I'm sorry to inflict yet another sports post on you all (or at least, on those of you who drop in for reasons other than checking in on my rooting interests), but this has been an autumn of exceeding wonderfulness for my favorite sports teams. First, my Tigers advanced to within a game or two of the World Series, and now my Spartans are Big Ten football champions, having defeated the Buckeyes of Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game last night (and just for the sake of wondering, the fact that the Big Ten conference has twelve teams in it is passing curious, no? And even more fun, the Big Twelve conference has ten teams in it; yes, these numerically-challenged conferences are composed of universities charged with educating young adults to take their place as future world leaders; should we be worried?)
It has been a good year for the football Spartans, mainly owing to a superior defense which, at its best, could just suck the life out of opposing offenses. OSU was definitely the best team we had faced all season, and their offense tested our defense in ways that no-one else had. Even so, the Spartans charged out to an early 17-0 lead, and things were looking good in Spartan-land halfway through the second quarter. Of course, the Buckeyes didn't arrive at last night's game undefeated without knowing how to throw a counter-punch (figuratively speaking), and by the middle of the third quarter, they had taken a 24-17 lead. But at that point, my Spartans managed to blunt the Buckeye momentum and threw a few (figurative) counter-punches of their own, and when it was all said and done, we had a 34-24 victory and the 2013 Big Ten football championship, which comes with a free trip to Pasadena on New Year's Day, to play the Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.
GO GREEN! all over again.
It has been a stunning year for my Spartans. Last year's team finished with a record of 7-6, having lost five games by a total of 13 points, largely due to an especially, uh, challenged offense. And most of the best players from last year's offense graduated, so we weren't necessarily expecting this year to be leaps and bounds better than last year. And in fact, for the early, non-conference portion of the schedule, our offense continued to struggle mightily, even while our defense took up where last year's suffocating defense left off (after the first three games, the defense had actually scored more points than the offense had, leading some of the more cynical Spartans among us to suggest that we should take to punting on first down, since that would give us more opportunities to score).
But gradually, as the season wore on, the offense slowly came together to where it was more of an asset than a liability, and the defense just stonewalled everything in sight. We completed the conference schedule undefeated (our only loss all season was a non-conference game against some Catholic school from just across the Indiana state line; we'd love to get another crack at that game, but whatcha gonna do?), and earned a spot in the conference championship game for the second time in the last three years.
And this time, we won. We're 12-1 heading into the Rose Bowl, a school record for wins, and the third time in four years that we've won 11 games or more. It's only the third time in my lifetime that we're in the Rose Bowl; the last time was 26 years ago, back when Jen and I only had two kids (and 3M was 'in the oven'). Much as I said about my Tigers earlier in the fall, we haven't been accustomed to quite such lofty and sustained success. But we are sure as heck enjoying the ride. . .