Best guess at a record when the Spartans face Nebraska:
This is a tough one because any evaluation of Michigan State in 2013 is based on two big assumptions: 1. The defense will again be very good again (a reasonably good bet), and 2. The offense will be better than it was last year (a much riskier proposition). I think the offense will be marginally better – defense too for that matter – thus I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spartans came to Lincoln 8-1 having only lost on the road to Notre Dame.
The one player you simply must know:
So loaded are the Spartans on defense that it’s tough to choose just one here, but I’m going with linebacker Max Bullough. Compelling arguments could be made for fellow linebacker Denicos Allen (14 sacks the past two years) or cornerback Darqueze Dennard (six career interceptions), but Bullough has a certain mythology to him. His father, paternal grandfather, and uncle all played for Michigan State. His maternal grandfather and two uncles played for Notre Dame. Football is, most definitely, in his blood and he’s coming off a 2012 season where he was named first-team All-Big Ten. He is the Exhibit A for prototypical middle linebackers.
How’s the match-up for Nebraska?:
Like the Michigan game the week before it, this match-up looks like a straight-up unstoppable/immovable affair – Nebraska’s offense versus Michigan State’s defense. The Huskers put up a season-high 473 yards against Michigan State in East Lansing last year – exactly 90 yards more than the next closest team, Ohio State – thanks largely to Taylor Martinez (371 total yards, four total touchdowns). A win this year might require something similarly spectacular because the Spartans – according to head coach Mike Dantonio – might be even better on defense in 2013.
Michigan State’s offense – like the Huskers’ defense – is a giant question mark headed into the season. Running back Le’Veon Bell, frequently the only good thing about the Spartans’ offense in 2012, is gone. He rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns against Nebraska last year, accounting for more than half of Michigan State’s total yards. Senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell should improve upon his 107.13 passer rating (ninth in the Big Ten), and wide receiver Bennie Fowler had a pretty good season in 2012. That’s a very tenuous road forward for the Spartans offense, but the fact is it’s tough to get consistently good starting field position and average only 20 points per game. That’s what Michigan State did last year and I don’t see it happening again.
In two years as a member of the Big Ten, Nebraska has taken two absolutely huge games from Michigan State. In 2011 in Lincoln, it was thanks to the defense, which held No. 9 Michigan State to 187 total yards and three points to take control of the Legends Division. In 2012, the offense (and Martinez) did it.
This game sets up to be equally as big. Should the Huskers lose to Michigan the week before, this game becomes a must-win for Nebraska if the Spartans are undefeated in Big Ten play coming in. At home, I think the Huskers again find just enough offense to get it done.
Nebraska 21 Michigan State 17