Most seasons since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, it has had a better — or at least more highly regarded — football team than Michigan State.

So it’s no surprise that most of the upsets in the series involve the Spartans getting the better of the Nittany Lions, sometimes spoiling their season.

In a Michigan State vs. Penn State series that dates to 1914, the first serious upset dates to 1945. The biggest heart-breaker hit its 25th anniversary in November 2022 — about now if you’re reading this shortly after it was written. The Nittany Lions were on the losing end of that one and 8 of the 10 games on this list.

Michigan State 49, No. 4 Penn State 14 (1997)

The Spartans, who entered the game at 6-4 under 3rd-year coach Nick Saban, simply ran right over the Nittany Lions, who fell to 9-2 with the loss.

MSU did 2 things on the ground that had never previously been done to Penn State: It put 2 backs over 200 yards, and it rushed for 452 yards. The score was somehow tied, 14-14, late in the 3rd quarter. But Sedric Irvin (28-238, 3 TDs) and Marc Renaud (21-203, TD) took care of business against a Joe Paterno team that had been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 through the season’s first 9 weeks.

Michigan had pummeled the Lions 3 weeks earlier, and the Spartans rubbed salt in the wound with their first Big Ten win over PSU after 4 straight losses in the series.

No. 24 Michigan State 27, No. 7 Penn State 24 (2017)

Matt Coghlin hit a tying field goal early in the 4th quarter and the game-winner as time expired.

A 1-point loss the previous week to Ohio State and a 3 ½-hour severe weather delay in the second quarter took the starch out of Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions. Both teams stood at 7-2 after the very long day in East Lansing.

The result was all the more brutal for Penn State considering the Buckeyes got ripped by Iowa, 55-24, the same day. The Lions — in the final year with Saquon Barkley, McSorley and OC Joe Moorhead all together — could have been right back in the Playoff race. Instead, Brian Lewerke tore up the PSU defense for 400 passing yards and 2 TDs, while McSorley threw 3 interceptions to spoil his 381 yards and 3 TDs.

Michigan State 21, No. 8 Penn State 17 (2018)

For the 2nd straight year, Penn State followed a 1-point loss to Ohio State in a top-10 showdown with a narrow loss to the Spartans.

The Lions again blew a 4th-quarter lead, as Lewerke hit Felton Davis for 25 yards and the winning score with 19 seconds left.

Even playing at home and coming off a bye, Penn State couldn’t get over its Ohio State hangover. Both teams were 4-2 after the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Michigan State 33, No. 12 Penn State 0 (1945)

Penn State was 5-1 coming off consecutive shutout victories, while Charlie Bachman’s Spartans were 4-2-1 and hadn’t shut out anyone all year. Maybe the Macklin Field advantage made the difference. Maybe Bob Higgins’ Lions were overrated — after all, the shutouts were of Syracuse and Temple, and Penn State hadn’t beaten a ranked team since 1942. Of course, MSU hadn’t beaten a ranked team since 1938. So apparently this was a pretty significant victory for the Spartans.

No. 19 Michigan State 14, No. 8 Penn State 14 (1948)

In the first of 6 meetings with both teams ranked, the lower-ranked team battled to a tie. The only tie in series counts as an upset for the Spartans, who drew with a top-10 team on the road.

Michigan State followed up with 4 straight wins and another tie, finishing 6-2-2 and No. 14 in the country. The Spartans’ only losses were to No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Notre Dame. Penn State finished 7-1-1 and No. 18, dropping out of the top 10 after a late-season loss to Pitt.

No. 15 Michigan State 35, No. 13 Penn State 28 (1999)

Obviously, by the rankings, this was the slightest of upsets, and yet another case of Penn State being in hangover mode heading into a game against the Spartans.

Penn State had dropped from No. 2 in the rankings with back-to-back narrow upset losses to Minnesota and Michigan. Michigan State was 8-2 and climbing in Nick Saban’s final year as coach.

TJ Duckett ran for 159 yards and 4 TDs, the final one with 2:30 remaining. Penn State closed a regular season with 3 straight losses for the first time since 1914, according to the AP game story.

No. 12 Michigan State 30, Penn State 27 (2021)

Apparently Vegas wasn’t buying the Mel Tucker turnaround after his Spartans’ 56-7 loss to Ohio State the previous week, because MSU was a 4.5-point home underdog despite its 9-2 record.

Playing in natural whiteout conditions because of heavy snow in East Lansing, the Spartans stormed to a 30-20 lead and held on for the win. Kenneth Walker III ran for 138 yards and Payton Thorne passed for 268 as MSU won the battles in yards (451-374), first downs (21-19), turnovers (1-2) and time of possession (36:32-23:28).

Michigan State finished the season 11-2 and No. 9. Penn State fell to 7-6 after a bowl loss.

Penn State 37, Michigan State 13 (2004)

It was a forgettable year for both programs. Neither was ranked for a single week. The Lions were 3-7 and 4-point home underdogs against the 5-5 Spartans.

Picking off 5 passes, Penn State rolled to victory despite less than 300 yards of offense.

Michigan State 35, Penn State 31 (2007)

Brian Hoyer threw for 4 TDs as 3-point home underdog MSU rallied from 17 down in the second half.

The win boosted the Spartans to 7-5 and into a bowl game for the first time in 4 years, a big win for first-year coach Mark Dantonio. Penn State fell to 8-4.

Penn State 42, Michigan State 37 (2001)

In another down year for both programs, both teams were at 5-5 after Penn State rallied to win as a 2.5-point road underdog.

The Lions rallied from 17 down, scoring 28 unanswered point in one stretch as QB Zack Mills and RB Eric McCoo led the way. Jeff Smoker threw for 3 TDs for MSU, 2 of them to Charles Rogers.