The Nittany Lions capped off what might be Joe Paterno’s last season with a convincing win and a ticket to Pasadena:
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The annual season-ending meeting between Michigan State and Penn State was born of circumstance. It was created when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993 and was billed as the Battle of the Land Grants, because both are among the nation’s oldest land-grant universities. There is little evidence a rivalry actually exists, but plenty was at stake Saturday.
On a chilly afternoon, Penn State secured only its second trip to the Rose Bowl with a 49-18 win over Michigan State in front of a crowd of 109,845 at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions (11-1, 7-1) put an emphatic stamp on their season, overwhelming Michigan State (9-3, 6-2) with offensive weapons and an imposing defense. They basked in the moment by waving to the parka-wearing crowd.
Quarterback Daryll Clark threw for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns, completing 16 of 26 passes. Wide receiver Deon Butler had 133 yards, and all three of his catches resulted in touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions will share the Big Ten championship with Ohio State, which cruised to a 42-7 win over Michigan for its fourth straight league title. It is Penn State’s third conference championship, and the second title in four years for a group of seniors who were part of the Nittany Lions’ conference crown, also shared with Ohio State, and Orange Bowl victory in 2005.
“It’s just been so satisfying to see these guys stick together,” Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. “We talked about when we had our problems, all we needed were a couple of kids to come in there and maybe give us a different attitude.” Penn State, ranked eighth in the Bowl Championship Series, will face Oregon State or Southern California on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. The Nittany Lions dismantled Oregon State, 45-14, on Sept. 6 at Beaver Stadium. If the 21st-ranked Beavers win their final game, against Oregon, they will earn the Rose Bowl berth from the Pacific-10 over the sixth-ranked Trojans. The Nittany Lions’ previous trip to the Rose Bowl resulted in a 38-20 victory over Oregon on Jan. 2, 1995.
Penn State’s joy of victory on Saturday was undercut by the lingering uncertainty surrounding Paterno’s health and coaching future. The iconic 81-year-old Paterno has walked with the aid of a cane and recently said he would need hip-replacement surgery.
Paterno said he would have surgery this week, but he said he did not want to be specific about when because he did not want it to become a “three-ring circus” with news media attention.
The university announced in April that Paterno would not be given a new contract when his current deal expired after this season
If this indeed is Paterno’s last season, he couldn’t have gone out on a better note.