Best of Week 4: MSU-Notre Dame matchup has it all

There aren’t many high-calorie contests on this 10-game Big Ten menu for Saturday, just light fare for the most part.

Michigan State at Notre Dame is the clear headliner. And Missouri at Indiana is filled with intrigue, as this is the lone regular-season clash between the Big Ten and SEC. And the lid is taken off Big Ten action with Purdue playing at Wisconsin. After that? Meh.

A big issue– There are three games vs. FCS foes: Maine at Northwestern; South Dakota State at Nebraska; Florida A&M at Ohio State. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities about any of those games. And it’s always difficult to get pumped up about games vs. the MAC, of which there are two: Western Michigan at Iowa; Kent State at Penn State. But know this: The Hawkeyes are 0-2 vs. Western Michigan. Illinois is off.

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BEST GAME: Michigan State at Notre Dame. Points may be difficult to come by in this one—or maybe not. This will complete the Big Ten portion of the Fighting Irish’s schedule, as they have lost at Michigan and won at Purdue. Michigan State is a team of mystery after playing and beating three nondescript foes—and rarely impressing. The Spartans have lost the last two meetings and have been outscored 51-16 in the process. MSU’s last win in the series came in 2010 on a trick play in overtime—after which Mark Dantonio had a heart attack. Michigan State last won in South Bend in 2007, taking a 31-14 decision.

UPSET ALERT: Minnesota needs to be wary with San Jose State coming to the Twin Cities. The Spartans went 11-2 last season but have a new coach. Still, talent remains. San Jose State, which was off last week, has an NFL prospect at quarterback in David Fales. And anytime you have a good signal-caller, you have a shot. This game looks and feels a lot like last week’s UCF at Penn State game. And, we know how that ended.

MUST WIN: Wisconsin. The Badgers are coming off a controversial 32-30 loss at Arizona State, a game marred by dubious officiating at the end which cost Wisconsin a shot to attempt a potential game-winning field goal. Wisconsin needs to turn the page and get on track for a season that’s still filled with promise. Purdue is coming to Madison with a modicum of confidence after a strong effort in a home loss to Notre Dame. History says the Badgers won’t just win—they’ll romp. Wisconsin has won the last seven meetings. And, frankly, they haven’t been close.

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QUARTERBACK MATCHUP TO WATCH: Slim pickings. Let’s go with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld vs. Missouri’s James Franklin. Sudfeld looks like a rising star as the triggerman for the Hoosiers’ prolific attack. Franklin is a veteran who was dogged by injury last season. But he’s a nice dual-threat signal-caller who could pose issues for Indiana’s defense. There could be plenty of points in this game.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Michigan QB Devin Gardner. No, the Wolverines aren’t in serious peril of losing at UConn, but Gardner needs to have a good game. Last week, he tossed three picks and lost a fumble. Gardner has six picks this year. He needs a turnover-free game to establish some confidence. It will be interesting to see if he defaults to running instead of passing when things are breaking down.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Nebraska’s mind-set. To say this has been a controversial week in Lincoln would be like saying Bill Gates is a little rich. First, there was the disappointing 41-21 loss to UCLA that saw an epic meltdown from a 21-3 lead. Then, there was the release of the profanity-laced Pelini tape from 2011. That was followed by a Pelini mea culpa and subsequent support from his bosses and Tom Osborne. Now that everything seems copacetic, Nebraska can take to the field and demolish FCS South Dakota State. Maybe Pelini and the fans he disparaged in the recording can use this event as a healing session with a romp over the Jackrabbits.

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BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Has to be Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio vs. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. These two share some history, as each was the head coach at Cincinnati before matriculating to their current job. In fact, Kelly followed Dantonio in coaching the Bearcats. Each has molded their program in their visage, producing tough, detail-oriented squads that pride themselves on playing smart, hard and with passion.

COORDINATOR MATCHUP TO WATCH: Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi vs. Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. Narduzzi may be the top defensive coordinator in the nation who soon will be a head coach somewhere. He once again has the top defense in the Big Ten (and nation). Martin is a rising star in the coaching ranks who is still sorting through this offense sans quarterback Everett Golson. Tommy Rees is a bit turnover-prone, and the running game needs some juice, but there is big-play ability.

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RANKING THE GAMES

1. Michigan State at Notre Dame

2. Missouri at Indiana

3. Purdue at Wisconsin

4. Michigan at UConn

5. San Jose State at Minnesota

6. Western Michigan at Iowa

7. Kent State at Penn State

8. Maine at Northwestern

9. South Dakota State at Nebraska

10. Florida A&M at Ohio State

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Ed Petersen on 9/20/2013 @ 3:38pm EST Said:

Don’t knock the MAC as I recall Toledo has beaten a couple of Big 10 teams the likes of Michigan, Purdeau, Penn State. The Akron zips were seconds away from beating Michigan this year.