EAST LANSING, Mich. — Being eliminated from Big Ten title contention doesn’t mean Michigan State has nothing to play for.
The Spartans (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) travel to Penn State (6-5, 2-5) looking to secure a fourth 10-win season in the last five years.
"We’re a little bit of the forgotten ones right now," coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. "Got a very good football team, got a chance to win 10 football games. We need to take comfort in that and take comfort in the fact that we’re going places. This program is strong and healthy."
Ohio State wrapped up the East Division title by beating Indiana over the weekend. Next up is a Nittany Lions team the Spartans haven’t faced in four years; in the last meeting, in 2010, Michigan State captured a share of its first conference championship under Dantonio with a 28-22 win in the final game of the regular season at Beaver Stadium.
"That was a program game," said Tony Lippett, who traveled to the game as a true freshman. "We were going for the Big Ten championship and it was cold, like it’s going to be cold (Saturday).
"Coach (Dantonio) got the program up and rolling and it was a program win."
There was also a wrinkle on Tuesday’s depth chart, with Lippett listed as the starting cornerback. He is expected to become MSU’s first two-way starter since Allen Brenner in 1968.
"He’s a guy that can make plays," senior safety Kurtis Drummond said.
A fifth-year senior, Lippett is first in the Big Ten in touchdown receptions and yards per game. He began his career as a cornerback before moving to offense, and Dantonio used him at cornerback for several series during the Spartans’ win over Rutgers.
"I like to have fun. I like to embrace situations," Lippett said. "It’s nothing crazy, I’ve just got to go out there and continue to compete."
He played well, with two pass breakups and one tackle. Dantonio said he felt Lippett could help the defense and add to his NFL draft resume by playing cornerback for the first time since 2011.
"He was able to make that transition easily," Dantonio said. "I think he’s a wide receiver at the next level, I just think this is an added dimension to him in terms of who he is from a toughness standpoint, from a competitive standpoint, and in an emergency situation."
Dantonio compared Lippett to former Ohio State standout Chris Gamble, who played both ways when Dantonio was the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator.
"It was pretty amazing what he was able to accomplish," Dantonio said. "That was because we pushed the issue there. I think the issue can be pushed at times if you have the right person with the right mentality, and I think Lippett has that mentality."
Lippett said he’s hoping to come up with his first career interception Saturday, one final memory in his last conference game. MSU, meanwhile, is hoping to reach another benchmark 10-win season and improve its bowl position.
"We still have to strive for more and strive for excellence," Lippett said. "That’s basically the mindset coach (Dantonio) has instilled in us."