The Daily Illini

One botched punt sends Spartans, Wolverines on divergent paths

By Dan Escalona

The full spectrum of human emotion could be seen in the final 10 seconds of Michigan State’s surreal victory over rival Michigan this weekend.

On one side was the pure ecstasy of Michigan State as Spartans’ players jumped into the stands to celebrate an improbable win. On the opposite end, you saw the shocking agony of Michigan fans sitting slack-jawed in disbelief.

With one botched punt, the entire course of the Big Ten has been dramatically altered, and the Spartans and Wolverines have been pushed on divergent paths.

In a mere 10 seconds, the Spartans went from seeing their playoff hopes permanently dashed to seeing them revived in a perfectly-timed flurry of divine intervention.

In those same 10 seconds, the Wolverines went from the hottest team in the country to seeing their playoff hopes diminish to a slight flicker.

The unfortunate series of events that played out on the final play is further indication of the universe’s cruel indifference — an existentialist horror show straight out of the pages of a Franz Kafka novel.

There’s got to be some strange, long German word to describe the precise feeling Michigan fans must’ve felt in the aftermath of this debacle.

Michigan State, though still undefeated, should be extremely thankful to Michigan punter Blake O’Neill for having this win in the first place.

Considering the Spartans outgained their rival by nearly 150 yards, Michigan State should have played more efficiently in the red zone and on third down conversions.

At some point, the Spartans’ string of luck is poised to run out.

Of course, it would be unfair to penalize the Spartans for such a lucky victory, but the circumstances of it should be taken into consideration by the selection committee if the Spartans are still in playoff contention in December.

Turning toward Michigan, this loss cannot possibly hurt more. Not only was Paul Bunyan’s Axe painfully stolen from its grasp, but its slim playoff chances were, too.

Unless the Wolverines run the table — and get massive amounts of help from others — a spot in the CFP will have to wait until 2016.

As an outside observer, it is rather strange writing about a Michigan loss since all they needed to do to win was execute a routine punt — and Michigan would be tied with Ohio State atop the Big Ten East. After all, they did have a 99.8 percent chance of winning before the ill-fated play.

The Wolverines still have an opportunity to win the rest of their games up until the season finale against the Buckeyes, yet the memory of this soul-crushing loss will undoubtably linger for the remainder of the season and beyond.

In the grand scheme of things, though, Michigan’s playoff chances are now effectively zero, Jim Harbaugh’s squad is still in the running for the division title.

Michigan certainly was not at its best Saturday, but despite the loss the team demonstrated a strong level of grit.

The real test for the team now will be how well it can recover from a potentially demoralizing loss with the ability to derail an entire season.

In spite of the loss, the progress Harbaugh has made in just seven games is beyond what most expected back in January.

In just one play, Michigan and Michigan State reminded everyone of the harsh reality that in college football one’s entire season can diametrically shift in a matter of seconds.

All you need is a botched punt and a few lucky bounces.

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