Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A quick end of the year wrap-up

This is one final post before the end of the year, sort of a quick "year-end wrap-up."
For MSU sports fans, the year 2014 literally peaked on January 1. The next 364 days were a bit of a comedown.
In 2013, the final year of the BCS era, the Spartan football team finally made a BCS bowl; and in the last year in which the Rose Bowl was, for the most part, the game we grew up with, MSU participated. In what felt like a throwback to Rose Bowls of the past, the Big Ten champion Spartans took on the PAC 12 champion Stanford Cardinal. And in a good old fashioned defensive slobber knocker, the Spartans made a memorable 4th down stand and won 24-20. Spartan football ended the season ranked #3 for its highest finish in my lifetime.
And that day was the pinnacle of the Michigan State sports year.
MSU basketball had a very good season, albeit injury-plagued and somewhat frustrating. The highlight for me was the Big Ten tournament, in which a finally full-strength Spartan team demolished Wisconsin and Michigan to take the title. The team entered the NCAA tournament as many pundits' favorite to win it all. Even President Obama picked MSU to go all the way. (In retrospect, this may have been the kiss of death). The Spartans made it to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual champion UConn. I can still remember watching the game on a warm April day at my brother's house. The Spartans looked to be in command at halftime before everything inexplicably unraveled in the second half. Not only did MSU not win the national championship, but the 2014 senior class became the first one under Tom Izzo to not make a Final Four. This was a remarkable streak that was bound to end at some point.
With the end of basketball season in April, it was finally time to unwind and reflect on what an amazing time it had been in 2013-14 for MSU football (mainly) and basketball (to a slightly lesser extent). 2013 had been such an incredible year for football that I was really in no hurry for the 2014 season to begin.
I must have been one of the few who never expected the 2014 football team to improve upon what had been accomplished in 2013. A 13-1 record (undefeated in Big Ten play) plus a Rose Bowl victory is special. It may be a once in a generation season. So what the 2014 team accomplished (thus far) was NOT a disappointment for me. Sure, a spot in the four-team playoff would have been fantastic, but it just wasn't meant to be.
The 2014 Spartan football team is 10-2 (7-1 in conference play) with the Cotton Bowl still to be played tomorrow. In '13, a spirited and focused MSU team punched Ohio State in the mouth in the Big Ten title game. When the teams had their rematch in '14, the Buckeyes had a score to settle. It was MSU's only blemish in the conference season and probably the only roadblock to MSU actually making the four team football playoff.
With the 2014-15 Spartan basketball team floundering, who knows what 2015 has in store. If MSU football could find a way to beat a high octane Baylor team in tomorrow's Cotton Bowl, the year could get off to a rousing start.
As a grizzled veteran of many, many disappointing MSU sports seasons of the past, I have very little to complain about now. Tom Izzo, despite the travails of this year's team, is a great basketball coach who is still the envy of most college basketball programs in America. Despite the arrival of "The Messiah" Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, there is no reason that both Michigan AND Michigan State football can't be simultaneously successful. MSU football is in great hands under Mark Dantonio.

When you get down to it, this is a great time to be a Michigan State sports fan, and there's no reason not to be confident and optimistic about the future.

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