Ask Michigan fans, and they’ll say it’s a finalist for the most devastating second of their lives – one that wasn’t supposed to occur in the first place.

Ask Michigan coach Lloyd Carr about the final play in last year’s Michigan State game, and he’ll give a stern look and say “I don’t care to replay things that happened a long time ago.”

But ask several Michigan players, and they’ll state that the “phantom second” and timekeeper controversy in last year’s heart-breaking, 26-24 loss to the Spartans was “overhyped” by the media and fans.

“I think it’s extremely overplayed,” Michigan captain Bennie Joppru said. “You should never be in the position to have anyone take the game away like that from you. And that’s the bottom line.”

The controversy surrounding Jeff Smoker’s last-second, game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Duckett last year led to a Big Ten rule change. Now a television timeout coordinator handles the official time – instead of a person hired by the home school in the press box.

But, more importantly for the Wolverines, the burning motivation to avenge last year’s defeat to the Spartans this Saturday helped them push their embarrassing loss to Iowa – the program’s worst since 1967 – out of their minds.

“This Michigan State game is the best thing that’s going to happen this week to get over the Iowa loss,” offensive tackle Tony Pape said.

Ever since the Iowa game ended, the only thing the Wolverines have been focusing on is the green and white flag that has hung in their locker room for nearly a full year. The flag not only symbolizes the painful loss to their intrastate rivals, but also the turning point in a once-promising season that fell apart after that game. Michigan went on to lose two of its final four games, including a 45-17 shellacking in the Citrus Bowl.

This year’s strong senior leaders said there’s no way such a collapse will occur this time around.

“We’re not going to let what happened last year happen again,” Pape said. “I promise you that.”

Finley factor: Sophomore punter Adam Finley has overcome surgeries on both his knees since coming to Michigan three years ago to become Hayden Epstein’s replacement at kicker and punter. But now Finley will finally get the chance to handle all placekicking duties, Carr said.

Finley nailed a 40-yard field goal – the first of his career – in the third quarter on Saturday. He also punted eight times for an average of 43 yards per punt, and pinned Iowa inside the 20-yard line four times in the first half.

Cato update: Carr said Michigan senior safety Cato June was released from the hospital Sunday morning after his collision with Dan Rumishek against Iowa knocked him unconscious.

“All of the reports came back positive,” Carr said. “It was a concussion, and he’s going to be fine.”

June’s status for Saturday is unknown.

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