Can Northwestern put a devastating overtime loss to Michigan behind it? Can Michigan State turn around its disappointing season with a win on Senior Day to become bowl-eligible?
WildcatReport's crack staff tells you who will win the battle between the Cats and Spartans.
George "The Glad Hungarian" Stoichev
Northwestern wins if… They find a way to make MSU's stingy defense work, like they did to the Wolverines last week.
Northwestern loses if… Offense is anemic and Andrew Maxwell has a game like most QBs have against NU.
The bottom line… I think the Cats have the tools to take this one, even handily (though I don't dare predict that), but a lot depends on Venric Mark's health and what Mick McCall has prepared.
Prediction Northwestern 24, Michigan State 14
Alex "Purple" Wayne
Northwestern wins if… They take this game as their chance to silence the critics who think they can't keep a lead until the final gun, and they become aggressive with their superior offense to put the game out of reach as early as possible. One thing that helped Northwestern against Michigan was picking the right times to use Trevor Siemien's passing talent rather than Kain Colter's talent running the option with Mark and to scramble for decent yardage when he couldn't find a passing target. The Spartan defender who has me nervous is William Gholston. He has to be misled into being in the wrong place at the wrong time (pass rushing on a quarterback draw up the middle, getting blocked by Mike Trumpy after a fake handoff on a play-action, etc.). If he's stumped then things will be much easier. The continued growth of defensive leaders like Chi Chi Ariguzo and Ibraheim Campbell wouldn't hurt either.
Northwestern loses if… They allow Michigan State to find the mojo that everyone predicted they'd have at the beginning of the season. MSU is one of the more disappointing teams in a year where B1G disappointment has broken out like a rash. Now they've got one last chance to avoid being winless at home in conference play. At 7-3 overall and 3-3 in conference, a loss at MSU and a win at home against a hapless Illinois squad would mean an 8-4 record overall for the Wildcats, well exceeding expectations and earning a respectable bowl berth. Michigan State is mostly playing for pride but they can play with the best of 'em if they get their act together.
The bottom line… Both teams blundered away leads to Michigan and Nebraska. But one team is a 2012 overachiever and the other is a 2012 underachiever. Northwestern has had things go right and they want to carry that momentum, but Michigan State has had things go wrong and wants to reverse their momentum. Of those two goals, Northwestern's is easier and I like their chances.
Prediction I feel like stepping out on a limb here: Northwestern 38, Michigan State 7
Danny "Less Is" Moran
Northwestern wins if… They fall behind in the second half. We certainly know by now that this team cannot hold a lead. But neither can Michigan State. The Spartans have had a second half lead in four of their five losses this season.
Northwestern loses if… Le'Veon Bell averages over 5 yards per carry. Bell is Michigan State's only backfield option and his success will open up their passing game. The Wildcats can't win if they don't limit Bell's productivity.
The bottom line… Despite what Pat Fitzgerald says, Northwestern is in for a letdown this week. Aside from the mental factor, Colter and Mark are not 100 percent and Nick VanHoose is out. Maxwell won't make major mistakes and the Spartans will get a productive day from Bell for the win.Prediction Michigan State 24, Northwestern 21
Larry "Kilo" Watts
Northwestern wins if… It can open things up with the passing game and the breakdowns at cornerback are kept at a minimum.
Northwestern loses if… The problems in the secondary are still not solved while the injuries suffered by Mark and Colter continue to be lingering issues.
The bottom line… This game should be called after three quarters because neither team can finish. Spartan QB Maxwell is ranked third in passing average (213.8) in the Big Ten and has to be licking his chops in facing the league's worst pass defense (273.8). However, the Spartans are only ranked 11th in scoring offense because they are unable to finish drives. MSU is ranked No. 1 in total defense, over 100 yards better than Northwestern, so the Cats will have to bring their A-game offensively with a solid mixture of running and passing.
Prediction Last week I was caught sippin' the purple Kool-Aid. It's back to Canadian Club this Saturday: Michigan State 27 Northwestern 17.
Louie "C.K." Vaccher
Northwestern wins if… Colter and Mark are healthy, and the Wildcats run the zone-read and option plays as well as they did last week. If Northwestern can run the ball on Michigan, they should be able to run it against Michigan State. And it wouldn't hurt to hit a couple big play-action passes over the top, no matter who throws them.
Northwestern loses if… The running game falters and the Wildcat defense can't contain Bell. He's a 245-pound beast that can wear down the defense and put NU in a position for another fourth-quarter collapse.
The bottom line: Northwestern matches up well with Michigan State. NU's run defense has been stout all season and the Spartan offense is predicated on the ground game. Offensively, the read-option should wear out that big, physical front seven, and the Wildcats have a clear edge in special teams due to Mark. If the Wildcats don't turn the ball over too often or give up too many big plays in the passing game, they should come back from East Lansing with a W.
Prediction: Northwestern 27 Michigan State 20