Published Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:42 am
Barfknecht: Sparty celebrates, rival coaches smile

INDIANAPOLIS — I have this mental picture of other Big Ten football coaches watching the end of the league championship game Saturday night, then smiling wide and trading fist bumps.

That’s what happens when you put the rest of the conference in the position of rooting for Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.

The coach who other coaches love to hate held the keys to the Big Ten gaining a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game — and the desperately needed national relevance that goes with it.

Now, that’s all gone. And I sense few of Meyer’s adversaries will lose much sleep over it.

No. 10 Michigan State jumped ahead of No. 2 Ohio State by 17 points, gave up 24 consecutive points, then rallied to topple the Buckeyes 34-24 in front of a Big Ten title-game record crowd of 66,002.

Two key facts from that result: OSU’s 24-game winning streak is over, and MSU’s 26-year Rose Bowl drought is, too.

Maybe the only thing to rue from the outcome was it puts the Southeastern Conference, winner of the past seven national titles, in position to claim an eighth.

Auburn, No. 3 in the BCS standings, moved to 12-1 by beating Missouri in the SEC title game and will likely hop over Ohio State, setting up a Jan. 6 title game against No. 1 Florida State.

Why the hatred/jealousy for Meyer?

He works hard, coaches hard, recruits hard and wins a lot — all without apology. Some suspect he would chop-block a close family member for a crucial first down.

But the coaching fraternity has plenty of inhabitants who see him as phony and pious.

He quit at Florida following a couple of shaky recruiting classes and more than 20 player arrests. His departure “for health reasons” and “to spend more time with his family” lasted only a few months before he signed on with ESPN, then took the Ohio State job after missing just one season.

If some of this sounds petty, it is.

But I truly sense many coaches in this league would trade a little national title-game publicity now for the hope of slowing the Ohio State momentum.

Maybe Michigan State (12-1) will be the next major Big Ten player, after winning at least 10 games for the third time in four seasons.

Mark Dantonio, named Big Ten coach of the year by the coaches and media, had the Spartans beautifully prepared.

Michigan State took advantage of multiple Ohio State errors and sloppiness early. Two boneheaded pass interference penalties on the first possession set up a Spartan field goal. An elementary coverage error helped MSU complete a 72-yard touchdown pass for a 10-0 lead.

MSU quarterback Connor Cook, the game’s most valuable player, then led a 66-yard touchdown drive that he capped with consecutive completions of 14, 12 and 33 yards.

Michigan State suffered a costly offensive brain cramp late in the first half while leading 17-7.

Ohio State used its final timeout before MSU faced a third-and-10 at its own 12 with 1:41 left. Instead of running the ball and milking at least 40 seconds off the clock, the Spartans tried a pass. It fell incomplete.

The clock stopped. MSU punted. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller ran for 15 and threw for 36 yards, and the Buckeyes got a field goal on the final play of the half to get within seven points.

The momentum stayed with Ohio State, which scored on two of its first three drives in the second half to claim a 24-17 lead. Miller (142 yards rushing, two touchdowns) and tailback Carlos Hyde (118) were the OSU offensive stars.

But Michigan State wouldn’t fold, even after failing on an onside kick with a 27-24 lead and getting a punt blocked with 7:36 to play at its own 47-yard line.

The Spartan defense, ranked first nationally, produced a four-and-out, with linebacker Denicos Allen nailing Miller for just 1 yard on fourth-and-2 at the 39.

Meyer spoke quietly in the postgame area as Michigan State celebrated on the field.

“It’s going to haunt all of us,” he said of missing out on a national title shot. “But it’s part of the game.”

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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