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Michigan State game belongs as regular-season finale

PSU commentary

Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski Yetur Gross-Matos and Penn State were not able to hold on to beat Brian Lewerke and Michigan State last season.

Penn State is headed to East Lansing today, and it should be playing Rutgers instead.

Almost never, at least in its current state, is a matchup with Rutgers anticipated, and it wouldn’t be as today’s opponent.

But Michigan State — not Rutgers — ought to be the Nittany Lions’ season-ending opponent.

I was listening to Steve Jones espouse on this the other day, and I’m in full agreement.

With the Nittany Lions’ 27 years as a member of the Big Ten as data, Michigan State makes the most sense as the regular-season finale.

And especially with both teams in the Big Ten East.

For Penn State’s first 18 years in the conference, Sparty occupied the final game slot. Then the league started tinkering.

It bumped Wisconsin into that spot for 2012-13, and while they produced two of the best wins of Bill O’Brien’s two-year tenure — especially the 31-24 victory in Madison as a 24-point underdog (BOB’s final PSU game) — the Badgers are now in the Big Ten West so that no longer fits.

Michigan State returned for three more games (2014-16) before the league really started outthinking itself by plugging Maryland into the finale for two years and now Rutgers for this year and the next three.

For the competitive balance and drama on the league’s final Saturday, knowing everything and everybody takes a back seat behind Ohio State vs. Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State provide solid representation in the 3:30 TV window to help put a cap on the East Division’s regular season.

Both have proven worthy, and both have made appearances in the Big Ten championship game within the past few years, so they deserve that consideration. Michigan State has actually played in three Big Ten titles games since 2011, second only to Ohio State’s four trips to Indianapolis among East Division teams.

When Penn State joined the Big Ten, Michigan State’s George Perles, with his Pennsylvania roots, was the first coach to publicly welcome Joe Paterno and the Lions, and the schools started playing for the Land Grant Trophy.

As the Big Ten newbees, Maryland and Rutgers should draw the curtain with each other.

The Big Ten has it right in the West Division with Nebraska closing against Iowa, Minnesota winding up with Wisconsin — which should be a good one this year — and Purdue playing its top rival, Indiana.

Maybe it’s an attempt to help Maryland and Rutgers create more of a rivalry with Penn State, but that really only exists geographically.

The Big Ten would do those teams more of a favor by letting them become each other’s rival. And it would also do both a favor by playing Penn State earlier than later — even considering Maryland’s 59-0 bellyflop in this year’s Big Ten opener.

With students on Thanksgiving break, history has also taught us that there’s really only one team that can help sell out Beaver Stadium in the regular season finale — and that’s Pitt, and we know that ship has sailed. Two if you include Notre Dame.

Michigan State wouldn’t do it, either, but people would brave the cold at least in anticipation of a better game than they are going to expect from depleted Rutgers on Nov. 30.

Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State leads the series with Michigan State, 14-9, but Sparty has won five of the last seven, including the last two games — both close, low-scoring encounters.

It should be another competitive matchup today but one that belongs in the regular-season finale.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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