Well, it has come down to the last regular season game for my Penn State Nittany Lions. On Saturday (nationally televised on ESPN at 4 PM), we have a chance to outright win the Big Ten championship with a victory at our rival Michigan State. Said victory would ensure that we would represent in the BCS, and the way things are looking right now, that would mean a matchup against our 'old school' rivals Miami (not of Ohio) in the Orange Bowl. Although there is a chance that USC and Texas could lose one of their remaining games and thus catapult us (given a win Saturday, knock on wood), in practical terms, that is just plain betting on a horse with bad odds. Or, to get even more colloquial, "that dog just won't hunt."
Back when PSU entered the Big Ten in '93, I had mixed feelings about us joining a conference. It was done to help all our other school sports -- football, which it goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, was a national independent powerhouse (thanks in no small part to JoePa). Ironically, the program I wish it helped more than it has, basketball, continues to be average, although we did have the notorious catchphrase-generating upset victory against North Carolina in the 2001 NCAA tourney. (For those of you who aren't familiar with my antics, after that game I kept my arms raising above my head, and for months after that, 'arms raised in victory' became part of my IM and demonstrative language.)
Up until that time, Penn State's regular season schedule would always include Miami and Notre Dame, two teams that we considered to be rivals. Those games were, for lack of a better descriptor, awesome. Although, the Big Ten is a nationally respected top-tier conference, with plenty of excellent teams, I thought it wasn't worth losing those great games.
As it is with all conferences, rivarlies are a central part of the life-blood of college sports. No game inspires more good ol' hatred than playing against your arch-nemesis. For PSU, that nemesis was to be Michigan State. Michigan State? Hwuh? I remember thinking that Michigan or Ohio State would be better (read: more worthy) matchups than MSU, but of course, theirs is the best college football rivalry going.
This year, for example was particularly demonstrative of that mentality. Since the beginning of the season, I've been saying that the Ohio State game was the biggest game of the year for us. It turned out to be a helluva game, and ESPN's second-largest audience ever. The following week, our heartbreaking last-play (last second) loss to Michigan left me in shock for days afterward. God, how I wanted to win that game, and I am so proud of our team's amazing comeback effort and 4th Quarter drive (in which we survived two fourth-and-long plays. In Ann Arbor, that ain't no joke.
In short, I just don't get up for Michigan State like I do for these other teams. But that is slowly changing. It has taken a few years (11, to be specific), but I am slowly coming to dread/anticipate our annual season-ending showdown for the Land Grant Trophy. This year, because we have so much at stake and they are in position to be a huge spoiler. This year, because they would love to take us down a notch from our comeback-season. This year, because they are jerks and our boys are going to fight our enemies with the venom they deserve. Rivalry weekend, indeed.