When Penn State played Michigan for the last time in the Big Ten's non-divisional era a couple of weeks ago, it was hard to get too worked up about the end of the "rivalry" between the two schools as we know it. Yes, existing in separate divisions means Penn State and Michigan will see each other less, but they already rotated off one anther's schedule's under the outgoing scheduling format. The difference now will be only one or two games per decade.
Things are different with Michigan State and the Battle of the Land Grant Trophy, though. The Spartans have been on the Nittany Lions' schedule every single year since Penn State entered the conference and the game is traditionally played as the last of the season for both teams. While administrators have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to force a rivalry between the two schools, the game has no doubt become an end-of-the-season event that many people at least look forward to a little bit.
Unfortunately, the annual renewal of the game for the Land Grant Trophy will be a casualty of divisional play as Penn State and Michigan State will be in separate divisions when Nebraska joins the league next fall. And while, as Penn State fans, we might not be too upset about that, it's worth a look back into the great moments of this rivalry that wasn't before we bid it adieu.
5. 1994: Penn State 59-Michigan State 31
In the first Battle for the Land Grant Trophy in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions dominated Sparty in their final tuneup for the upcoming Rose Bowl. Throughout the week, many figured that Penn State Heisman candidate, running back Ki-Jana Carter, needed about 200 yards to make a final statement to voters, but by garbage time, he only had about 150. After he and his teammates begged coach Joe Paterno, Carter finally got one more carry. He took it 60 yards for a touchdown to go over 200 yards on the day for an exciting moment in a dud of a football game.
4. 2002: Penn State 61-Michigan State 7
Much like 1994, the 2002 matchup between Penn State and Michigan State featured a Heisman Trophy candidate, this time Penn State running back Larry Johnson. Throughout the season, LJ had put up many impressive numbers to wedge himself into the race and by the Michigan State game, he needed only a few yards to go over 2,000 for the season. The senior delivered in dramatic fashion. Penn State won the game big time and celebrated its third consecutive win in the Land Grant series.
3. 2004: Penn State 37-Michigan State 13
After a goal line stand preserved a win at Indiana a week earlier, the Nittany Lions closed an otherwise miserable 2004 campain, the last of what's now called the "Dark Ages" with a beat down of Sparty at Beaver Stadium. Michigan State was looking to become bowl eligible that day, but a Penn State defense led by a young Paul Posluszny crippled the Spartans' post season hopes and established the momentum that would carry Penn State straight through to a conference championship in 2005.
2. 2008: Penn State 49-Michigan State 18
In 2008, Penn State and Michigan State met with both teams ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1999. An Ohio State win over Michigan earlier in the day made a victory the only path to the Rose Bowl for the Lions, and they grabbed one in dominating fashion. Daryll Clark threw for 341 yards and four thouchdowns on Senior Day for Penn State's graduating trio of Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, and the Roses were out on the sideline by the middle of the fourth quarter. Penn State clinched its second Big Ten title in four years that day, but not before Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio called two infamous timeouts at garbage time on a freezing Happy Valley evening to cement himself as the most hated charater the "rivalry" has ever known.
1. 1993: Penn State 38-Michigan State 37
As Penn State and Michigan State met for the first time as Big Ten foes in 1993, the newly formed rivarly looked like it was going to get off the ground in a big way when the No. 14 Lions travled to East Lansing to take on the No. 25 Spartans and it did. Michigan State staked itself out to a 20-point third quarter lead, but Kerry Collings led the Lions on a massive comeback to shocked Sparty 38-37. Collins threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns, at the time, the second biggest passing performance in Penn State history. The game was featured on the "Big Ten's Greatest Games" on the Big Ten Network last year, so look it up when you get the chance.
Long story short? Enjoy the game this Saturday. The Land Grant Rivalry may not be like Penn State's rivalries with Ohio State is now or Pittsburgh in the past, but it holds its own unique place in Penn State history. It has its own tradition and when it's gone as an annual event, we'll probably realize how much we miss it. Next fall will bring the beginning of a new, exciting annual matchup for Nebraska, but this Thanksgiving weekend, let's be thankful for 18 years of November memories with good 'ol Sparty.