Posted by Jerry Hinnen
MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: the defense from their first eight games shows up. The Spartans are still ranked second in the nation in total defense, still third in yards allowed per-play at a miserly 4.1 a snap. But whether due to Nebraska-related hangover, random off-week, or start of a legitimate downward trend, the Spartans didn't play much like the nation's second-best last week vs. Minnesota. Facing the FBS's 108th-ranked offense, the Spartans allowed 415 total yards, 24 points, more than 8 yards a pass attempt (to MarQuies Gray!) and -- most damningly -- allowed three different scoring drives of 80 yards or more. If the Spartans who shut down Denard Robinson and made Ohio State utterly toothless and harassed Wisconsin show up, the Hawkeyes likely don't have enough firepower to overcome that. But if the Spartans who let the Gophers have the run of their own home field show up, Marcus Coker and James Vandenberg can do a lot more damage than Gray and Co. did.
IOWA WILL WIN IF: Vandenberg throws for more than eight yards an attempt. To date for the Hawkeyes, it really has been that simple: in the three games where Vandenberg has failed to reach that benchmark, Iowa is 0-3. (That includes the Minnesota shocker where Coker ran for 252 yards, all for naught.) In the six games in which Vandenberg has thrown for eight yards or more a try, Iowa is a perfect 6-0. So what are his chances vs. the Spartans? Not great, you wouldn't think--the Spartans rank sixth in the country with only 5.7 yards allowed per opponent's pass, and rank in the top 10 in pass defense statistics (yards per-game, opposing QB rating, completion percentage, etc.) across the board. But Coker should give Vandenberg some leeway to work with, he'll be at home, and the Spartans are coming off their worst defensive outing of the season. There's plenty of hope.
THE X-FACTOR: Nile Kinnick Stadium. It was just last year the Spartans rolled into Iowa City undefeated and ranked fifth in the nation, and left it sporting a nasty 37-6 shiner on the part of the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately for State, that wasn't exactly a fluke where their long-term performance trend at Kinnick is concerned: they haven't won there since 1989 and have dropped seven straight in that span. That's a lot of hoodoo for this year's Spartans to overcome.