Spartans Continue New Rivalry with Nebraska Saturday

Michigan State is set to face Nebraska for the fourth time in four years tomorrow, and it will be Mark Dantonio’s fourth time facing Nebraska in his career.  Although it will only be their fourth meeting, Nebraska has quickly become a staple opponent for the Spartans in Big Ten play.

In his weekly news conference last Tuesday, Dantonio spoke about his experience playing Nebraska and their emergence as a new Big Ten rival.

“I think we have a lot of rivals in this conference, because there’s a lot of games like that. But they have been great football games,” Dantonio said. “The one in 2012, the one in 2011, I don’t think we played up to our abilities. We had very high hopes going into that game but didn’t play well enough. 2012, we came to play, it’s a great football game. Don’t really want to rehash some of that, and then 2013 last year, also great football game. Two competitive football teams, two teams that don’t want to lose, don’t like to lose – nobody does – but play with a lot of effort, play with a lot toughness, play with a lot of desire. And you see that on the field. Up tempo, but you see, you can feel the adrenaline, you can feel the emotion from both football teams whenever you go, you can feel the emotion. And that’s exciting and that’s what makes college football so great, so unique.”

In 2011, Nebraska handed Michigan State their only loss to a Big Ten team in the regular season, shutting down the Spartans’ offense 24-3.  The Spartans were still able to win the Legends Division, as Nebraska dropped their games to Northwestern and Michigan.

The following year, the Spartans fell again to the Huskers in a back-and-forth battle that came down to the final two minutes. Nebraska ended up with a narrow victory, edging MSU 28-24.  It was one of Michigan State’s five losses to Big Ten teams, and all four of the other losses were even closer games.  Nebraska was crowned champions of the Legends Division in 2012, and lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

The Spartans broke their Nebraska losing streak in 2013 in Lincoln, Neb. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 123 yards and quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw two touchdown passes.

The MSU defense forced five turnovers, and the offense had arguably the best game of their season. Connor Cook threw 15/31 for 193 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Jeremy Langford ran 32 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns in the Spartan victory.  With the win on the road in 2013, MSU all but secured a Legends Division championship and a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Title.

Tomorrow’s game is expected to be an offensive battle, with an over/under of 59.5 points.  The Nebraska offense will again be lead by Armstrong and Abdullah as the Spartan offense will be led by Cook and Langford.

This year, with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, the conference has realigned so Nebraska and Michigan State are will no longer be division rivals. The Spartans will play Nebraska in Lincoln next year, but it is unlikely that the teams will play each other every season.

Since the conference has realigned with the East and West Divisions, Michigan State vs. Nebraska may be a preview of the Big Ten championship game, if both teams can win their respective divisions. Michigan State will still control it’s own destiny if they lose to Nebraska on Saturday, since they are not in the East Division.

Michigan State vs. Nebraska will be nationally televised in prime time. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and the game will air on ABC.

Bradley Allen is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports

Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports