Butler Looking For a Strong Finish

Penn State wideout knows there is a big difference between going 9-3 and 8-4 in the regular season. He also knows the Nittany Lions must get their act together on the road to end on a high note.

Penn State has a chance to claim its ninth victory of the season when it faces Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing. With a victory over the Spartans, the Nittany Lions would buff up their bowl credentials and give themselves a chance to step smartly into 2008.

But are nine victories cause for celebration at a place like Penn State, a place where players unabashedly point to the national championship as their ultimate goal? Not according to some players.

“Obviously, there's more work to be done,” junior receiver Deon Butler said earlier this week. “We feel we're Penn State, we're a bigger program than to have losses to Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan. A lot of teams wish at this point in the season they only had three losses. … But we feel we should be better than that.”

A lot of people feel similarly given the resources the Nittany Lions have at their disposal. It rankles longtime fans that the Lions are 2-12 this decade against Ohio State and Michigan, the two teams in the Big Ten with football infrastructures comparable to that of Penn State.

And if the thought of finishing the regular season 9-3 doesn't sit well with some people, the thought of finishing 8-4 is even more unsettling, especially given the off-the-field problems that have befallen the program recently.

Butler talked up the Lions' rivalry with Michigan State, saying the game “usually has big implications for us.” Saturday's game, while not one of the more momentous meetings in series history, would take some of the shine off of Penn State's season if it were to lose.

And it could lose. The Spartans don't appear to be as bad as their 2-5 Big Ten record would suggest. Said Joe Paterno, “Michigan State lost to three of the better teams in the Top 25 — Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin — by a total of [14] points. We're playing a very, very good football team.”

The Nittany Lions haven't been a great road team the past two years. They were 2-3 on the road last season and are 2-2 this season with their victories coming at Indiana and Temple.

But Butler is hoping the Lions can put their previous difficulties behind them this weekend.

“Obviously we've had some letdowns on the road,” he said. “But we feel we're a good team and we can still have a successful season. … We just have to regroup and move forward.”

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