By all accounts it was a perfect day. The offense was rolling. The defense was smothering. JoePa ran out of the tunnel. Other than the side of my face and the back of my neck starting to sting with the burn from the never-ending warm sunshine, it was a perfect day in Happy Valley. As we sat there listening to the scores from other games we got a good chuckle when early in the first quarter they announced Appalachian State led Michigan 21-14 in the second quarter. As the score updates kept coming in and with each update the cheers of the crowd got louder, but I couldn't help thinking Michigan losing to Appalachian would be bad for the Big Ten.
Late in the forth quarter when Joe decided to put the waterboy in the game to go score a touchdown, we decided we saw enough and started heading for the door. As we reached the bottom of the steps and turned down the tunnel I heard a guy in the stands say Michigan took a 32-31 lead. It appeared David was not destined to slay Goliath this day and the Wolverines were going to escape.
As we made our way to the tailgate we heard the victory bell ring so we knew the game was over. Then as we crossed Porter Road we heard the stadium erupt in cheers. "Wow, the Blue Band must be putting on a heck of a show in there," I thought. But quickly I realized they must be showing the Michigan game on the big screen. On the way back to the tailgate we heard intermittent cheers coming from the good sized crowd still hanging around inside the stadium. Then we got back to the tailgate party just in time to hear some guy stand in the back of his truck and yell, "Appalachian State blocked a field goal to win 34-32." There were cheers all around, but the reality quickly sunk in. This looks bad.
Indeed, riding home listening to the radio the talk had already begun. Michigan was overrated. The Big Ten was overrated. It's going to be a down year for the conference. This makes Wisconsin the new frontrunner.
It was a mix of emotions. You like to see your rival struggle. You take pleasure in seeing them lose. But not like this. Not now. We all realize at some point in the season every team but one is going to see their national title hopes dashed. We hoped Michigan would lose, but we wanted to be the ones to beat them. Now the rest of the conference is in a downright lousy position. Beat Michigan and you're just beating another overrated team. Lose to Michigan and you're the team that lost to the team that lost to Appalachian State.
There are a lot of people making generalizations about how this reflects on the Big Ten. It shouldn't, but the fact is it does. This makes the Big Ten look bad, and it couldn't happen at a worse time with the Big Two coming off of embarrassing bowl losses. I'm personally disappointed in this. I've talked a lot of smack toward the Big East in the past few weeks. It doesn't change my perception of the college football reality, but it definitely gives fuel to the opposition. So today there is anger directed at the Wolverines. Anger for letting the conference down. Anger for taking away our opportunity to be the one to knock them off their perch.
Michigan may still run the table, win the Big Ten, and go to the Rose Bowl. Obviously there are serious questions about that now. We all laugh at Joe Paterno for ranking offense behind defense and special teams in importance. We all laugh when Joe says he stays up all night worrying how they are going to beat the cupcake of the week. Who's laughing now?
The simple fact for the Nittany Lions is we can't get wrapped up in the conference wars now. That's fun fodder for the offseason, but now there is business to take care of, and they only thing we have control over is the opponent standing on the other side of the field this week. Joe has always said, "All you can do is win your games and hope for the best." So far we've done that. So when you go to work on Tuesday and the Pitt fan in the next cubicle starts giving you shit about Michigan losing to Appalachian State, don't get bent out of shape. Penn State took care of their business in the Outback Bowl and we took care of business in our game. That's the line and we're sticking to it.