Sparty is the only other Big Ten team I can really ever find myself rooting for in the regular season. I proudly carry the mark of #TeamEntropy, so I root for upsets and chaos and the like. But even then, I will almost never find myself hoping for Ohio State, Michigan, or Iowa. But I like MSU. I like Mark Dantonio, and Connor Cook, and the various monsters that continue to make up their defense.
I guess that's why the blowout loss we're about to be handed by them won't hurt so badly. That, plus it's expected. John Donovan needs to be fired eight games ago, the defense is depleted with injuries, the line is still terrible, John Donovan is still employed, Saquon has hit a rough patch (largely do to gameplanning and ineffective blocking, not through much fault of his own), Brent Wilkerson is third on the damn offense in snaps, and Michigan State is really, really good. The number 10 team by F+ (Penn State is 40th), Sparty needs to win to make the playoffs after upsetting OSU in the Horshoe last week. Penn State is playing for five degrees in a bowl game. You could say these are two teams going in different directions, but the level of understatement would be immense.
Penn State has a lot of talent, and the future is still bright. But especially after the soul-crushing nature of the last two defeats, the fanbase has few illusions of the boys in blue and white playing spoiler this weekend. Enjoy Hack, Anthony Zettel, Carl Nassib, and likely Austin Johnson's final regular season games at Penn State, and try to stay positive. And heck, maybe we can break off a few nice plays. Something resembling positive football would be good enough for me.
But hey, it's the Battle for the Land Grant Trophy, which is the single greatest trophy in any sport in the world. Gaze into its kitschy beauty and be stunned. Thanks, Justin Smith Morrill. Roll Damn Land Grant Trophy.
Michigan State 41 - Penn State 12 (four field goals)
bscaff: I can think of two reasons Penn State wins: 1) stupidity; Sparty does traditional Sparty things, even though Dantonio's sorta broken that trend the last half-decade. They turn the ball over 5 times, get dinged for 8 personal fouls, Malik McDowell gets ejected, and their punter fumbles twice without being touched. Those types of old school Sparty things. 2) Big Ten officiating. John O'Neill's crew goes beyond their typical clown show routine. The spirit of Dave Witvoet breathes on them, which takes their incompetence to unfathomable, incomprehensible levels. It's sort of an Incompetence Pentecost. And somehow all of that works to Penn State's benefit.
Hey, I get it. We're Penn State, and Big Ten officiating incompetence always works against us. But here's the thing, friends - it DOES work against us in this scenario. The many officiating gifts allow our horrible offense to score points, which keeps John Donovan in blue and white for 2016. This is the ultimate injury on top of insult, and the Big Ten kills both 2015 Sparty and 2016 Penn State, with one single stroke of stupidity.
Spirit of Witvoet 34 - Michigan State 27
Matt: If you were to plug pretty much any team in the country into the situation Sparty faces, I might have hope. Coming off a massive win, against the defending champs, on their field, and the finish line now in sight, against a "meh" team. But, dear reader, let me ask you this: when was the last time a Mark Dantonio MSU team didn't show up in a big spot? It's been years.
A week after holding Ohio State's potent offense to just 132 yards, the Spartans get to face a much, uh, "lesser" opponent in whatever the heck it is PSU does when they have the ball. Christian Hackenberg is not going to have much time, again, and Saquon Barkley won't have much room, again. Penn State's best hope is to beat the MSU secondary over the top, but it's tough to see Hackenberg and Co. having the time to do that, at least often enough to consistently hit the big play. The PSU defense will play hard, but injuries, and too many snaps will add up.
Michigan State 31 - Penn State 17
Nick: If you had asked me about this game before last week, I would have been more confident in Penn State's chances, However, after seeing what their defensive line did to Ohio State, I no longer hold that optimism. Hackenberg is going to spend what is likely his final collegiate regular season game running for his life, which is sadly fitting. If he's able to get a few seconds to throw, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nittany Lions break off a few big plays, but it won't be enough to beat a Michigan State Spartans team that has been one of the very best teams in college football over the past three years.
Put me down for 205 yards and a touchdown from Christian Hackenberg, 98 yards and a touchdown for Saquon Barkley, and one more sack for Carl Nassib.
Michigan State 27 - Penn State 14
Dan: Saquon Barkley has shown himself to be an immense talent, but he has not had a great game in several weeks. Is it a freshman player hitting a wall because he is facing tougher competition? I doubt it. I think it's a coaching staff that's outmatched hitting a wall against better coaches. So without Saquon being able to get going, Penn State is in real trouble. Add in that Jordan Lucas is out, Carl Nassib may be too, and the special teams is approaching an all-time low ... yeah, things aren't looking good for the road team. And Michigan State is playing in a must-win situation at home. This one could very well be over early.
Michigan State 34 - Penn State 10
NCAA 14: It didn't go well. Let's start there. MSU is one of the best teams in the game, and the severe downgrades of PSU's line since week one and a bevvy of injuries can't be made up for despite Saquon Barkley's breakout. Sparty's defense allowed Sa-Sa to rack up 114 all purpose yards and a TD, but it would be the only score of the day for Penn State. Hack's 15-25 for 200 yards and a pick (plus being sacked four times) certainly weren't a line to smile about. Across the way, LJ Scott got nothing going against the Nittany Lion defense. 16 carries for 29 yards was impressive work by the front seven. Unfortunately, a Jordan Lucas-less secondary that is also dealing with a struggling Grant Haley got shredded by Connor Cook. The MSU QB, who may or may not play on Saturday, threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns. That, plus a field goal, would be that.
Michigan State 24 - Penn State 7
Michigan State 27 - Penn State 13