Here's what we've had to say so far this week.
Michigan State began the season ranked #13 in the AP Poll, and started strong with an opening win over Boise State. While the Spartans also have taken care of Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, they lost badly at home to Notre Dame (20-3) and were edged last weekend by Ohio State, also in East Lansing. Because of that, a team that some believed could make a run at the national championship likely will have to content itself with the pursuit of a trip to Pasadena. As Chris of TOC pointed out, the Spartans, who before 2010 hadn't won a share of the Big Ten title since 1990, have been victimized to some extent by Big Ten rule changes. In 2010, the Spartans would have gone to the Rose Bowl under the old rules, which send the team with the longest Rose Bowl drought to Pasadena (assuming conference record, head-to-head, and overall record didn't resolve things). Yet, the shift in the tiebreaker to the BCS ratings sent Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl and relegated MSU to the Capital One Bowl. In 2011, the Spartans had the best regular season record and a regular season win over Wisconsin, but a narrow loss in the Big Ten title game again kept the Spartans out of the BCS. In a really strange Big Ten, MSU has as good a chance as anyone to win a division title. For such a proud football program, the Spartans must really be itching for such an opportunity. Only IU and Minnesota have longer Rose Bowl droughts than the Spartans.
The Spartans offense currently is in the doldrums, but not to the extent that their overall statistics might suggest. MSU has moved the ball pretty well in all of its games except against two of the nation's best defenses, ND (327) and OSU (303). Against Boise, MSU moved the ball well but scored only 17 points because of 4 turnovers. Against Eastern Michigan, the Spartans managed 428 yards but couldn't get put the Eagles away until late. The most troubling number on MSU's ledger is that the Spartans are only #110 in scoring offense. It seems a fair assumption that the Spartans will put up lots of yards against IU. After all, their players all seem to have two legs. This will be a good opportunity, however, for the IU defense to become bend-but-don't-break. First year starting QB Andrew Maxwell has some fairly pedestrian numbers (55 percent, 4 TDs, 3 INTS), but again, the Spartans have played a tough schedule and two really good defenses. Le"veon Bell has been good but not completely overwhelming. After five games he has 665 yards rushing, 5 TDs, and 4.9 yards per carry. I expect more from him on Saturday, but he hasn't yet been as unstoppable as imagined. He, has, however, been a one man show, accounting for 88 percent of MSU's rushing yards. Yesterday, TOC described the Spartans' receivers as "a mess," and tight end Dion Sims, with 313 yards and 2 YDs, leads the way.
On defense, the Spartans are excellent as usual. The are #9 nationally in total defense, #12 in scoring defense, #17 in rushing defense, #11 in pass efficiency defense. The Spartans haven't had an overwhelming pass rush (only four sacks), but they have forced 9 turnovers (4 picks and 5 fumbles). Opponents are averaging only 28 percent on third down and 4.3 yards per offensive play. They have no obvious holes, and this will be an interesting test for IU's offense.
As for the Hoosiers, at the time that I post this there has been no starting QB named. Apparently Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld were splitting reps 50/50. Based on what we've seen on the field the last two weeks, I have to admit that I am hoping Sudfeld gets the start, if for no other reason than to see how he does doing something other than leading a furious comeback. Of course, giving him his first start against one of the nation's best defenses may not be doing him a favor. In any event, I think it's reasonable to expect that we will see both quarterbacks. I don't think there's any doubt that IU's offense is better than last year's. This will be an opportunity to find out if the offense is legitimately good or if the gaudy numbers are purely a product of the schedule.
On defense? Well, surprise me, guys.
In all, while I wish I had a better feeling about this one...Michigan State 38, Indiana 17.