The No. 19 Nebraska Cornhuskers are the only undefeated team standing in the Big Ten, and any hopes they have of claiming a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff later this year will be tied to their performance Saturday against the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium.
Powered by the nation’s third-ranked rushing attack with 354.8 yards per game, the Cornhuskers test against the Spartans is their first against a ranked opponent, and certainly their toughest. Bo Pelini’s squad currently has one more game scheduled against a ranked opponent, No. 17 Wisconsin, but that’s not until Nov. 15 and so much can change along the college landscape over the next eight weeks.
However if Nebraska can walk out of Spartan territory with a victory, they could be the Big Ten’s first representative in the playoff.
The Spartans and head coach Mark Dantonio, still smarting after their second-week loss to then-No. 3 Oregon, have ripped off two straight incredible victories by a combined score of 129-28. Entering their first conference game of the season, Michigan State can still grab the attention of playoff committee members, and it starts at home against the Cornhuskers.
Like Nebraska, the Spartans have one more game against a ranked opponent, No. 20 Ohio State visiting on Nov. 8, and they’ll need to win out in order to make the postseason.
Michigan State will roll out the highest-scoring offense in the conference, and third in the country, tallying 50.3 points per game and led by 6-foot-4 quarterback Connor Cook. The junior’s completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 837 yards and nine touchdowns to two interceptions, with top receiver Tony Lippett on the other end for 421 yards and six of those scores.
Sophomore Cornhusker quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been equally impressive, throwing for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns, but Saturday’s game will ultimately be decided by each squad’s running game. Both teams boast two of the conference’s more accomplished and talented running backs, but only one has the proven ability to shut down an opponent’s ground attack.
Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah leads the country with 833 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, breaking the 200-yard mark three times in five games already this season. Yet the Spartans are No. 2 in the Big Ten against the run, letting up 78.2 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry.
On the flipside, the Cornhuskers are surrendering 108.4 rushing yards per game and 3.6 per carry, with opponents scoring five touchdowns on the run. While not fielding as staunch a defensive unit as Michigan State’s, Nebraska will need to find a way to contain Spartan senior rushers Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. Together they’ve gained 525 yards and scored six touchdowns, with Langford the top back picking up 5.5 yards per attempt.
Start Time: Saturday, 8 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ABC
Betting Odds: Michigan State -6.5
Over/Under: 59.5 points
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Nebraska 20