There are three games in the noon (EST) time slot as conference play begins on Saturday. ESPN will televise Michigan State's visit to Indiana. These next three weeks are a golden opportunity for the Spartans. With road games against IU and Northwestern sandwiched around a home game against Iowa, MSU can easily be 6-1 when Ohio State comes to town on October 18. As you might expect, the schedule doesn't get much easier after that, as Javon Ringer & Co. close with four more against Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue and Penn State. Asking more then two wins from this team against that closing stretch is unrealistic, so they need to get the Ws while the getting is good. And with Minnesota off the schedule the getting will never be any better this Saturday.
In years gone by, this has been the type of situation that has seen Michigan State fold. Coming off a nice win, opportunity at hand, even mix in a running back getting some legit Heisman hype, and all of a sudden a clunker comes. Last season Mark Dantonio got his team to rise above that up-and-down mentality and the belief here is that he's driven those demons out of the program. MSU may not always be the best, or even in the upper echelon, but I think Dantonio will produce a team that is ready to play or he'll run people out of town trying. Shannon Shelton of The Detroit Free Press expresses similar sentiments. And just being ready to play will be enough to win on Saturday. Kellen Lewis is not enough and Indiana is going to have no better luck stopping Javon Ringer then Notre Dame did.
Northwestern visits Iowa in what is a very big game for both teams. NU is 4-0, Iowa is 3-1 and both are racing for bowl eligibility. The Wildcats may have the extra win, but with the Hawks fan base, they have a better shot at getting in as long they get to 6-6. I'm not ready to say this game is a must for both teams, as I can look at the schedule and find three others for each that they'll have a decent shot to win. It is fair to say that the loser of this game will have their back to the wall early. Both teams need more offensive production. Kirk Ferentz is juggling QBs between Jake Christiansen and Ricky Stanzi and according to Andy Hamilton of The Iowa Press-Citizen he's leaning toward Stanzi and settling down the carousel.
Ohio State hosts Minnesota. No one, including myself is giving the Gophers any chance in this one. But food for thought: OSU has struggled against lower-level teams. They rallied past Ohio, the same team who was beaten with slightly more ease by Northwestern. They were in a tough game with Troy. Now take the Golden Gophers. They've beaten Bowling Green decisively, the same Falcon team who won in Pitt--which is the same place Iowa lost. Are you following all that? It's a verbose way of saying that in matchups by proxy, Minny is faring pretty well right now and they've got a young quarterback playing well. I'm trying to resist reading too much into this, as Ohio State's struggles can be directly attributed to the before and after effects of the USC game. And I would be utterly shocked if Minnesota won. But let's say the Gophs play well and hang in the game into the fourth quarter. If that happens, the world in the Big Ten might be ready to get turned on its head. In a light-hearted piece, Rob Oller of The Columbus Dispatch wonders who the national media's next target will be now that the Buckeyes are seen as irrelevant.