Spartans have done enough to earn national respect, but haven't demanded it
Lewis' running into the kicker penalty, on a punt that was returned by Keshawn Martin inside the Wisconsin 10-yard line, denied MSU a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. No luck this time for the Green and White.
It was a horrible call. While by definition Lewis did run into the kicker, that call can't be made in that circumstance. Officials should not take the fate of the game out of players' hands. Let 'em play ref. Let 'em play.
It's a shame, really. Michigan State outplayed Wisconsin Saturday and deserved to win that game. What's going to compound the heartbreak for the Spartans is that this game -- more specifically that penalty -- has cut the legs out from what was a program-defining season in East Lansing. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio wants so badly to be able to change the national image of Spartan football. He also believed whole wholeheartedly that this group of players was the group that was going to accomplish that. It's the reason for the "Little Giants" play call last season against Notre Dame. The reason he showed not the slightest bit of surprise when Kirk Cousins connected with Keith Nichol on the hail mary that beat the Badgers earlier in the year and why he called a fake extra, which was successful, early in Saturday's game.
This team, which features a senior class that has won more games than any other in the history of MSU's program, was supposed to finish on top -- at least in the minds of everyone associated with it. Michigan State even went as far as to put Rose Bowl perihelia up around the football complex this week, including Roses in the players lockers. That's the type of confidence this team had.
Yet, entering Saturday's Big Ten championship game, MSU was listed as 9.5 point underdogs to Wisconsin -- despite beating the Badgers in the regular season and finishing with the best record in the Big Ten.
Somehow, that logic rang true. The underdog Spartans did what the "experts" said they would do. They came up short.
"This is a good football team. This is a good program and their tired of being disrespected," MSU radio announcer and former Spartan quarterback Jim Miller said Saturday night.
They've got to be getting tired of losing big games, also.
While a Vegas betting line might not offend the Spartans, getting left out of the BCS pool should and likely will.
"We are the winningest program the last four years in terms of Big Ten conference games," Dantonio said prior to the championship game. "We're 24-8. We're 14-2 in the conference the past two years, so hopefully we're changing that thought process a little bit... I think we're changing perceptions as we go."
That being said, there's not a BCS bowl executive or board member in the country that would rather have Michigan State in its game over a more prestigious football school -- such as Michigan. In many ways the Spartans are the equivalent to a basketball mid-major when it comes to the top ranks of college football. The only way they're going to get respect is if they demand it. If they leave no doubt. Beating Wisconsin Saturday night was an opportunity to do that. I believe Michigan State should get an at-large bid to the BCS. In my mind the Spartans are one of the top 10 teams in the country. But it's no secret that is the minority opinion.
Instead, the Spartans will likely end up in either the Capitol One Bowl or the Outback Bowl against either Arkansas or Georgia. Until next year at least, Michigan State is still Michigan State. And like Saturday's performance, that's just not good enough.