Michigan State(5-4, 2-3) hosts a potent Nebraska(6-2, 3-1) offense that is playing for a Legends Division title and are currently in first place in the division. Right now, they are the favorite to win the conference and rightfully so.
The Spartans boast the Big Ten‘s top defense and rank fifth nationally in yards allowed per game with 267.4 and only give up 15 points a game, which ranks 10th in the nation.
On the other hand, the Nebraska defense allows just over 25 points per game and has held just one Big Ten team under 27 points– a hobbled Michigan team without Denard Robinson.
The Cornhuskers offense, however is one of the best in the conference. They rank seventh nationally in rush yards per game with 264.1 and score 39.3 points per game which is good for 18th in the country.
It’s safe to say this will be a great matchup because what one team lacks, the other team excels in, and vice versa.
I’m going to take a look at the matchups and who has the upper hand on offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
Better Offense: Nebraska
This is a no-brainer. The Cornhuskers offense behind an improved Taylor Martinez and an emerged Ameer Abdullah would give any team in the conference fits defensively, but the Spartans defense is at a whole different level.
The Nebraska offense has scored almost 40 points a game while the Spartans have scored just 19.2 per game. Andrew Maxwell leads a slightly better passing attack, while the Nebraska run game is far better, even with Le’Veon Bell being one of the conference’s best running backs.
Abdullah and Rex Burkhead are a two-headed monster that has torn apart defenses all year long. The Nebraska offense is just straight up scary.
Better Defense: Michigan State
This is also a no-brainer because of Michigan State’s dominance in the past two seasons defensively. They are tops in the Big Ten in almost every defensive category and have allowed just two teams to score over 20 points in a game all season long and have not allowed anyone to score 30.
They are stacked at the defensive line and linebacker position with Max Bullough being the leader of the defense. Oh yeah, the defensive backs aren’t bad either.
Nebraska’s defense is inconsistent, holding Michigan to just nine points last week, but in their only conference loss, they allowed Ohio State to score 63 points. Michigan State will keep the Nebraska offense in check.
Better Special Teams: Even
This is basically a toss-up. Both teams have experienced troubles on the special teams unit and neither is known for this area of their play. However, the Spartans have been known to throw in a trick play every once in a while on special teams and that could give them the upper hand.
The Cornhuskers have had issues returning punts with Kenny Bell and Ameer Abdullah muffing many of them and Michigan State has been no better with Nick Hill losing his spot on the punt returning unit because of his lack of success. He has also been in and out of the kickoff unit because he has failed to live up to expectations.
This game may come down to the kickers, which is also a toss-up because the Spartans’ Dan Conroy is 16-22 this season while the Cornhuskers’ Brett Maher is 12-17. Two of the best in the conference.
Better Coach: Michigan State
This is an extremely close category to judge. Before taking the head coaching job at Nebraska, Bo Pelini was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and led LSU to a top-10 defense year after year.
Mark Dantonio has seen mass amounts of success in the past two season, leading the Spartans to two straight 11-win seasons. Pelini is a great coach with a solid team, but Dantonio has been a coach since 2004 and has turned two teams from average into BCS contenders.
While both still have bright futures in front of them, the Spartans’ Mark Dantonio is currently the better coach.