While most of the recent Big 10 rivalry buzz has been focused on the potential for exciting series between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the East Coast newcomers, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins, the latest wave of conference expansion has already generated a budding rivalry game: the battle for the Land Grant Trophy.
Although the Nittany Lions and Michigan State Spartans first matched up in 1914, the programs were not designated as permanent rivals until 1993, when PSU officially joined the Big 10. With the two schools serving as the nation’s oldest land-grant universities, a simple connection served as a jumping board for the conference to bridge the gap between PSU’s campus and the rest of the Midwestern schools. From there on, Michigan State and Penn State played each other every year in the final game of the regular season, slowly building a crucial and, what appeared to be, lasting series — which came to a head in 2008 and 2010, when PSU and MSU won their respective shares of the conference championship in the game.
However, when the college sports landscape changed again in 2011, the rivals were placed into different divisions due to the addition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Now, with Rutgers and Maryland in the fold, the Nittany Lions and Spartans are back together in the newly-formed East division — with the programs set to clash once again in their respective regular-season finales at Beaver Stadium on Nov. 29. Although the schools have only had a three-year break, there has been significant change in their directions.
While the Spartans have continued the ascent that began in that program-building 2010 game in University Park by claiming last season’s conference championship, the Nittany Lions have surely been worse for the wear. Beloved head coach Joe Paterno is gone — but so is Bill O’Brien, the man who stuck with PSU as they braved the worst of their NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky scandal. However, all indications suggest that PSU is going to come out of their postseason ban with a fighting chance to play for conference titles and playoff spots. New head coach James Franklin has a potential superstar at QB in Christian Hackenberg and highly-touted recruits signing up left and right to revitalize the Nittany Lions brand. MSU, meanwhile, is showing no signs of slowing down under Mark Dantonio.
So yes, while the Big 10 would love to see fans flock to their television sets to tune in to battles between the new Eastern trifecta, Rutgers, Maryland and Penn State, they may just have to settle with the last rivalry game the Big 10 hoped conference expansion would generate.