The No. 20/21 Michigan State Spartans (3-0, 1-0) are ranked for the first time since Week Six of the 2019 college football season, following a huge road win over Miami (FL) last week in Miami Gardens. The heat and humidity of that one will be a stark contrast to the cool and possibly rain-soaked matchup looming Saturday night when the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-2, 0-1) visit Spartan Stadium hoping to pull off the first road upset of fourth-year head coach Scott Frost’s tenure in Lincoln.
While the Spartans enter the matchup undefeated, Nebraska has historically dominated the Spartans in the win column, leading all-time 9-2, and 4-2 in Big Ten action. Despite having the clearly superior team on paper in 2015 and 2018, Michigan State suffered close losses on the road at Nebraska in both of those years. In my own ranking of the MSU schedule by difficulty of opponent, I had Nebraska at the No. 9 most difficult opponent on the Spartans’ regular season schedule. Despite the low ranking, the contest does pose some intriguing matchups for both teams heading into the game.
All-time, Saturday’s matchup marks the 12th meeting between the programs. Obnoxiously to fans such as myself, Nebraska has won 82 percent of games against MSU, the highest percentage against any Big Ten team with at least 10 games in the series. Going 4-2 during the Big Ten era for the Huskers is even more frustrating when looking at the fact UNL has won a measly 55 percent of conference matchups since joining, while the Spartans have won 68 percent of conference games in that same span.
However, some hope might come from the fact MSU is 1-1 in Spartan Stadium against the Huskers in Big Ten games, and 1-0 as a ranked team. Nebraska has only visited East Lansing twice so far since joining a decade ago. The first — a late afternoon 28-24 loss by unranked MSU that finished under the lights on a questionable pass interference call that set up Nebraska’s go-ahead touchdown — came in 2012. The second came in a night game in 2014 when No. 19 Nebraska staged a late rally, but failed to overcome the No. 10 Spartans in a 27-22 victory by the Spartans.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-2, 0-1) vs. Michigan State Spartans (3-0, 1-0)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 25
Kickoff: 7:10 p.m. EDT
Web/Mobile: Foxsports.com/FOX Sports App
Play-by-Play: Cory Provus
Analyst: Mark Helfrich
RADIO: Spartan Media Network
Play-by-Play: George Blaha
Analyst: Jason Strayhorn
Sideline: Steve Courtney
Broadcast Host: Will Tieman
Website/Mobile: msuspartans.com/MSU Spartans app/Tune In radio
Flagship Stations: Lansing: WMMQ (94.9 FM)/WJIM (1240 AM); Detroit: WJR (760 AM); Grand Rapids: WBFX (101.3 FM)
Affiliates: 30 affiliates listed at msuspartans.com
Satellite: Ch. 83 (Sirius), Ch. 83 (XM), Ch. 83 (SiriusXM.com)
Pre-game Show: Begins at 5:30 p.m
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Stadium: Spartan Stadium (74,866, down 139 seats from previous capacity)
Surface: Natural grass
All-Time Series: Nebraska leads, 9-2
Series in East Lansing: Nebraska leads, 2-1
Last Meeting: MSU 6, Nebraska 9 (2018)
Current Series Streak: two by Nebraska (2015-)
MSU Head Coach: Mel Tucker
MSU Record: 5-5 (second year)
Overall Record: 10-12 (third year)
Record vs. Nebraska: 1-0
Nebraska Head Coach: Scott Frost
Nebraska Record: 14-22 (fourth year)
Overall Record: 33-29 (sixth year)
Record vs. MSU: 1-0
The game also marks the second time Scott Frost will face off against Mel Tucker on the road, the last matchup having occurred in Boulder, Colorado when then first-year Colorado head coach Tucker oversaw a second half rally after trailing by 18 points to get the overtime win over the program’s then No. 25-ranked old Big 8 rival. Besides having absolutely zero business being ranked at the time, the win also came despite an overwhelmingly red crowd in the stands at Folsom Field. No matter how much chirping from Nebraska fans on Twitter bragging about that feat and how they will fill out the stands again in East Lansing on Saturday, it is important to remember the only result that actually matters is the scoreboard at the end of the game.
To that end, it will be a strength (Nebraska’s defense) going up against strength (MSU’s offense). The Spartans have one of the best running backs in the country thus far on the young season in Kenneth Walker III and Nebraska will be hard pressed to find an answer for him as the Huskers are giving up an average of 156.3 rushing yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry against far inferior backs. Nebraska has been strong against the pass however, and is limiting opponents to under 16 points per game.
On the flip side, Michigan State’s defense has been great against the run so far (112 ypg on 3.1 ypc), while the Cornhusker offense has been heavily focused on the run (183 rush attempts to 107 pass attempts). With a questionable forecast for rain by the time of kickoff, it is unclear how much either team will be able to rely on the pass in wet conditions. Add in the windy conditions with winds between five to 10 miles per hour currently predicted, and it might be dicey trying to air the game out. (Now it will end up being a pass heavy affair with clear skies and no wind since I said this.)
Final notes for fans, be sure to check your section listed on your ticket and wear the right colors for the annual “Stripe the Stadium” game. You also will want to be in the stands before kick for this one as the programs are honoring the memories of former Spartans Mike Sadler and Mylan Hicks along with former Cornhusker Sam Foltz. The game is the first time Nebraska is visiting Michigan State in East Lansing since Sadler and Foltz were killed in a car accident on July 23, 2016 driving home from a kicking camp they worked at that day. Sadler the first student-athlete at Michigan State to earn Academic All-America honors four times. A two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Sadler earned first-team All-America accolades during MSU’s Big Ten and Rose Bowl championship season in 2013. He was posthumously inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016. Foltz was named the 2015 Big Ten Punter of the Year for the Cornhuskers. Members of both families will participate in the coin toss using a commemorative coin featuring one of the kickers on either side.
Mylan Hicks, a former cornerback, safety, and linebacker for Michigan State from 2012-2014, was tragically killed on Sept. 25, 2016 in a shooting in Calgary, Alberta. Hicks, a native of Detroit, Michigan, was 23 at the time and will also be honored prior to kickoff Saturday. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in August 2014 and was named the defensive recipient of MSU’s Biggie Munn Award (most inspirational player) as a senior.