Another week, another game where No. 5 Michigan State (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) took care of business. The Spartans will play for the Big Ten championship after wrapping up the Big Ten East Division on its home field with a convincing victory over Penn State (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) Saturday in East Lansing, 55-16. The win clinched the east due to a head-to-head tiebreaker against Ohio State earned last weekend in Columbus and sets up a battle with undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis next weekend.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was not playing at 100 percent, but he was more than effective enough to lead the Spartans to victory in his final game in Spartan Stadium. Cook tossed three touchdowns for Michigan State and was the clear winner in the battle of potential early-round NFL draft picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg was picked off on the first possession of the game and was not as efficient with his passing as Penn State’s offensive line was manhandled at times by the Spartans defensive front. Hackenberg’s stock has dropped some this season (fitting considering how many dropped passes Penn State receivers have had this season), but Cook’s steady play should keep him among the candidates for top quarterbacks in the draft pool.
Leading by 10 going to halftime, 20-10, Michigan State took firm control of the game right out of the halftime break by driving right down the field on Penn State for an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to build a 27-10 lead. After the Spartans defense forced a three-and-out, Michigan State strung together another draining touchdown drive, going 69 yards over 12 plays and capping the drive with Cook completing a touchdown pass to Josiah Price for a 34-10 lead. From there, Michigan State could waltz its way to the win, because there was no way Penn State was battling back from that deficit with its offensive play and drained and depleted defense.
Michigan State will now play No. 4 Iowa for the Big Ten championship next week in Indianapolis. This will be the first time Iowa has played in the conference’s championship game, but this will be Michigan State’s third trip to the big game. That will tie Wisconsin for most appearances in the Big Ten title game, which was first played between the Spartans and Badgers in 2011. Michigan State won the Big Ten championship in 2013, knocking off what was an undefeated Ohio State team. There is no question that Michigan State is a program ready to play on the big stage this game will offer, especially with so much riding on the outcome with a spot in the College Football Playoff in sight. Getting by Iowa may prove tricky with the Hawkeyes defense, but if Michigan State plays the way it did today against Penn State and has in the past when in a big game, then the Spartans should feel very confident in their chances next week in Indianapolis. The winner of next week’s Big Ten Championship Game is pretty much guaranteed a spot in the four-team playoff field at the end of the season.
Penn State, on the other hand, will begin waiting for a bowl invitation to come their way and prepare to figure out how it can take steps forward as a football program. Penn State will very likely be playing in one of the Big Ten’s lower-profile bowl games. It played in the Pinstripe Bowl last season and will not be going back there. The extra practices will be beneficial for Penn State though, as it continues to need to improve on offensive line. The time off will also be welcomed, as Penn State’s defense has been gassed and depleted down the stretch of the regular season.
Needing a win to clinch the Big Ten East Division and face Iowa with a likely spot in the College Football Playoff on the line next week in Indianapolis, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is giving all he can to give the Spartans a chance to celebrate a division title in East Lansing today against Penn State. So far, so good enough. Michigan State leads the Nittany Lions 20-10 at halftime.
Penn State has managed to move the ball on the Spartans and even have more offensive yards than Michigan State, but Penn State also has two turnovers that have led to 14 points for the men in green, including one defensive touchdown. Penn State did, however, manage to put together a late half touchdown drive, capped with a touchdown reception by Chris Godwin. Michigan State’s Cook has attempted just 15 pass attempts so far, and he has completed 10 of them for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Any time Penn State has presented any sense of a threat against the Spartans, disaster seems to strike. Penn State opted to kick a field goal from the Michigan State one-yard line in the second quarter. The game’s opening drive ended with Christian Hackenberg throwing deep into the end zone from the 31-yard line, only to be intercepted by Arjen Colquhoun. Late in the first quarter, Penn State once again had a promising drive working, thanks in large part to freshman running back Saquon Barkley saving Penn State on a 22-yard run on 3rd and 23 followed by a short gain on fourth down around midfield. The drive again imploded when Hackenberg completed a pass to tight end Kyle Carter, but Carter lost the football immediately and Demetrious Cox picked up the loose ball and found blockers to allow him to return the fumble 77 yards for a touchdown and a 20-3 lead.
It might as well be game, set and match for Michigan State the way this one is going, which surely is a bit deflating for Ohio State fans. After roughing up Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State needs Penn State to win this game in order to represent the Big Ten East in Indianapolis as the Big Ten East champion. A Michigan State win clinches the division for the Spartans.
Never kick to USC playmaker Adoree’ Jackson. That si the lesson UCLA learned the hard way late in the first half in The Los Angeles Coliseum this afternoon. A 42-yard punt return by Jackson gave USC a 20-14 lead late in the first half and gives the Trojans the edge at the midway point of what amounts to the Pac-12 South Division Championship Game. The winner of this game moves on to next week to face Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
USC was the first to put points on the scoreboard in the Coliseum when a lengthy drive stalled inside the red zone, forcing the Trojans to send Alex Woods out for a 30-yard field goal. It would take two more offensive possessions by UCLA to put their own points on the board. Paul Perkins ripped off a 19-yard touchdown run on a fourth and one play from the USC 19-yard line, giving UCLA the 7-3 lead.
USC put together a 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive a couple of possessions later, with quarterback Cody Kessler punching one in from the goal line. UCLA’s Thomas Duarte hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Josh Rosen in the second quarter to regain the lead, 14-10. That lead evaporated with USC’s special teams chipping in with a field goal and Jackson’s punt return.
Western Kentucky earned one of the spots in the Conference USA championship game on Black Friday. A day later, they learned who will be their competition on the other sidelines next weekend.
Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech came into their game Saturday tied atop the West division standings at 6-1, effectively turning the contest into a play-in game. Thanks to a huge day from quarterback Nick Mullens, the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 24-10 halftime and really poured it on in the fourth quarter in rolling to a 58-24 win over the Bulldogs.
Mullens passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns in the win. It was Ito Smith, though, who put the final nails in the Bulldogs’ coffin as the USM back ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to turn the game into a rout.
With the win, Southern Miss will move on to face Western Kentucky in the conference championship game next Saturday afternoon in Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers finished a perfect 8-0 in conference play to the Golden Eagles’ 7-1, giving WKU the home-field advantage.
Southern Miss will be playing in its first Conference USA title game and third overall. WKU is in just its second season in Conference USA, and will be playing for its first conference title.
The division title also continues the quietly astounding turnaround head coach Todd Monken has fashioned in Hattiesburg. In Monken’s first year, coming off a winless 2012 season, the Eagles went 1-11 and followed it up with a 3-9 2014 campaign. With two games remaining in 2015, Monken has his team sitting at 9-3, easily the team’s best record since going 12-2 in Larry Fedora‘s last season in 2011.
Six days ago, Iowa State announced that it had dismissed head coach Paul Rhoads. Less than a week later, it appears the Cyclones have found a replacement.
According to a report from SI.com, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell has emerged as the front-runner for the ISU job and is expected to agree to a deal in the next 48 hours. To put an exclamation point on the report, interviews with all other candidates have been canceled.
The 35-year-old Campbell has gone 35-15 during his four seasons with the Rockets. UT had a chance to wrap up a spot in the MAC championship game, but a loss Friday handed the West division to Northern Illinois.
Campbell will be taking over a Cyclones team that has gone 8-27 overall and 4-23 in Big 12 play the last three seasons. ISU has won eight or more games in a season just once since 1978, going 9-3 under Dan McCarney in 2000. That was just the second season in program history in which the Cyclones won nine or more games, with the other coming back in 1906.