Last year, if you'll remember, the B1G went 0 for New Year's Day, and the two most embarrassing contests was the state of Michigan being outscored by light years.
101-21. That's what happened to Sparty and Michigan last New Year's Day.
It was bad. Every time you looked up, either Alabama or Mississippi St was scoring again. Mark Dantonio just had a stoic WTF is going on look on his face, and Rich Rodriguez and Denard Robinson got into a yelling match at some point in the second half, while everyone else was laughing.
But not this year.
With Wisconsin unable to keep up with the Phil Knight Scoring Machine, and Ohio State and Nebraska pooping themselves against the SEC, it fell upon Michigan and Michigan State to salvage what pride we had left and turn our bowl season from disastrous to just plain mediocre.
So, let me be the first to say thanks to you both. And while we're at it, let's recap the bowl season for the B1G, shall we?
Little Caesar's Bowl--Purdue 37, Western Michigan 32. An optimist would say that it was refreshing to see a coach coaching to win the game as opposed to coaching not to lose, like Danny Hope did (using two onside kicks, for example) to keep momentum and pressure on an opponent. A pessimist might say that Danny Hope needed to do that, because Western Michigan's pass happy offense would've buried him under an avalanche of touchdowns if he didn't. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. Purdue's ground game gashed WMU, as Akeem Shavers ran for nearly 150 yards, and Purdue forced about 32 turnovers and also had a 99 yard kickoff return for a TD...but held on for dear life at the end, finally winning the game on a late fumble recovery, one they promptly did not give back. WMU WR Jordan White is the real deal, and kept things tight all night, but in the end, Purdue ended the season where few people saw them being at the beginning--on a podium, hoisting a trophy. Well done, Purdue. Well done.
Insight Bowl--Oklahoma 31, Iowa 14. This game was a lot closer than the score would indicate, and Iowa's defense acquitted themselves well all night long. The offense, however, struggled mightily. I can't help but think James Vandenberg has regressed since his stunning, out of nowhere debut against OSU a couple years back. THAT James Vandenberg was decisive, fearless, and looked like the B1G's Next Big Thing. This version seems confused, a little gun shy, and unable to get into a good game flow. Iowa was going to have a tall order to win the game without Marcus Coker, but they ran the ball effectively, for the most part. However, Vandenberg couldn't make plays when he had to, and the Iowa defense couldn't hold back Oklahoma all night. They didn't.
Meineke Car Care Bowl Of Texas--Texas A and M 33, Northwestern 22. I'll admit that when Northwestern started getting alley jumped by A and M, I turned off the game and went out and did something else but witness another Northwestern bowl loss. But a funny thing happened on the way to a rout--the Wildcats rallied, but their defense, which has failed in critical situations all year couldn't get a stop late to give Dan Persa one last chance to tie the game. At some point, the Law of Averages state that Northwestern will win a bowl game. The problem for them is that they seem to be just talented enough to lose, and need a lot of breaks to fall their way, and that doesn't happen a lot in the post season...unless Clemson gets a BCS invite, of course. Hang in there Wizards of Evanston, you'll get one some day.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl--Illinois 20, UCLA 14. This was a game that didn't get any good press at all leading up to it, but Illinois went out west and handled their business, which is more than 6 other B1G teams could say, so there. Illinois played a pretty good game overall, and their defense was exceptional. And as I kept seeing this game unfold, all I could think of was 'where was this defense late in the year?' Well, it was there, for the most part, it just got overshadowed by a terrible offense. Nathan Scheelhaase is a good quarterback, but really struggled during the losing streak. I think Tim Beckman will get the most out of him, and they will be better next year.
Ticket City Bowl--Houston 30, Penn State 14. Wow. Just, wow. First off, I owe Case Keenum and company an apology. I believe I called them a 'gimmicky CUSA/WAC/Sun Belt' offense, or something like that, prior to the bowl game. And I thought they hadn't seen Penn State's defense, and would get a rude awakening. Well, yeah. Ahem. The rude awakening was given to Penn State, and they couldn't find an aswer for Keenum all day long. Speaking of not having a clue, what the hell has happened to Rob Bolden? What was an exciting freshman prospect has crashed and burned into one of the most disappointing players in the B1G. If nothing else, he is consistent--as he missed wide open guys on short, medium, and long patterns all day. I can't think of a fanbase that's happier for a season to end than Penn State. If anyone needs a calendar burning party more than you guys, I'd like to hear who.
Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl--Florida 24, Ohio State 17. I know a lot of OSU fans would step up and try to win that calandar burning party, but really, PSU gets it, hands down. That doesn't take away from the fact that this was the worst year in Columbus in my lifetime, and mercifully, it's over. But did it have to be against Florida, and did they have to play as uninspired against them again? The defense played well, but when you give up a blocked punt and a kickoff return for a TD, you're not going to win a lot of ball games. At least OSU fans can cling to the Life Preserver that is Urban Meyer, who has breathed life into the program as quickly as Tatgate and Jim Tressel's resignation sucked it out.
Capital One Bowl--South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13. Uh, what the hell happened, Bugeater? You guys didn't let a silly thing like a blocked extra point for a safety seem to get you down, and you were playing pretty well. Oh, that's right. Failure in the red zone and a Hail Mary happened. That touchdwon that Nebraska gave up as the half ended seemed to take the life right out of them, and zombie Nebraska came out for the second half. They hung on through the third quarter, but things got out of hand in the fourth. I like Nebraska, but I don't know that they'll be able to get over the hump with Taylor Martinez. They have the feeling of a 9 win ceiling as long as he runs the show. But we'll see.
Outback Bowl--MSU 33, Georgia 30, 3OT. Okay, so who thought when Sparty was down 16-0 at halftime it was over? You, in the back, really you didn't think so? Oh, of course you didn't, Mrs. Dantonio. My apologies, ma'am. How about down 27-20 with 1:55 left and 85 yards away from the tying score? No? Well, how about after Kirk Cousins opened the first OT with a pick, and all Georgia had to do was let the best kicker in school history not named Kevin Butler make a chip shot to win? Not then, either? Well, you KNEW you were heading for a 4th OT when Blair Walsh was lining up for his 47 yarder, right? Look, we've given Sparty fans enough grief over these last 8 or so years, as they have committed enough gaffes against just about everyone to make you laugh and go 'SPARTY...NOOOO!'
I'm done laughing. Mark Dantonio has one hell of a program in East Lansing, and I tip my hat to you, sir. Several times, this had the makings of a typical Sparty collapse, and each time, they got up and answered the bell. When a play HAD to be made, Kirk Cousins made it. When they HAD to have a first down, La'Veon Bell got the tough yards. When they NEEDED a stop, their defense...which is as big time as any defense in the conference...got it. Maybe not all at once, but you did it. I don't know that I'm going to call it a program-changing or program defining win for Michigan State, but it was a damn important one. MSU shed a lot of stereotypes, and beat one hell of a football team in the Georgia Bulldogs. It was, at least for me, the best win for the B1G in the 2011-12 bowl season. Well done, Michigan State. Well done indeed.
Rose Bowl--Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38. I wasn't sure if Wisconsin was going to be able to keep up with Oregon's offense, and it turns out they didn't, but they gave it a great effort. But this is a team that we should be saying more of than just 'they gave it a great effort in a close loss'. This was a team that should have done more, should have been more. Yes, inagural B1G championship game winner is historic, but if you're a Wisconsin fan, you have to feel hollow. Russell Wilson was the missing ingredient to take them All The Way, and in the end, the result was the same as last year--Rose Bowl loser. Now he's gone, and although Bucky should be the odds-on favorite to win the cripple fight that will be the Leaders division next year and return to Indy, they won't have that national championship feel to them. Oh, and Bret Bielema really needs to take a class in 'Time Outs 101'. I think the announcers were right in that he let the crowd influence him in taking that early second half time out on the kick return by Oregon, and it came back to bite him in the ass. Not a great moment to be YouDub, BB.
Sugar Bowl--Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20, OT. Well done, Michigan. No one thought you were a 10 win team when the season began, much less a BCS winning team. But you are. You have exceeded everyone's expectations, except maybe Brady Hoke's and the 'Birther Truther' wing of your fan base. A lot of fans will bitch about the 8 home games--so next year, OSU fans, we'll bitch about our 8 home games, right? Michigan won 10 games, and were a few bounces and calls from damn near running the table. People like to make fun of Brady Hoke, probably because of his 'Ohio' thing (which I find pretty funny, actually), but here's a clue--he's a pretty damn good coach, with some seriously qualified coordinators. Greg Mattison made chicken salad, orange chicken, and a nice chicken flambe from the chickenshit RichRod and GERG left him, and made Michigan one of the best defenses in the country. At some point, we all said 'this is smoke and mirrors and they'll be bad again soon.' Well, let me ask this--if the defense never really has a bad game (except the OSU one), at some point we have to say it's no longer smoke and mirrors. It's the real deal, and Michigan is the real deal.
But is Michigan better than Michigan State? Well, the results speak for themselves. Michigan hasn't beaten MSU in 4 years, and the only reason they were in the BCS was because MSU lost the B1G championship. So no, MSU is the better team.
But next year? We'll see.