- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2011

Michigan State fired a desperation Rocket late Saturday night. It shot down Wisconsin’s national title hopes in the process.

And the worst part for the Badgers: They’ll see it endlessly for years to come.

Such is the price when your unbeaten team loses 37-31 on a last-second bomb from midfield, and one requiring a booth review to switch the call and give an opponent a shocking last-second victory.

It is no stretch to suggest Kirk Cousins’ 44-yard strike to Keith Nichol - via a deflection and then dogged push into the end zone - was the finish of the relatively young century. If anything, the pair can claim to be their generation’s equivalent of Doug Flutie and Gerard Phelan, the pitch-and-catch artists who completed a Hail Mary to lift Boston College over Miami in 1984.

That play, watched endlessly in the years since, was 55 Flood Tip. Michigan State’s, which upended previously perfect Wisconsin, was Rocket. It won’t soon be forgotten, especially since the instant replay review (and the need for indisputable evidence to overturn the original call of Nichol being stopped just shy of the goal line) added tension to a potentially classic moment.

In the near term, it shed new light on a national title race that narrows by the week.

Wisconsin (6-1) had the favorable second-half schedule, the difficult-to-stop rushing attack and the charismatic quarterback (Russell Wilson) to challenge for a place in the title game. Now, those hopes are dashed, with a spot in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year likely its upside.

The Spartans (6-1), meanwhile, toppled their second straight unbeaten (after Michigan a week earlier) to assert themselves as a factor in the Big Ten. It was a valuable moment for a program most nationally haven’t paid much attention to since a New Year’s Day humbling against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

Thanks to one play and one reversed call, it’s already certain just what this year’s Spartans - and especially Cousins and Nichol - will be renowned for in the decades to come while the Badgers will rue the indirect strike that derailed their season.

Weekend risers

Game of the year. Both Louisiana State and Alabama reached their respective bye weeks at 8-0. That sets up a titanic showdown in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5, with the winner leaving in control of the SEC West and the loser needing help to climb back into the national title hunt. In any case, expect a fortnight of hype heading into the latest Saban Bowl.

Stanford. The Cardinal’s first remotely significant test was passed with ease. Quarterback Andrew Luck led Stanford to a 65-21 dissection of Washington, which entered with only one loss. Stanford’s resume is still rather bare, but it can fix that with games against Southern California and Oregon in the next three weeks.

Weekend decliners

Oklahoma. A Saturday in late October trips up Bob Stoops and the Sooners again. Last year, it was a trip to Missouri that derailed a perfect season. This time, Oklahoma fell behind Texas Tech by 24 points early in the second half. The Sooners’ rally sputtered in the 41-38 loss, their first at home since the 2005 season opener.

Notre Dame. That BCS berth won’t happen in coach Brian Kelly’s second season despite soaring preseason hopes. The Fighting Irish fell to a pedestrian 4-3, and winning out against a schedule of Navy, Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College and Stanford probably won’t vault them high enough to earn a BCS berth. A potential year-end consolation prize: A Champs Sports Bowl date with an ACC team (perhaps Florida State?) in Orlando, Fla.