Dan LeFevour arrived in East Lansing with a record in sight. He and Central Michigan left with something much, much sweeter.
As LeFevour jumped on to a pile of celebrating teammates, a stunned Michigan State team stood on the Spartan Stadium turf, victim of a 29-27 upset loss to a 14 ½-point underdog. The blow, the latest to hit the Big Ten, came after two special teams breakdowns in the final moments.
With the Spartans up 27-26 and 32 ticks left on the clock, Central Michigan coach Butch Jones decided to go for the potential game-winning two-point conversion. LeFevour failed to connect, and the Spartans should have squeaked out the narrow victory. But Andrew Aguila's ensuing on-side kick flew over the Spartans and into the arms of Central Michigan's Bryan Anderson, giving the Chippewas another chance.
The drama didn't end there. After LeFevour drove CMU to the Spartans' 30, Aguila, who earlier missed a 51-yarder, lined up to kick a 47-yarder with eight seconds remaining. The kick sailed left, but a flag sailed out along with it. Michigan State's Colin Neely had jumped offsides. Now five yards closer to a come-from-behind victory, Aguila connected.
The win gave the MAC its second victory over BCS teams in as many days (Toledo beat Colorado 54-38 on Friday night) and its fifth over the Big Ten in the last two seasons.
MAC teams are no strangers to upsets, but it's a point of pride when they come against the Big Ten, as MAC rosters are littered with players with who were bypassed by Big Ten programs. That includes Chicago native LeFevour, who etched his name in the MAC record book in the win, passing Bryon Leftwich's record of 12,084 to become the conference's all-time career yardage leader.
"[This win] does a lot," LeFevour said. "Hopefully it does something for recruiting. But this is also our first victory of the year. We got to do a lot more than win just one game to do something for our program. I think we got to keep going. Keep winning, and we'll see where this thing goes."
A red-letter afternoon for the MAC, though, was an afternoon of more struggles for the Big Ten. Indiana and Northwestern barely held on for wins over MAC teams Western Michigan (four points) and Eastern Michigan (three points), respectively. Penn State beat Syracuse by 21, Iowa dumped Iowa State and Wisconsin edged Fresno State in overtime, but those aren't the kinds of wins that spawn talk of a powerhouse.
An Ohio State win over USC or Michigan win over Notre Dame would help re-establish some confidence in the conference, but losses by the Buckeyes or Wolverines would further fuel the criticism.
Things could be far, far worse for college football's current punching bag, but on a weekend many billed as its chance to pave the way to redemption, the Big Ten can't avoid the roadblocks.