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Indiana football 2012 opponents: Michigan State Spartans (week 5).

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After three non-conference games in which IU should be favored, followed by a bye, followed by a (relatively) winnable Big Ten game, the schedule heats up considerably as the calendar flips to October. It's time for the most pointless trophy game in the Big Ten, the Old Brass Spittoon! Michigan State is the defending Legends Division champion, and the Spartans lost an exciting, back-and-forth affair in Indy to Wisconsin, after edging the Badgers during the regular season. The Spartans still haven't won the Big Ten won the Big Ten outright or gone to the Rose Bowl since they beat IU for the title in 1987, but the Michigan State program appears to be in better hands than it has been since the 1960s with Mark Dantonio as head coach. Even in the darker days for MSU's program, IU hasn't exactly held its own. Since a 10-0 win in Bloomington in 1993 improved IU to 7-1 and gave IU its last taste of conference title conention, IU's only wins over MSU have come in East Lansing in 2001 and in Bloomington in 2006. Yet, the Big Ten decided this game should be a protected crossover, so get used to seeing the Spartans every year.

The Spartans won 11 games in both 2010 and 2011, but the Spartans will be without their leader, quarterback Kirk Cousins, and without most of their top receivers from 2011. Andrew Maxwell, a junior who completed 18 of 26 passes last season, will be the new quarterback. The top returning receiver is running back Levon Bell, who caught 35 passes for 267 yards in addition to gaining 987 yards and scoring 13 TDs on the ground. Beyond that, thinks are very thin. Tight end Dion Sims, who caught 12 passes for 99 yards, and Tony Lippett, who caught 4 passes for 44 yards, are the top returning targets at tight end and wide receiver, respectively. Fortunately for MSU, the Spartans return Edwin Baker (665 yards, 5 TDs) at RB in addition to Bell. According to this SB Nation preview (and I can't say enough about the job Bill Connelly has done on these), the Spartans return eight offensive linemen with a total of 74 career starts, so MSU liklely will not struggle to move the ball as Maxwell and his green receivers find their legs.

While the Spartan offense was fine last year, the 2011 Spartans made their name on defense, ranking #6 nationally in total defense and #9 in rushing defense. MSU allowed only 277 yards per game, only 100 per game on the ground, and averaged over 3 QB sacks per game and 7.5 tackles per loss per game. Other than at the tackle positions, and safety, MSU returns nearly everyone of note. The linebacking corps, led by Max Bullough and Chris Norman, is particularly fearsome. The Spartans also are intact at the PK and punter positions, and even at the kick returner position with Nick Hill.

What can be said about this game? In a season of ugly moments, IU's 55-3 loss in East Lansing stands out. If there is any consolation, it's that IU faces the Spartans early rather than late. The Hoosiers were very injured, very young, and very worn down by the time they made the trip to East Lansing on November 19. It's almost certainly not realistic to think about this game as a potential win. I'll be reasonably happy if a) IU enters this game with at least three wins; and b) the Hoosiers appear competitive for at least part of the game. Say, forcing the Spartans to punt before the fourth quarter. Or any sort of sustained scoring drive against the excellent Spartan defense. I hate to approach any game with such a mentality, and I'm sure the team and coaching staff will not, but if IU is to progress from a wins-and-losses perspective this season, it's probably not going to be in this game.