Not one time has Michigan State beaten Nebraska.
The Spartans and Huskers first met in 1914, with Nebraska winning, 24-0, in Lincoln. And, since the Huskers joined the Big Ten ahead of the 2011 season, they've gone 2-0 against their (for now) division-mates. Last year in East Lansing, it was just four points that separated the Spartans from their first victory vs. Nebraska.
The next opportunity comes Saturday, and it's a much different football reality this time around. This year, it's Michigan State with eyes on some of college football's biggest prizes, experiencing a dominating season that's seen them boast the best defense in the country. Maybe it's time they fear the Green Shirts in Lincoln.
"Well, we've never run from facing Nebraska, but that is the one football team that we have not beaten since coming here, so that remains a goal of ours," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonion said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "But I think there are bigger and more important things to worry about than just — we've got to beat Nebraska to accomplish our goals, and that's why it's such a big game. But that is a fact, as well."
The goals are big for the Spartans this season. Their 8-1 record and 5-0 conference mark have them poised for a shot at the Big Ten championship and with it a shot at the Rose Bowl. Three wins separate them from a spot in the Big Ten title game, and the first would have to come in Lincoln against the Huskers.
"They're a good football team. They've got a great tradition. They've got a great environment to play in," Dantonio said. "It's going to be exciting to go into that environment and play, and our players have to understand what that's all about. The last time we went there, I don't know that our players understood the environment. A little different. So this year at least we have that experience behind us, and now we can move forward."
Meanwhile, the game takes on a great deal of importance when it comes to Michigan State — or any other team, for that matter — reaching the Big Ten title game as Legends Division champions. The Spartans, without a conference loss, sit in first place. But the Huskers, who have just one, would jump them with a win (thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker). The other team in the mix? Minnesota. The Gophers are on fire, though they do have two conference losses. Still, they have a win over Nebraska (an important item to note in a tiebreaker situation) and a date with the Spartans looms.
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In other words, wichever team wins Saturday in Lincoln is going to have a distinct advantage. It would put that time right on the cusp of a division championship.
"We understand the type of preparation we are going to need this week," Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "We’ve got a heck of a football team coming in here. (Michigan State is) a team we have a lot of respect for. They are an extremely well-coached football team. They are a group that plays hard, plays physical. We need to have the type of preparation that we did a week ago and get ready to play our best football.
“Every week is the biggest game for me. That’s about it."
No. 16 Michigan State and Nebraska kick off at 2:30 p.m. on ABC.
All Big Ten games on Saturday, Nov. 16 (Bye weeks: Iowa, Minnesota)
Purdue at Penn State, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network. Since Week 2, the Nittany Lions have alternated wins and losses, and it looks like that odd, meaningless factoid will hold true this week against the lowly Boilermakers. Penn State hasn't looked good since that four-overtime win vs. Michigan, and despite big rushing days from Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, the offense has struggled to find the end zone, scoring a total of 41 points in its past three games. But there's no better way to right the ship than a date with Purdue. The 1-8 Boilermakers have lost seven in a row, including all their conference games, and they've been surrendering points in droves. Every team that's beat Purdue this season (save for Michigan State) has scored at least 31 points.
Indiana at No. 22 Wisconsin, 11 a.m., ESPN 2. The Hoosiers need two wins to get to a bowl game this season, and it's unlikely that's going to happen with two of their final three games against Wisconsin and Ohio State — both on the road. This week takes them to Madison, and though the Badgers are better than that No. 22 ranking indicates, Indiana has a chance because it always has a chance. Look at the Hoosiers' previous contests this season, and you'll see a bunch of shootouts. Indiana can score, that's not in question, and while the Hoosier defense is likely to get dominated by the likes of Joel Stave, Melvin Gordon, James White and Jared Abbrederis, the Hoosier offense is capable of scoring on anybody. That includes a defense as strong as Wisconsin's.
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No. 3 Ohio State at Illinois, 11 a.m., ESPN. After last week's showing against a potent Indiana offense, the Illini's porous defense doesn't figure to fare too well against another high-powered offense in Ohio State, one that seems to be gaining steam as the weeks go on. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde should torch the Illinois defense Saturday in Champaign as the Buckeyes look to pile up more wins and pray for a bad day from the boys in Tuscalossa and Tallahassee. Illinois, you might have heard, is still looking for its first Big Ten victory under Tim Beckman. Barring a monumental upset, it'll have to wait at least another week.
Michigan at Northwestern, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network. This one's a biggie for both teams, though not for the reasons they had hoped when the schedule came out. Both teams will be looking to halt losing streaks of an embarrassing variety. Northwestern is still winless in Big Ten play, dropping all five of its conference games. Michigan has back-to-back defeats and is squarely out of the Legends Division race, not something the folks in Ann Arbor are used to. Both teams are also coming off upsetting losses to Nebraska: Michigan had another bad offensive day a week ago vs. the Huskers, while Northwestern fell on that ridiculous Hail Mary for the ages. With the other team reeling, it seems either has a legitimate shot to win. Look at the Tyler Scott-Devin Gardner matchup in particular. If Northwestern's top defensive lineman, one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers, can fluster the Wolverines quarterback, who's posted back-to-back games of -30 rush yards or fewer, it could be a slump-busting day for the Wildcats.