Penn State v Michigan State Preview

Penn State coach Joe Paterno ended speculation Tuesday and said he plans to return to the sidelines next season. No matter his decision, Michigan State didn’t plan to get caught up in the drama with a conference title at stake.

The 11th-ranked Spartans can earn at least a share of the Big Ten championship Saturday when they travel to Happy Valley to face the Nittany Lions.

While the 83-year-old Paterno announced he’ll be back next year after a disappointing season which saw Penn State fall out of the Big Ten title chase early on, the Spartans (10-1, 6-1) go into the regular-season finale within reach of the championship.

Michigan State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 8 Ohio State enter Saturday with one loss atop the conference standings. If the Spartans win, they would earn their first share of the Big Ten title since 1990.

Michigan State holds the tiebreaker over the Badgers after winning the head-to-head matchup 34-24 on Oct. 2. The Spartans would earn the Big Ten’s automatic BCS berth with a victory and a Buckeyes loss to Michigan.

In the case of a three-way tie, the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings would earn the conference’s spot in the Rose Bowl.

If Michigan State and Ohio State both win, the Spartans have a shot to earn an at-large invitation to a major bowl with a Wisconsin loss to Northwestern.

“We’ve talked a lot about leaving a legacy here in our time and we want to leave something that people will remember,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “We have a chance to do that Saturday.”

Cousins said he’ll start Saturday despite playing on an injured ankle in last week’s 35-31 win over Purdue and sitting out a series in the first half after hurting his non-throwing shoulder.

“We’re playing for a championship,” Cousins said. “And I’ll be ready to go. We’ll have six weeks off after that.”

Cousins scored the winning touchdown against Purdue on a three-yard run with 4:32 remaining after Denicos Allen blocked a punt and Michigan State recovered inside the five-yard line. The Spartans overcame a 15-point deficit in the second half by scoring 22 in the fourth quarter, posting their first 10-win season since 1999.

They’ve never won 11 games, something Michigan State can accomplish by winning at Beaver Stadium for the first time in eight tries.

Coach Mark Dantonio, recently named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, has been known for his gutsy calls and health struggles after suffering a minor heart attack following the Sept. 18 victory against Notre Dame. However, his message to the Spartans has been simple.

“We’re the 10th-ranked football team in the BCS with an opportunity to move up based on what happens, and all those things are exciting things for us right now,” Dantonio said. “And I think first and foremost we need to embrace the moment as a football team and have fun, enjoy the moment, and understand that these times don’t come along too often.”

His counterpart made the bigger headlines this week, with Paterno dismissing talk of retirement by saying he’ll return in 2011.

Despite a preseason Top 25 ranking, Penn State opened 3-3 while battling injuries and lost its first two conference games. With a little work, Paterno said he believes the Nittany Lions can be successful next season.

“We’ve struggled a little bit this year, the youth and the injuries and the whole bit,” Paterno said. “But I think with a good spring and preseason practice … We’re going to be a good football team, and I’d like to (be) part of it.”

Penn State (7-4, 4-3) is coming off its fourth win in five games, 41-24 over Indiana last Saturday. Matt McGloin threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns in his third career start.

Evan Royster ran for a TD but was held under 50 yards for the second straight week, leaving him 169 shy of becoming the first Penn State running back with three 1,000-yard seasons. He rushed for 114 yards on 13 carries in last season’s 42-14 victory over Michigan State.

Paterno is 13-5 against the Spartans, and the Nittany Lions have won five of the last six. In 2008, Penn State kept Michigan State from a share of the conference title with a 49-18 win on its way to the Rose Bowl.


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