Yesterday was to be the day of the Jim Harbaugh coronation. The day in which the Michigan Wolverines would once again claim their lofty position as one of college football's elite. The stage was set, with ESPN College GameDay broadcasting from U of M's Diag, followed by a national broadcast of the game on ESPN.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation, Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans knocked Harbaugh's royal carriage off the road.
I did a count last night, and Michigan State has defeated Michigan in football 16 times in my lifetime (though I really shouldn't count the 1969 game since I don't remember it). So of the 15 I remember, yesterday's victory was far and away the most satisfying one.
Let's do a rundown of the various reasons this MSU win over Michigan was so sweet:
1. The Jim Harbaugh hype. All we've been hearing about since late December 2014 is "the wonder and glory of Jim Harbaugh." The media would have you believe he's Bo Schembechler, Vince Lombardi, and God Almighty in khakis. The hyperbole involving this guy had become truly nauseating, so knocking him off his pedestal, in the most gut-wrenching manner possible, is incredibly satisfying for Michigan State fans.
2. The Michigan shutout streak. Hey, I'll hand it to Michigan, three straight shutouts is a splendid accomplishment--but come on, let's get real. People talked about this Michigan defense like it was the 1985 Chicago Bears. Two of those shutouts were at home and all three against teams that are, at best, middling. Michigan was hanging its hat on last week's 38-0 win over Northwestern, but after the Iowa Hawkeyes trucked the Wildcats 40-10 in Evanston, it's now quite clear that this "signature win" was a mirage.
Though Michigan's run defense was stout against the Spartans (and so, too, was MSU's against the Wolverines), Connor Cook was able to exploit Michigan's secondary all day long with Spartan receivers making plenty of big catches (though credit must be given to Wolverines' splendid defensive back Jourdan Lewis, who battled Aaron Burbridge all day long). So Michigan's shutout streak came to a resounding end.
3. Turning the tables on the free publicity. As I wrote, this was all set up to be Michigan football's 2015 debutante ball and Harbaugh's coronation as the greatest football coach in the history of the world (or something like that). In the most incredible and improbable way--certainly one of the greatest-ever ends to a college football game--the Spartans pulled the rug out from under Michigan. The fumbled punt snap returned for a touchdown suddenly became THE play that everyone was talking about last night. Social media exploded. The replay was shown ad infinitum on the Big Ten Network, ESPN, and probably every other sports television network. It was posted on Twitter and Facebook by everyone. Michigan State couldn't possibly have scripted a better way to win that game and capture the most attention possible.
4. At least temporarily silencing the Michigan fan base. Oh my, had they become annoying. Where do I even begin? There was the whole Harbaugh mania, there was the incessant criticism of MSU's close wins in comparison to Michigan's blowouts, and just the fact that they'd crawled out of the woodwork like cockroaches.
Now, let me make this perfectly clear, there is no doubt that Michigan football is much improved over where it was under Rich Rodriguez and most of Brady Hoke's tenure, and Michigan will most likely remain a strong program as long as Harbaugh is there; but before we prepare to crown Harbaugh, keep in mind that Mark Dantonio and Michigan State are still here and aren't going away.