The last of the season recaps are today, with the programs who enjoyed the best overall seasons of any conference schools and ended with championships.. Today, we look at Penn State and Michigan State .
In Joe Paterno’s heyday as an Eastern independent, he worked on a consistent pattern. About every four years he made a big run at the national title, and mixed in some steady and consistent years in between. This past season showed that even as an octogenarian, Paterno still can work the pattern. Back in 2005, the team went 11-1 and won the Orange Bowl. After a couple respectable years following, they returned to the top in 2008. An explosive offensive scored over forty points three times in conference play alone. They combined for 94 points against Wisconsin and Michigan . And they closed the year with a 49-18 win over Michigan State that secured a co-championship and Rose Bowl bid. The year was marked by a huge win at Ohio State that set them on the path to Pasadena, and a subsequent devastating defeat at Iowa that took them out of the national title picture. A decisive loss to USC in the Rose Bowl is seen more as a continued indictment of the best of the Big Ten to play with either Southern Cal and the best of the SEC, but it can’t take away that Paterno’s still got the right touch.
The basketball team made a spirited run at the NCAA Tournament, but came up a bit short. They did win at Michigan State for the second consecutive year, and the crowning triumph came in the NIT. Ed DeChellis’ program won at Florida in the quarterfinals and they beat Notre Dame to win the title in New York City . It’s not often you hear that the Nittany Lion program is bringing back the most exciting player in the conference. But that’s what Talor Battle is as we look ahead to next year.
Not much doubt as to which program enjoyed the most balanced success this year. The football team set the tone by going to a New Year’s Day bowl game. And the basketball team finished the job by first winning the Big Ten crown and then making a run all to the way to the final game of the NCAA Tournament.
After a loss at Cal , there was no indication that this would be the Spartan football team that would breakthrough to January 1. And it’s only in retrospect that we see the significance of back-to-back October wins over Iowa and Northwestern. They won big at Michigan and also beat Notre Dame. While Mark Dantonio’s team didn’t win big games—they were beaten decisively by Penn State and Ohio State and fell to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl—they were consistent. We can see this program’s success in light of the larger events of what’s taking place in Wisconsin . Since the retirement of Barry Alvarez, there has been a vacuum in the area of a program that can be a consistent contender, just below the powers-that-be and occasionally stealing a conference title. Dantonio looks like he’s filling the vacuum..
Tom Izzo’s basketball success speaks for itself. There were really only two bad spots and they both involve North Carolina at Ford Field. One time in December, another time in April. But in between there, it’s quite a resume. They beat Texas in non-league play for the second straight year. They rolled to the Big Ten title despite Raymar Morgan being far less than full strength for the season. And the performance in the NCAA Tournament was spectacular. They took out defending champion Kansas with a rally in the final three minutes. Then they singlehandedly disarmed the Big East’s claim to historic dominance, when they outsed Louisville in a regional final and UConn in the national semifinals. There’s certainly nothing saying that the teams that win in March are by definition the best. But in looking at the overall record, it seems hard to argue against the notion that Michigan State was the second-best team in the nation.