Connor Cook leads Michigan State past Penn State and on to B1G title game

Spartans' win sets up de facto quarterfinal

ESPN College Football Playoff reporter Heather Dinich breaks down the Big Ten Championship Game between Iowa and Michigan State, which will almost assuredly send the winner to the College Football Playoff.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Get ready for a College Football Playoff quarterfinal next weekend in Indianapolis.

Technically, of course, next Saturday's showdown between No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State will be the Big Ten championship game. But the winner is all but guaranteed a spot in the playoff.

Michigan State made sure of that matchup by beating Penn State 55-16 on Senior Day. Ohio State, which beat Michigan earlier in the day, was hoping and praying for a Nittany Lions upset that would have propelled the Buckeyes to Indy. No dice for the defending national champions, as Michigan State used a huge second half to break the game wide open.

Connor Cook returned at quarterback after missing the Ohio State game because of a shoulder injury, and he showed just how valuable he is to this offense. Showing no ill effects from the shoulder problem, Cook threw three touchdown passes and connected on 19 of 26 attempts for 248 yards. Michigan State also got a 77-yard fumble return touchdown in the first half by safety Demetrious Cox and a pick-six from defensive tackle Malik McDowell in the second half.

The romp turned into a laugher when starting center Jack Allen lined up in the backfield in the fourth quarter and ran through the Penn State defense for a 9-yard touchdown.

Spartans fans celebrated another division title, the team's third in the past five years. And now they can dream about bigger things.

What the win means for Michigan State: The Spartans appear to be hitting their stride at the right time. After grinding out a win with solid defense and a power-run game in Columbus last week, the Spartans opened things up more in the passing game with Cook back at the controls. Even with one loss, Michigan State should safely be in the playoff if it can beat Iowa, thanks to a strong résumé that includes road wins over Ohio State and Michigan and a nonconference win over Oregon.

What the loss means for Penn State: The Nittany Lions were 7-2 after nine games and had a chance to put together a pretty nice season. Instead, they lost their final three games to finish a pedestrian 7-5. The losses all came against ranked teams (Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State), but Penn State beat no one of note this year, either. The Lions will still go to a bowl, but it will be a minor one. And questions will remain about this offense and coach James Franklin's ability to get the program over the hump going into next season.

Top play: Aaron Burbridge used an outstanding individual effort to score Michigan State's first touchdown of the second half. Burbridge caught a pass from Cook down the sideline, bounced off a hit from Penn State's Marcus Allen and then used two spin moves to elude tacklers before diving into the end zone. The play went for 29 yards and energized the Spartan Stadium crowd. That Burbridge went out of bounds on the play -- officials ruled he was forced out -- was delicious irony. The Spartans' only loss came when a Nebraska receiver came back in bounds to catch the winning score.

Player of the game: Cook. Michigan State is hard to handle when Cook is dealing the way he did Saturday. The senior also became the school's all-time leader in career total offense in the final home appearance of his storied career.