INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: Anthony Rashad White #98 and Jairus Jones #23 of the Michigan State Spartans run out onto the field to play against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The Penn State-Michigan State series may not be either team's staple rivalry, but meetings in 2015 and 2016 can still be exciting for fans on both sides.
The Big Ten's conference schedule announcement on Monday revealed that the much-maligned and frequently underwhelming Land Grant Trophy Rivalry will return after a four year hiatus in 2015 when Penn State and Michigan State rotate onto each other's conference slates for the first time in the league's divisional era.
The Nittany Lions will face the Spartans as part of a home-and-home arrangement, beginning with a Nov. 14, 2015 meeting in East Lansing. Michigan State will return to Beaver Stadium for the first time since 2010 the following year, when the squads will clash on Nov. 12, 2016.
The two teams once faced off annually as part as a protected rivalry from 1993, Penn State's first year in the Big Ten, until 2010. When the conference implemented divisional play for 2011, however, the pair was split up, with Penn State falling into the Leaders Division and Michigan State to the Legends Division. Michigan State's status as one of Penn State's protected rivals was transferred to Nebraska, and now, the schools will only meet when they rotate onto each others' schedules as interdivisional foes.
Geographically, the schools are too far apart for much regional tension to exist. Michigan State has typically prioritized its game against in-state rival Michigan and Penn State has more invested in its annual border war with Ohio State.
On the recruiting front, the two teams rarely target the same recruits. Penn State tends to keep its focus in the Northeast while Michigan State blankets the upper Midwest, meaning few players on either team faced each other much at the high school level.
And competitively, things have never really been close. The Lions have dominated the Spartans 13-5 in the series over the years and seven of the 11 games since 2000 have been decided by at least nine points. The 2008 matchup, won 49-18 by the Lions, was the only one in which the game carried Big Ten title implications for both teams.
These factors all contributed to the Land Grant series regressing to a rivalry in name only before its abrupt end after 2010.
Times have changed in the Big Ten, however. Michigan State has risen to prominence in the last two seasons by winning a share of the conference title two years ago before winning the Legends Division last season.
If the Spartans can keep their momentum going, the games could have serious Big Ten championship implications. And with the implementation of the Big Ten Championship game, there's a decent chance the schools could meet not once, but twice with a berth in the Rose Bowl at stake.
This could super-charge the Michigan State-Penn State series in the same way it ignited a budding rivalry between Sparty and Wisconsin this past fall, when a 37-31 regular-season win by the Spartans preceded a 42-39 Badgers victory in the Big Ten title game.
And from the Penn State perspective, it's not as if there's a whole lot else to look forward to in 2015 especially. Aside from conference powers Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin, Penn State's schedule is pretty weak. Divisional cellar-dwellers Indiana, Purdue and Illinois will be joined by a weak non-conference slate of Temple, Buffalo and Rutgers, meaning the Spartans will likely stand out from the crowd.
The Land Grant rivalry will probably never be the primary rivalry for either school moving forward, and that's OK. That's what intradivisional foes are for. When 2015 finally rolls around, though, expect the game to generate some extra buzz on both sides as a refreshing departure from the typical year-to-year Big Ten schedule at the very least.
And if things fall the right way, there just might be a couple of classics in store.