LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The calendar has turned to November, the month when Michigan State has been its best under Mark Dantonio, and the sixth-ranked Spartans know exactly where they stand in college football’s big picture.
So it’s on to Nebraska to start the second half of their Big Ten schedule Saturday night.
“You better focus on the task at hand. There’s no reason to look past that,” Dantonio said. “But you also need to understand we have a great opportunity in front of us. Really we’re in control of those opportunities. Nobody else. We have people left on our schedule beginning with this weekend that can start to tell the story of Michigan State.”
The Spartans (8-0, 4-0) sit No. 7 in the first College Football Playoff rankings. They’ve had narrow wins over Purdue and Rutgers and needed the play of the year in college football to escape Michigan with a victory.
With a Nov. 21 game at defending national champion Ohio State looming, they’re in position to move up in the playoff race if they win at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4) and beat Maryland at home next week. After Ohio State, they finish at home against Penn State.
Dantonio’s teams have won 21 of 27 November games since he became the Spartans’ coach in 2007. They’ve won nine straight November conference road games and 10 of their last 11.
Saturday’s game ends a tumultuous week for Nebraska. The Huskers lost 55-45 at Purdue last week, giving the Huskers their worst nine-game record since 1960. First-year coach Mike Riley received public votes of confidence from athletic director Shawn Eichorst and chancellor Harvey Perlman.
Riley said he was thankful for the support and that angst among fans is understandable because of how deeply they care.
“We want to do better for everybody,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do, I hope really soon, I hope Saturday. It makes me want to do better faster … knowing that these great fans are out there wanting to win, that the people who work with you at the university are behind you in every way.”
Riley said he hasn’t wavered in his belief that the Huskers are better than their record indicates.
“They’ve practiced well every week,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, all the work they’ve done, maybe now one pays off.”
Some things to know as the Spartans go for their third straight win against Nebraska:
ARMSTRONG RETURNS: Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be back after sitting out the Purdue game with a foot injury. WR Alonzo Moore (shoulder) also should return. Top RB Terrell Newby (ankle) started the week questionable. OL Nick Gates (ankle), who has missed three games, will be back at left tackle. Zach Sterup, who had filled in for Gates, will replace nine-game starter Chongo Kondolo at left guard.
COOK’S COOKING: Michigan State QB Connor Cook leads the Big Ten with 17 touchdown passes, is second in passing with 258.8 yards a game and third in total offense with 266.6 yards a game. He’s 31-3 in his career, including 20-1 against Big Ten opponents.
STREAKING SPARTANS: MSU has won 21 of its last 22 games against Big Ten opponents since 2012, including 16 wins by 10 or more points. It’s the best 22-game stretch against Big Ten opponents in program history.
NOVEMBER UNBEATENS: Michigan State will be just the 10th unbeaten November visitor in the 93-year history of Memorial Stadium. Nebraska is 5-3-1 in the previous nine games.
FULL OF SURPRISES: Riley had a history of pulling surprises against top-10 opponents when he was at Oregon State, none bigger than the Beavers’ 27-21 win over No. 1 USC in 2008. The secret? “You believe you can do it. You practice, and then you have to perform. You have to know you can do it or you’re done.”
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