"You don't have to win it, just don't lose it." -Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, to Elvis Grbac.
That quote pretty much sums up the ugliest display of football I've seen this season, today's Michigan State/Wisconsin contest. It was atrocious football and I was freaking out for for roughly the first 59:53 of it. I plan on devoting a great deal of space in this week's column to that matchup. If you aren't a fan of either school, you've been given fair warning.
Michigan State is capable of winning every week and winning ugly
We can take several things away from this matchup, so this is divided into several sections.
Announcers can officially retire the phrase "Same old Spartans."
I lost count of how many times today's announcers used that phrase during the game...at least 10, probably more. I'll set the over/under at 15 and take the over. If any readers can give me an exact count, please let me know.
Last week's win against Michigan should have silenced the doubters, but apparently a convincing win on the road against a major rival isn't enough. Will a 25-24 comeback victory help, or does Mark Dantonio need to win a National Title first?
The Spartans faced more adversity on the field today (more on this later) than in any other game this season and last. And you know what? The fans stuck it out. The players kept fighting. The coaching staff made some great calls in the late stages of the game. And the Spartans came out on top.
Say all you want about it being an ugly game. A win counts the same whether it's by 50 or if its by a single point. The only number that mattered after the final whistle blew was number eight.
Big Ten refs are rapidly becoming the worst in the country
Wisconsin was flagged for 12 penalties for 121 yards. In all honesty, they probably got away with several more. Their secondary was consistently getting to Spartan receivers before the ball arrived and as often as the Badgers were flagged for pass interference, they probably got away with four or five more.
I promise, this isn't blatant homerism on my part. Even the announcing crew, who were down on the Spartans for most of the game, were amazed that Wisconsin's secondary was allowed to get away with essentially mugging Michigan State receivers.
BJ Cunningham was a victim a couple of times, as was Chris D. Rucker "Park". The last call actually nearly cost MSU the game. Rucker was likely interfered with while trying to catch a pass that would have converted third and 26 towards the end of the game.
The ineptitude of Big Ten replay officials was well-documented in my column last week, the infamous "pylon-gate" call in Ann Arbor. At least last week, the officials on the field had their act together.
MSU receivers need more Stickum
Blair White, this does not apply to you.
MSU's receiving corps made Brian Hoyer look awful today. He was 19 for 44 passing, another game completing less than half of his passes. But he made pretty good throws all day. He was a victim of several bad, even mind-boggling drops.
I lost count of how many times Spartan receivers were able to get two hands solidly on the ball and yet not come down with it. BJ Cunningham dropped a sure touchdown because he forgot to take the ball with him when he turned upfield. Keshawn Martin knocked a ball out of his hands with his knees. Chris D. Rucker juggled a critical pass on MSU's final drive, a pass that had he made the catch would have gone for a very big gain.
The inability of these receivers to do their job is making Hoyer take a lot of undeserved heat from fans and media alike. He's making good throws, he isn't throwing many picks, but his receivers aren't helping him out at all.
Blair White, a former walk-on, is getting his job done and then some. He's making all of these highly-touted recruits look foolish. He's my new favorite player.
Ohio State had almost zero effect on MSU
Even with a big loss in conference, Michigan State still controls their own destiny.
Win out, and go to the Rose Bowl for a probable date with USC. That's not a matchup I'd enjoy, but MSU has actually beaten USC more recently than Ohio State.
How is a Rose Bowl berth still possible?
It's simple. MSU doesn't schedule 1-AA weaklings. Since the BCS came into existence, MSU has consistently scheduled fewer 1-AA cupcakes than everybody else in the Big Ten. Ohio State and Penn State won big over 1-AA schools this year and unfortunately that may come back to bite them.
If MSU wins out, that leaves three teams with one conference loss. By virtue of schedule strength, Michigan State would take the conference title and the BCS berth.
Perhaps this will act as an incentive for big schools to start playing bigger schedules.
Oklahoma has the nation's best offense...but so does Texas Tech
Oklahoma had hung 49 points on Nebraska by halftime. My, how things have changed in Husker Nation.
Of course, the 49 first half points actually represents a slight decline from the 55 that the Sooners put up against Kansas State last week. These numbers are enough to make you dizzy.
What's even scarier is that Sam Bradford isn't even the best quarterback in his own conference. Not even in his own division.
That honor has to go to Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, who is putting up just shy of 400 yards per game. His number's aren't as gaudy as Colt Brennan's were last year but Harrell is doing it against better competition.
Harrell's game-winning drive against Texas tonight ranks among the best I've ever seen. So cool under pressure, and gaudy numbers as usual. 474 yards against the top team in the nation gets him a lot of respect from this writer.
The Big 12 is probably the toughest conference in college football this year, and Graham Harrell and Sam Bradford are putting up circus-like numbers every week. It's astounding.
Things have gotten to the point where even if Javon Ringer was rushing for 200 yards and two TDs every week, I don't think I could legitimately pick him to win the Heisman even accounting for my big-time homerism.
The Big 12 is a great conference for quarterbacks this season. Oklahoma and Texas Tech have the best of the best.
Notre Dame isn't very good this year, sorry
The Irish have wins this season over San Diego State, Michigan, Purdue, Stanford and Washington. Two bad Pac 10 teams, two awful Big Ten teams, and a non-BCS team. The combined record of the teams Notre Dame has beaten is a stellar 11-33. In fact, if not for Stanford's victory today over possibly the worst team in Division One, Washington State, Notre Dame wouldn't have a single victory over a team with a record above .500 this season.
ND's three losses have come against good, but not great opponents. Pitt, Michigan State and North Carolina have a combined record of 20-6. It's a very good record but not an outstanding one. And Pitt was blown out by a bad Rutgers squad last weekend, so they're 6-2 is not an impressive 6-2.
My point is that for Charlie Weis' Irish to be taken seriously once again, they desperately need to beat a quality opponent. I know Irish fans are excited about beating Michigan this season, but that win gets more lackluster with every passing Wolverines game.
Irish fans continue to excuse the poor performances by hiding behind the myth that this is Ty Willingham's fault. Ty's players are gone and while many of Weis' recruits are young, they're supposed to be the cream of the crop. Michael Crabtree is young and look what he's been doing in Lubbock ever since his first collegiate game. In today's game, youth isn't an excuse.
Todd Reesing put up great numbers as a sophomore last season. LeSean McCoy is currently putting up great numbers as a sophomore. Ditto from Michael Crabtree last year as a freshman and this year as a sophomore. Terrelle Pryor has shown flashes of brilliance as a true freshman. Tim Tebow won the Heisman last season as a sophomore. Colt McCoy threw 29 touchdowns to only seven interceptions as a freshman. Mark Dell was leading the Big Ten in receiving for most of this young season, as a sophomore. I could go on but I'll spare you.
Youth isn't an excuse. Notre Dame will most likely make a bowl but I would no longer bet on them to win it.
Stories just making the cut
Michigan has officially confirmed what has been suspected for awhile: the nation's longest bowl streak will be coming to end. Purdue beat the Wolverines by channeling the spirit of Boise State for their final touchdown. Great stuff.
Minnesota played their second quality opponent of the season and was beaten by their second quality opponent of the season. I think this should raise some serious strength of schedule and amazing turnaround questions.
Florida looked...damn good. Can't really say much more than that.
Driving to tie the game late in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, Pitt ran the same play three times in a row, a jump ball tossed towards the corner of the end zone. Pitt failed to convert the first two, but you have to figure Notre Dame would have had it covered a third time. Nope. Pitt scored to tie the game and ended up winning after four overtimes.
The BCS mess is getting a little clearer. Now there are only three undefeated teams sitting near the top of the polls (with Utah and Boise State trailing behind several one-loss schools). Here's my question: Will Oklahoma, with a tougher schedule, leapfrog either Penn State or Alabama? Will Texas Tech jump up into one of the top spots after their big win? Even if one of these teams loses, we'll still have plenty of one-loss teams clamoring for a title shot. Oy.