2011 Michigan State Spartans Football
Michigan State Spartans @ Northwestern Wildcats Football Preview
So many times in the recent past, the Michigan State football team would enter a late-November season finale with high stakes and a great deal of pressure weighing down its mind and body. This year, the boys from East Lansing, Michigan, get a unique reprieve thanks to their foremost rivals, the Michigan Wolverines.
Yes, the Michigan State Spartans, who have already secured a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, will visit the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday without having anything to prove or defend. Coach Mark Dantonio’s team will take the field knowing that it doesn’t have to survive a tricky road test in order to fulfill its goals or keep its dream – a dream of the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2012, against the Oregon Ducks – intact. The MSU crew knows that it can lose this week to coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team and still play for a conference crown a week later. Michigan State will face the winner of the Wisconsin-Penn State matchup in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) clinched the Big Ten Legends Division with a 55-3 trouncing of Indiana last Saturday in East Lansing. Kirk Cousins threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns in his final game at Spartan Stadium.
Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) became bowl eligible last week with a 28-13 win over Minnesota at Ryan Field. Dan Persa threw two touchdown passes, and the Wildcats scored on their first three possessions on their way to a comfortable win. Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, after his performance against Minnesota, needs just 14 yards in this tussle against Michigan State to become the first Wildcat with 1,000 yards receiving since 1998.
Northwestern has won four straight games. Before their current win streak, the Wildcats had lost five in a row. Northwestern is bowl eligible for the fourth straight season, but in 2007, the Wildcats finished 6-6 and did not receive a bowl invitation.
Michigan State ranks fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 15.3 points per game. Michigan State has won three games in a row, and seven of its last eight. Last season, Northwestern led Michigan State 17-0, but allowed the Spartans to come back and win, 35-27. It is precisely the memory of last year’s game – sealed by Sparty on a 4th and 11 fake punt midway through the fourth quarter – which made this year’s game a tough challenge for Michigan State. It is a godsend for the Spartans that Michigan beat Nebraska on Nov. 19, thereby wrapping up the Legends Division before this road trip to Evanston. Michigan allowed Michigan State to breathe freely in this contest, one of the more notable ironies of the 2011 Big Ten campaign.
Even though the division championship is locked up, Michigan State will not rest key players on Saturday. However, those same players will know that they can mentally rest. For once, they’re not faced with a must-win game amidst the chill of late November.
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