In a game that could easily decide the Legends Division representative in the Big Ten Championship Game, the 6-1, No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers will host the 6-1, No. 11 Michigan State Spartans on Saturday.
Michigan State is coming off a major upset, as the Spartans beat the previously undefeated Wisconsin Badgers last week on a desperation Hail Mary heave by quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Spartans are 3-0 in conference play and currently hold the upper hand when it comes to playing for a chance at the Rose Bowl.
Nebraska is coming off a demolition of Minnesota, but its 48-17 loss to Wisconsin a couple weeks ago looms large. Although these types of comparisons aren't scientific, it is interesting to note that the Huskers were wiped out by the Badgers while Michigan State was able to beat them.
There is little doubt that this will be a tightly-contested game, and it could very easily come down to the final seconds just as Michigan State's win over Wisconsin did last week. Be sure to strap in tight, because this is going to be a good one.
Where: Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
When: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. EDT
Listen: Spartans Sports Network (Michigan State) and KLIN 1400 AM (Nebraska)
Betting Line: Nebraska (-4)
Who Might Not Play for Michigan State: C Blake Treadwell
Out for the past four games with a knee injury, Michigan State's starting center Blake Treadwell is questionable to play against Nebraska. The junior ascended to the starting spot, but the Spartans have been able to excel without him.
Even so, center is a very underrated position in terms of its importance. The center sets up the protection, and protection will be key for quarterback Kirk Cousins against Nebraska's pass rush. The Spartans could get a huge boost if Treadwell does suit up, though.
Who Might Not Play for Nebraska: DL Jared Crick
Nebraska defensive lineman Jared Crick, who was one of the favorites to take home Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors prior to the season, was shut down a couple weeks ago with a torn pectoral muscle. Because of that, he will miss Saturday's game, as well as the remainder of the season.
The loss of Crick is an absolutely huge one for the Huskers, as it compromises their pass rush severely. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was a big reason for the Spartans' upset of Wisconsin last week, and a healthy Crick may have been able to make things uncomfortable for him.
Key Storyline: How will Michigan State react to upset of Wisconsin?
Defeating Wisconsin in such dramatic fashion last week certainly had to be good for Michigan State's psyche, just as it was good for its standing in the Big Ten. With that said, there are two distinct ways that the Spartans can go after pulling off the upset against the Badgers.
The Spartans could either come out fired up, believing they can beat anyone standing across from them, or they can suffer a hang over of sorts and let their guard down against a tough-as-nails Nebraska team. I expect the Spartans to come out strong, but will they be able to sustain it for an entire game?
BCS/Top 25 Implications
This game is obviously brimming with BCS implications. Both teams are ranked in the Top 15 and whichever team is victorious stands an excellent chance of making it to the Big Ten Championship Game to face either Penn State or Wisconsin, in all likelihood.
The losing team can probably kiss all hopes of an at-large BCS bid goodbye with two losses, so this game is of paramount importance to both programs. Say what you will about the BCS system and college football as a whole, but there are already must-win games with more than a month left in the season.
What They're Saying
With the Huskers currently tied in overall record with Michigan State at 6-1 and a game back in the Big Ten race at 2-1, Saturday's game is obviously of vital importance for both sides. Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell went so far as to call it a must-win game for the Huskers if they are to win the Legends Division and make it to the Big Ten Championship, according to Eric Olson of the Associated Press.
The first step to getting to Indianapolis would be beating Michigan State this week," Bell said Monday. "Michigan State is a tremendous football team. I've got nothing but respect for them. So if we don't get this one this Saturday, Michigan State is not going to lose the rest of their games on their schedule. We have to get this one to win the Legends Division, absolutely.
Michigan State Player to Watch: QB Kirk Cousins
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins has been a bit up and down this season, but he has generally been very solid. That was certainly the case last week against Wisconsin, as he completed 71 percent of his passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning Hail Mary.
The Huskers have proven capable of being beaten through the air this season, although they haven't faced a quarterback at the level of Cousins with the exception of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson. If Cousins plays the way he did against Wisconsin, then Michigan State will have a hard time losing on Saturday.
Nebraska Player to Watch: QB Taylor Martinez
When you combine his passing and running, perhaps no quarterback in the nation is more vital to his team's success than Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. Over the course of the season, Martinez has combined for close to 2,000 total yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Spartans were gashed by Wisconsin's running game last week, so it should be a concern this week. Few teams in the nation boost a better running attack than the Huskers, and much of that has to do with Martinez's mastery of the option. He'll need to come up huge on Saturday.
Key Matchup: Michigan State run defense vs. Nebraska rushing attack
The main reason why it took a Hail Mary for Michigan State to beat Wisconsin last week is the fact that the Spartans defense allowed 220 rushing yards and let the Badgers possess the ball. The Huskers are going to do the exact same thing with quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead carrying the brunt of the load.
Michigan State simply can't afford to play as poorly against the run this week because the Huskers are even more dangerous in that regard than the Badgers. If Michigan State's run defense can tighten up, though, then Nebraska could have an extremely tough time moving the ball.
Nebraska 34 Michigan State 31