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Indiana Hoosiers v. Michigan State Spartans (preview).

Michigan State Spartans

2010 record: 11-2 (7-1), Big Ten co-champs, lost to Alabama in Capital One Bowl

2011 record:  8-2 (5-1)

2010 Sagarin:  31 (IU was #98)

2011 Sagarin:21 (IU is #132)

Coach: Mark Dantonio, fifth season (41-21)

Series:  Michigan State leads 40-15-2

TV: noon, Big Ten Network

Blogs: The Only Colors 

The basketball team has played three games in the two weeks since the football Hoosiers last took the field, but the nearly forgotten football season resumes after a much needed bye week.  Can IU beat either Michigan State or Purdue to add some vindication to an otherwise disappointing season?  Both games will be uphill battles, but especially tomorrow's matchup against the Spartans.  After a couple of decades of inconsistency, the Spartans finally are living up to their potential as a program.  And, how nice of the Big Ten to set us up with the Spartans as our protected crossover "rival" just as Sparty is firing on all cylinders.  Michigan State won a share of the Big Ten title last year, and has the sole lead in the Legends Division at 5-1.  The Spartans play IU and then travel to Northwestern, but could clinch the division merely by going 1-1 if Michigan beats Nebraska tomorrow.

While I put "rival" in quotes above, this is a trophy game.  IU and Michigan State began exchanging the Old Brass Spittoon in 1950, and MSU holds a 40-12 advantage during the Spittoon era.  IU last won it in 2006, and last won in East Lansing in 2001.  The last meeting between the two programs was in 2008, a 42-29 MSU win in Bloomington, which was a surprisingly competitive score considering how bad IU was that year.  My personal favorite game in this series is also my personal favorite of all IU games I have seen in person: the 10-0 shutout of #22 Michigan State in 1993 in a freak October snowstorm.  IU was 7-1 and in control of its Rose Bowl destiny after that win, and we've never been close to that level since. 

In any event, what about the 2011 Spartans?  As I said, they are 8-2, with losses on the road to Notre Dame and Nebraska.  The Spartan offense has been nothing to write home about, ranking only #74 in total offense and #62 in scoring offense, but the MSU defense has dominated, holding opponents to 259 yards and 16 points per game.  MSU ranks 12th nationally or better in total defense, rushing defense, pass defense, and scoring defense.  They are plus 7 in turnovers and average nearly 3 sacks per game.  Tre Roberson and the IU offense responded reasonably well to the Ohio State defense, but MSU's defense is better.  And, for all of their offensive struggles, the Spartans have put up some yards and points in the last two weeks against Minnesota and Iowa, so this will be, as every week is, a challenge for IU's defense. 

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is having a solid senior season, completing 63 percent of his passes and with 16 TDs to 5 interceptions.  Of course, he threw the most memorable pass of the 2011 college football season, the Hail Mary that resulted in Wisconsin's first loss.  Le'Veon Bell (640 yards, 5.2 ypc, 9 TD) and Edwin Baker (543, 4.2, 2 TD) have carried the burden at running back.  BJ Cunningham and KeShawn Martin are the top receivers.  On the other side of the ball, the Spartans have 14 interceptions, including 4 each by Isaiah Lewis and Trenton Robinson, and Denicos Allen leads the way with six sacks, although 7 Spartans have at least two sacks.

Unquestionably, this is a tough situation for IU.  Still, the team surprised at Ohio State, so perhaps there is some slim chance that IU can lull the Spartans into their old ways of always dropping a game they shouldn't lose.  In reality, I think IU will show some progress, but not enough to win.  Michigan State 38, Indiana 17