Big Ten on the Line
University Park, PA - Joe Paterno may ultimately decide to walk away from football after Penn State's regular-season finale.
If does, he'll exit Beaver Stadium as major college football's all-time winningest coach.
For now, he's just hoping for the same result he's left with after every other home game against Michigan State - a win.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Penn State –14.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 76% of bets for this game have been placed on Michigan State +14.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Needing a victory for its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1995, No. 7 Penn State plays host to the 17th-ranked Spartans on Saturday.
Penn State's hopes of playing in the BCS championship game was almost certainly spoiled with a 24-23 loss at Iowa on Nov. 8. Still, in what could be the final season of Paterno's illustrious 43-year career as a head coach, there's still plenty to play for.
The Nittany Lions (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) haven't gone to the Rose Bowl since the January after their 1994 squad went 12-0, but they can punch their ticket to Pasadena with their eighth straight home win over Michigan State.
That's all Paterno, whose contract expires after this season, is concerned about.
"Come to the game and enjoy it. It's a big football game," said Paterno, who has 382 wins coming in and turns 82 on Dec. 21. "If we win, a lot of good things can happen to us. But I don't think (fans) should be coming because they think it's my last game."
Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State all have identical Big Ten records, but having already beaten the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions would clinch the conference's automatic BCS bid with a win on Saturday.
For the Spartans (9-2, 6-1) to earn their first trip to Pasadena since 1988, they'd need to win and have Michigan upset Ohio State.
``We have an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done here in 18 years,'' coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. ``That's a lifetime for a lot of people.''
Michigan State has had two weeks to prepare for Penn State following a 21-7 win over Purdue on Nov. 8. That was the Spartans' third victory in a row after a 45-7 loss to the Buckeyes, and even if it doesn't lead to a Rose Bowl berth, quarterback Brian Hoyer knows what it would mean to beat the Nittany Lions.
"It would be something special," he said. "To get a Big Ten championship, knowing where we've been, what we've gone through, and where we came from would be huge, especially for the senior class."
Hoyer's first career Big Ten start came in his last trip to Happy Valley. He went 30-for-61 for 291 yards and a touchdown in the Spartans' 17-13 loss on Nov. 18, 2006.
Hoyer has been a much better player this season on the road.
He's completed just 46.2 percent of his passes in seven home contests, throwing one touchdown and five interceptions while averaging 142.3 yards per game. Away from East Lansing he's connected on 52.8 percent of his passes for an average of 258.3 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception in four contests.
He won't have to throw as much as he did in his last visit to Beaver Stadium because he has Javon Ringer in the backfield. The senior tailback is second in the nation with 1,548 rushing yards, and no player has scored more than his 20 touchdowns.
Ringer had 13 carries for 48 yards last season against the Nittany Lions, and he'll be hard-pressed to find success this year against a Penn State defense that's 10th in the nation against the run, allowing just 101.5 yards per game.
The Lions are also fourth against the pass (157.2 ypg), and that was the key to rebounding after an ugly first half Saturday against Indiana. Penn State outscored the Hoosiers 24-0 in the second half and allowed only 57 total yards through the air in a 34-7 win.
"We stuck it to them in the second half, but every game is big to us and I think we're even more excited now for Michigan State coming into our house,'' said linebacker Nate Stupar. "We'll see what happens.''
Even with a stout defense, Penn State needs to get its offense back on track after a less-than-impressive last three games. The Lions averaged 45.4 points and 482.1 yards in their first eight games, but quarterback Daryll Clark and the offense have sputtered ever since. They're scoring just 23.3 ppg and averaging 337.3 yards over their last three contests.
Clark threw two touchdowns against the Hoosiers after not having one in his previous two games, but he also threw an interception and fumbled twice.
"That cannot happen," Clark said. "I just get upset and I get very frustrated with the turnovers. I want to help, not hurt this team. But you have to have a short memory."
Michigan State has lost 10 straight games against ranked opponents.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
MICHIGAN ST is 8-7 against the spread versus PENN ST since 1992
PENN ST is 11-4 straight up against MICHIGAN ST since 1992
9 of 13 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
MICHIGAN ST is 2-0 against the spread versus PENN ST over the last 3 seasons
PENN ST is 1-1 straight up against MICHIGAN ST over the last 3 seasons
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at PENN ST since 1992
PENN ST is 5-2 against the spread versus MICHIGAN ST since 1992
PENN ST is 7-0 straight up against MICHIGAN ST since 1992
5 of 6 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at PENN ST over the last 3 seasons.
MICHIGAN ST is 1-0 against the spread versus PENN ST over the last 3 seasons
PENN ST is 1-0 straight up against MICHIGAN ST over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[S] Enrique Shaw has left the team. - Personal - 08/15/08
(!) [RB] Javon Ringer is probable - Illness - 11/02/08
[WR] Mark Dell missed last game, "?". - Knee - 11/02/08
[FS] Kendell Davis-Clark is "?". - Shoulder - 11/06/08
[DB] Ross Weaver missed last game, %27?%27 - Undisclosed - 11/02/08
[DB] Chris L. Rucker injured last game, %27?%27 - Leg - 11/02/08
[S] Roderick Jenrette has left the team. - Personal - 08/31/08
(!) [QB] Daryll Clark injured last game, probable. - Concussion - 11/02/08
[RB] Brent Carter out for season - Knee - 10/15/08
[OL] Doug Klopacz is out for the season - ACL - 09/24/08
[DT] Phillip Taylor dismissed from team. - Dismissed - 08/01/08
[DT] Chris Baker dismissed from team. - Dismissed - 08/01/08
[DT] Devon Still is out for the season. - Ankle - 09/10/08
[LB] Jerome Hayes is out for the season - ACL - 09/07/08
[S] Nick Sukay is expected to miss entire season - Foot - 09/01/08
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Posted: 11/18/08 9:04 AM ET