NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The last time Michigan State played at home, the Spartans lost to Ohio State — a defeat that derailed so many of their hopes for this season.
Now, coach Mark Dantonio and his team will return to Spartan Stadium for what they hope will be a happier occasion. This weekend’s matchup with Rutgers is a chance to honor the seniors in the year’s final home game.
“I think it’s a great send off to our seniors. It’s a great ending to a football season every year,” Dantonio said. “It’s a show of support. I think we have great fans. I’ve always tried to not criticize the ones who don’t come and appreciate the ones who come. That’s the way I’ve always tried to approach it.”
The 10th-ranked Spartans head into Saturday’s game on the verge of elimination in the Big Ten. Barring a collapse by Ohio State, Michigan State will fall short in its conference title defense, but seniors like Jeremy Langford, Tony Lippett and Marcus Rush have nonetheless had fine seasons.
The Spartans (8-2, 5-1) lost to Ohio State on Nov. 8, then bounced back with a win at Maryland. They have two games left in the regular season.
“We’re a top-10 football team right now coming off a win,” Dantonio said. “Coming off a disappointment the week before, which is tough to deal with, but that’s life. We are where we’re at. We have a chance to go to a great bowl game.”
Rutgers (6-4, 2-4) is coming off its most impressive performance in a while, a 45-23 win over Indiana. The Scarlet Knights became bowl eligible in their first season in the Big Ten.
Here are a few things to watch when the Spartans host the Scarlet Knights:
RUNNING WILD: Langford has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 straight games against Big Ten opponents, and Rutgers does not look like a team ready to shut him down. The Scarlet Knights allowed Indiana’s Tevin Coleman to rush for 307 yards last weekend.
ALL OVER?: Michigan State’s loss to Ohio State effectively ended any chance the Spartans had of reaching college football’s four-team playoff, and it also gave the Buckeyes the inside track to the East Division title in the Big Ten. Even if Michigan State wins Saturday, Ohio State can clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game by beating Indiana.
YOUNG LEGS: Even though they allowed Coleman to run wild, the Scarlet Knights beat Indiana. Freshmen Josh Hicks and Robert Martin combined for 197 yards on 31 carries for Rutgers.
“I think they’re both physical running backs who showed last week that they have the ability to make you miss,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “So now, as their body of work grows, I think their personalities will come out more.”
TOP RECIEVERS: Tony Lippett of Michigan State and Leonte Carroo of Rutgers are ranked 1-2 in the Big Ten in yards receiving per game. The Spartans also have the conference’s leader in yards passing per game — quarterback Connor Cook.
MATCHING UP: Rutgers has not had an easy introduction to the Big Ten. After this weekend’s game, the Scarlet Knights will have played arguably the four best teams in the conference within a five-game span. Rutgers lost to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin by a combined score of 135-41 before beating Indiana. Now Michigan State is up next.
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