The BCS championship has been saturated in controversy almost every season since its inception, but its swan song will be debate-free after Ohio State’s loss in the Big Ten title game.
Connor Cook threw three touchdown passes — 72 yards to Keith Mumphery, 33 to Tony Lippett and nine to Josiah Price — and passed for a career-high 304 yards to lead 10th-ranked Michigan State to a 34-24 victory and a Rose Bowl berth Saturday night.
They’ll find out their postseason fate on the BCS show on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. today, but most analysts believe OSU will still have the Orange Bowl as its consolation prize.
Florida State and Auburn appear certain to play for the national title.
“I went around the room and told our players I love them,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “I don’t like to use the word ‘proud,’ but I am proud of them. We kind of dug ourselves a hole, down 17-0, and we came back and seized momentum. But then we let it get away from us.
“But I don’t want to take anything away from our opponent. That’s a heckuva team, man. Good players, good scheme. But I love my guys.”
A crowd of 66,002 at the indoor Lucas Oil Stadium was about 70 percent Buckeye fans, but the Spartans made sure they didn’t become much of a factor with their quick start.
OSU quarterback Braxton Miller ran for 142 yards and two TDs on 21 attempts, and Carlos Hyde had 118 yards on 18 totes against the nation’s top rush defense. But Miller was just 8-for-21 passing for 101 yards and one score, and the offense failed to produce on four straight possessions after taking a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes gave up 438 total yards with its pass defense getting riddled again by the unheralded Cook, a sophomore from Walsh Jesuit High School in northeast Ohio. He was named the game’s MVP.
“A lot of people didn’t give us a chance to be here right now, but we persevered through it all and proved them wrong,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our football team right now. It was an outstanding job by our players and our entire staff. Our guys just believed, and we got the job done.”
Once the Spartans (12-1) jumped out to their 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter, Miller had a 20-yard TD pass to Corey “Philly” Brown.
The Buckeyes, who were third in the nation in scoring at 48.2 points per game, made another push when Miller connected with tight end Jeff Heuerman for a 36-yard completion. That set up a 28-yard field goal by Drew Basil on the last play of the first half, cutting the deficit to 17-10.
Taking the first possession of the second half, the Buckeyes churned out a 75-yard drive to make it 17-all. Miller finished it off with an eight-yard run.
The Buckeyes then took advantage of a short field. Miller capped a five-play, 44-yard drive with a six-yard scoring run, making it 24-17.
But Michael Geiger kicked his second field goal, a 44-yarder, to cut the margin to 24-20 late in the third quarter.
Cook then hooked up with Price to take a 27-24 lead with 11:41 left.
OSU’s Ryan Shazier partially blocked a punt, giving the Buckeyes the ball at the MSU 47-yard line. But it ended up being an empty possession.
On fourth-and-2 at the MSU 39-yard line with 5:46 to go — after an OSU timeout — Miller tried a sweep and was stopped for no gain by Spartans linebacker Denicos Allen.
MSU then put it away with a 26-yard TD by Jeremy Langford with just over two minutes left.
“We’ve just grow together as a team,” Miller said. “Things happen in games when they really don’t go your way. You’ve got to come back and fix the mistakes. Keep your head high and come back stronger.”