They couldn't celebrate another Big Ten title. Instead, Michigan State celebrated five amazing seasons.
A 45-3 rout of Rutgers was the 51st for the Spartans' senior class, with more opportunities to come next Saturday at Penn State and in one of the nation's best bowl games.
Mark Dantonio's No. 10-ranked team (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) had a great day from its pre-game family reunions on the field to its final salute from a frozen student section and a chance to flip Frisbees to "Zeke the Wonderdog."
"If you have guys with you for five years, I think you can get every element of human development," Dantonio said of his 18 seniors, all but one of whom redshirted. "We see our guys leave five years later with their degrees in hand. A lot of our guys have graduated or will graduate in January and are walking out as men."
They walked out of Spartan Stadium for the final time after scoring touchdowns on five of their first six possessions against the bowl-bound Scarlet Knights (6-5, 2-5).
Michigan State finished with a 520-234 edge in total offense, scoring the game's first 35 points and its final 10. Along the way, it played star wide receiver Tony Lippett at cornerback, ran a fake field goal with placekicker-turned-ballcarrier Michael Geiger and tried an end-around with tackle Connor Kruse.
"I thought it was important that we tried to put together a complete game," Dantonio said. "Really, if we don't fumble going in (on the first drive) and don't fumble on the 1-yard line (after the fake field goal), that is probably as complete of a game as we have had."
It was a sense of completion for Lippett and fifth-year running backs Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. They teamed for five touchdowns, rushed for 185 yards, caught six balls for 88 yards and broke up two passes on defense.
Lippett was supposed to start on defense and become the first Spartan to go both ways since two-way standout Allen Brenner in 1968. A miscommunication kept him on the sideline for Rutgers' first snap, but Lippett came in and looked a lot like former Ohio State split end-cornerback Chris Gamble, one of Dantonio's favorites when they helped the 2002 Buckeyes win a national title.
"Coach D came to me on Tuesday and let me know I was going to play corner," a smiling Lippett said. "I just tried to embrace the situation, and I had fun out there. I played confidently."
He also played well, shadowing receivers, making a sound open-field tackle and showing his usual consistency on offense. With his 10th touchdown catch of the year, Lippett became the eighth receiver in school history to have a 1,000-yard season.
Langford boosted his 11-game totals to 1,242 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He extended his string of 100-yard days against conference opponents to 15 games, the longest against Football Bowl Subdivision league foes in 18 seasons.
But amid all the fun, there was a clear sense of purpose, as Michigan State beat seven-win Maryland and Rutgers by a combined score of 82-18 after a crushing loss to Ohio State.
"I think it's important that you try to move forward in the rankings," Dantonio said of his team's bowl aspirations. "If you win, good things happen. If you do that, things will take care of themselves. We have a great challenge going to State College to play Penn State. It is a tough place to play but an enjoyable place with a good crowd. We will take it there and try to get to win number 10."
After just two double-digit-win records in their first 113 years of football, the Spartans won 11 games in 2010 and 2011 and 13 last season.