Posted by Adam Jacobi
MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: The rushing game starts living up to its preseason billing. Coming into the season, the general consensus was that Wisconsin had the best stable of running backs, but Michigan State with Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell, and Larry Caper was a close second. Well, we're halfway into the season, and guess who's dead last in the Big Ten in rushing offense? Indeed: Sparty, at a paltry 138 yards a pop. Nebraska's defensive line is still reeling from the loss of Jared Crick, but it's generally good enough to keep blockers off Lavonte David so the dynamic linebacker can make plays. The challenge to MSU's offensive line is clear: blow open holes and let the running backs do their thing.
NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: It avoids 3rd and long. Taylor Martinez's passing numbers as a whole aren't horrible this season; he's 67th nationwide in passing efficiency, and his interception rate of 3.93% is downright palatable. Still, Martinez struggles mightily when the opponent knows he needs to throw; he's been chided by announcers for his entire career for his unique mix of poor mechanics and bad read progressions. Getting Nebraska to 3rd and long is much easier said than done, however, with both Martinez and Rex Burkhead so adept at moving the chains on the ground.
X-FACTOR: As opposed to most of the Big Ten's top games of the season, this matchup between No. 9 MSU and No. 13 Nebraska won't exactly be under the lights; the two teams are kicking off at 11:00 a.m. local time. Usually, the early games are reserved for non-conference cupcakes and basement dwellers. Will the two teams be able to put forth their best 60 minutes with such an early kickoff? Or will it be a 17-point game one way or the other halfway through the second quarter with an announcer snarkily wondering whether the losing team left its effort on the bus?