Big Ten

Spartans off to Big Ten title game after crushing Penn State

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Spartans off to Big Ten title game after crushing Penn State

Three games after its season looked over following an upset loss to Nebraska, Michigan State is headed to the Big Ten Championship Game.

The Spartans captured the Big Ten East Division crown Saturday with a 55-16 beatdown of Penn State, rendering Ohio State's win over Michigan earlier in the day meaningless when it came to determining the division. Michigan State will face undefeated Iowa next weekend in Indianapolis to determine the conference champ in what will likely be a de facto play-in game for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Connor Cook returned after missing last weekend's win over Ohio State with an injury, and he got things started early. After Michigan State defensive back Arjen Colquhoun intercepted Christian Hackenberg in the end zone, Cook led an 80-yard scoring drive, hitting R.J. Shelton for a 29-yard touchdown pass.

Later in the first quarter, the Nittany Lions had a lengthy drive of their own, reaching the one-yard line, but they had to settle for a field goal when the Spartans defense showed some of the same strong play that allowed just 132 total yards in the win over Ohio State.

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern beats Illini for 10th win of season]

In the second quarter, Cook took advantage of a short field, leading another touchdown drive on which Gerald Holmes starred. The running back took a Cook pass 24 yards then ran four straight times for 23 yards, the final a six-yard scoring tote.

Then the defense showed up again, Riley Bullough forcing a fumble that was picked up and returned 77 yards for a touchdown by Demetrious Cox.

Hackenberg threw a touchdown pass to Chris Godwin to make it a 20-10 game at the half.

Michigan State wideout Aaron Burbridge started the second half in jaw-dropping fashion, making a terrific catch before breaking a tackle, spinning around a pair of defenders and leaping past another to dive into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown to put the Spartans ahead, 27-10.

On the next Spartans drive, LJ Scott and Cook did the damage, going 69 yards in 12 plays. Cook had a 16-yard completion to Josiah Price for a third-down conversion that gave Michigan State goal to go. Two plays after that, Cook did a double play fake, hitting a wide-open Price for a six-yard touchdown to make it a 34-10 game.

[MORE BIG TEN: Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett run wild as Buckeyes blow out Michigan]

Penn State answered with a huge 77-yard pass play fro Hackenberg to Saeed Blacknall to get the Lions in a goal-to-go situation. After a ton of failed tries and penalties — Penn State ran nine plays with goal to go — Hackenberg found Godwin for a touchdown on fourth and goal, Michigan State’s lead trimmed to 34-16 after a failed two-point-conversion try.

Penn State tried an onside kick from there, which didn’t work, and Cook and the Spartans made quick work of the short field, going on a 44-yard drive that ended in an Scott touchdown run to make it 41-16.

Things got real crazy as the blowout reached epic proportions. Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell came down with a tipped pass and returned the Hackenberg interception for a touchdown. That was followed moments later when, after a Penn State fumble, Michigan State center Jakc Allen was handed the ball at the nine-yard line and ran in for a touchdown, stiff-arming a defender on the way.

The Spartans didn't have a very large advantage in total yardage, out-gaining the Lions just 436-418. But it was the four Penn State turnovers that made the deficit so large. Either directly or indirectly, each one led to a Michigan State touchdown.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Spartans gear right here]

Cook finished completing 19 of his 26 passing attempts for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Holmes and Scott combined for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground.

Hackenberg finished completing 22 of his 39 passing attempts for 257 yards and two touchdowns, plus two interceptions. Saquon Barkley rushed for 103 yards.

The Spartans — who moved to 11-1 with the win — scored a mighty impressive victory and a whole mess of style points, something that should impact their view in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Currently the No. 5 team in the country, Michigan State will face current No. 4 Iowa next weekend in the Big Ten title game. A win there over an undefeated top-five team could give Michigan State the best resume in the country. Whether that would translate to a No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, who knows?

Penn State finished the season at 7-5 and a 4-4 conference record. The Lions will await their bowl destination.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.