Coming up Roses in Happy Valley

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State rediscovered what made it such a dominant team for the first two months, and as as a result, the Nittany Lions are going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since Jan. 1, 1995.

After three lackluster offensive performances and several troubling starts, the Lions wasted no time in showing that they're the best offense -- and the best team -- in the Big Ten, pounding Michigan State 49-18. As promised, Daryll Clark got his swagger back and accounted for three first-half touchdowns (two pass, one rush) as Penn State surged to a 28-0 lead.

Clark had his best game of the season, and so did wideout Deon Butler, who racked up 133 passing yards and three touchdowns. Clark, Butler and Jordan Norwood overshadowed another dominant defensive effort, as Penn State held Javon Ringer to a season-low 42 yards.

For a team that endured so much off-field drama, this season has changed the mood in Happy Valley. Head coach Joe Paterno has earned the right to determine his own future at the school, which likely will last well beyond the Rose Bowl. And his assistant coaches probably deserve to be named Big Ten Coach of the Year, if that were possible.

Penn State's victory creates several tiers in the Big Ten. The Lions are and Ohio State are on top, and both are worthy of BCS bowl bids (the Buckeyes need Oregon State to lose once). Next comes Michigan State, Northwestern and probably Iowa, followed by Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Michigan State slipped into the second tier with its second poor performance against an elite opponent. The Spartans just aren't quite there yet, though head coach Mark Dantonio has things on the right track in recruiting. Michigan State's talent gap showed today, and when Ringer couldn't get going, an upset became nearly impossible. The defense had no answer for Clark, who moved back in the Big Ten MVP discussion with today's game.

The Spartans aren't a BCS-worthy team and they won't be. The Capital One or Outback bowl will be happy to have them come January.

* To see more on this game, check out the video highlights.