When the Michigan State Spartans traveled to Happy Valley to play the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2008 season, both programs were having pretty good years by their standards.
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio was leaving his mark in only his second year of tenure, while Joe Paterno had the Big Ten’s best team which wound up playing in the Rose Bowl.
The game was supposed to be a hard fought, bruising match-up in a conference which prides itself on such attributes.
But when the game was actually played, that wasn’t the case.
Penn State dominated MSU for basically the entire contest, routing the Spartans 49-18. Not to mention it was a Spartans football squad with seniors like Brian Hoyer, Otis Wiley and Heisman candidate Javon Ringer.
I mention last year’s contest because the outcome of this year’s annual Michigan State-Penn State game was about the same—it just took longer to transpire.
The Spartans and Nittany Lions were neck and neck for the first half Saturday, as both quarterbacks had tossed touchdown passes. However, before the half was over Penn State kicked a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
Little did anybody know it would cause all hell to break loose.
Penn State came out on top of its game in the second half and put the Spartans in a huge hole, reeling touchdown after touchdown as if it was a flag football game between 10-year-olds.
The disappointing aspect of the whole thing was that the Spartans were getting whooped in their own backyard.
Now, the season is officially over for Michigan State—at least the games which were on their schedule. The waiting game is now in effect, as the bowl-eligible Spartans have to be patient and see where they are going to play their bowl game, and what bowl they will be playing in.
This point in the season is also a great time for reflection.
The Spartans had a favorable schedule and were coming off a 9-3 season in 2008. With Ohio State left off the schedule, many fans and pundits believed this team could have been among the top three in the conference.
It obviously didn’t happen, but maybe such high hopes were just that—too high.
With a new starting quarterback and younger players on both sides of the ball, there is bound to be a learning curve. The team, in my estimation, is still better than the record it presents.
It’s all a matter of schemes and playing to the personnel, and there were moments on the field this season which made fans yell, “What are you doing?!”
Maybe, just maybe, a bowl victory could give fans a reason to cheer and give them a good ending to a rather somber season. It could even potentially get Spartan followers ready for next season.
One thing is for certain: with experience comes wisdom, and Michigan State should have plenty of that by the time next season rolls around.