No. 12 Michigan State and Penn State will square off for the 36th time in East Lansing, Michigan, on Saturday to play for the Land Grant Trophy in a meeting of two coaches that have been at the center of the silly season conversation in recent weeks.
Nittany Lions coach James Franklin made headlines this week with the announcement of a new 10-year extension with Penn State, putting an end to any speculation that he might be in the mix for one of the many open jobs that might be interested in his services. Mel Tucker has been a popular name to watch in the coaching industry as well, but Michigan State made similar, and expensive, efforts to secure his future.
While both programs get to celebrate the recommitment of their coveted coaches, this game also has the backdrop of falling short of contending for the Big Ten East title, which will be decided in Ann Arbor earlier in the day between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan. The Spartans enter the game off a disappointing 56-7 loss to the Buckeyes, while the Nittany Lions lost to both teams by a combined 13 points in the last month.
With motivation, player availability and recent news all adding intrigue to the matchup, let's take a look at the key talking points heading into the battle for the Land Grant Trophy.
Michigan State vs. Penn State: Need to know
Award season for Kenneth Walker III: The Michigan State running back is a Heisman Trophy contender, potentially in the mix to be a finalist, but this marked a big week for Walker as he made the narrowed lists for several other national awards. On Tuesday, Walker was named one of the three finalists for the Maxwell Award for the nation's top player alongside Alabama's Bryce Young and Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett. He was also named one of the three finalists for the Doak Walker Award presented to the nation's best running back, along with Iowa State's Breece Hall and Missouri's Tyler Badie. If Walker wins the Walker Award, he's the first Michigan State player to do so, though the award was just created in 1990.
Spartans dealing with injury issues: Starting wide receiver Jalen Nailor is just one of several key injuries for Michigan State heading into the regular season finale. Nailor was on the sideline with a brace on his arm against Ohio State, marking the third straight game he's missed since suffering the apparent injury on Oct. 30 against Michigan. But with Walker battling through an ankle injury, wide receiver Jayden Reed and safety Xavier Henderson missing the second half against Ohio State with minor injuries, the total sum includes plenty of issues in terms of being at their top level in this big-time Big Ten matchup.
"We have a significant amount of injuries on both sides of the ball and also on special teams," Tucker said on Monday, via MLive. "I don't think that's a secret. It's next man up. We gameplan and we prepare with the guys that are available."
Penn State playing for the top 25: A win for Penn State would be the team's eighth of the season and positions the Nittany Lions to finish in the final top 25. Early wins against Wisconsin and Auburn allowed for Penn State to offset the losses that would come to Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan. However, that nine-overtime loss to Illinois made it tough for voters (and the College Football Playoff selection committee) to keep the Nittany Lions in the rankings. Beating Michigan State would do the trick though, and with a bowl win the team could finish with a national ranking at the end of the season for a fifth time in six years.
How to watch Michigan State vs. Penn State live
Date: Saturday, Nov. 27 | Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Spartan Stadium -- East Lansing, Mich.
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Michigan State vs. Penn State prediction, picks
There has to be some shell shock coming out of that stunning result at Ohio State last week, and while returning home should bring a more friendly environment for Michigan State, I think Penn State comes in with a little bit more juice. Taking the under is my favorite play because this should be a low-scoring game, but ultimately I'll side with the Nittany Lions. Prediction: Penn State (-1.5)
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