the last ten minutes of the first half, and the first twelve minutes of the second half, the Spartans were killing the Buckeyes in transition and running the fast break to perfection. The Spartans had a 55-38 lead with eight minutes remaining in the game.
I have to give the Buckeyes credit, though. They ratcheted up the defensive intensity and became much more aggressive, gradually chipping away at the lead. With five minutes left in the game, OSU was down by twelve points. The Buckeyes cut the lead by two points per minute through the three-minute mark of the second half. The the real flurry began...
Aaron Craft drove the lane with two minutes left, laid the ball up and in, and drew a foul from Denzel Valentine, who then fouled out. This cut the lead to the fore mentioned 57-54 score. Meanwhile, I'm sure Keith Appling and Adreian Payne's health issues were draining them of energy.
Though Keith Appling and Gary Harris did a great job containing and frustrating Aaron Craft through most of the game, Craft showed why he his such a highly lauded player and a perpetual thorn in the side of any opponent he faces. He made some huge plays in the last few minutes of regulation, particularly his three-point play, and his heads-up "use Adreian Payne's butt as an assist" in bounds pass. It was at this point that I, as a fan, reached full freak out mode.
It was the two walking wounded, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, who had the game-saving play when Shannon Scott stole the ball and streaked down the court for what looked like the inevitable winning points. If those guys hadn't hustled to block Scott's lay up, we could be looking at one of the worst meltdown losses in the Tom Izzo era. Instead, the game went to overtime, where the Spartans regrouped and, aided by a Keith Appling three-point dagger, were able to walk away with a victory.
So, health continues to be an issue with this team, and who knows what it means going forward. On the bright side, the Spartans have what should be winnable games coming up at home against Minnesota and on the road versus Northwestern. Maybe that can buy them some time in order to get Payne, Appling, and Trice back to their normal selves.