Not so long ago, Northwestern was sitting at 4-0 and ranked No. 16 in the nation. Fast forward a few weeks and the Wildcats are in need of two wins in their final two games to be bowl-eligible.
The first of those two comes Saturday as Michigan State heads to Evanston.
"I've played Northwestern quite a few times and no matter what their record is or our record is, the always come to play," MSU senior linebacker Max Bullough said. "I know how good Northwestern is whether they're 0-6 or 6-0. I'm going to be ready to play and this team will be ready to play."
The Spartans, who are 4-2 against Northwestern under Mark Dantonio, faced a similar situation last season in needed a win in their final game to become bowl eligible understand the pride at stake for the Wildcats.
More importantly, the focus is on the hard-fought games the teams play year in and year out.
"They need two wins to get to a bowl game," Dantonio said. "They're in that kidn of mode. … We've played them for six years. They've never taken a play off. They've never come and not been prepared. Never played without emotion.
"This game has been an extremely tough game for us. That's what I expect."
Sophomore Connor Cook said the message from the coaches this week has been simple: Northwestern is tough every year.
"All the coaches have been preaching this week that they're still going to come out fighting and that's how they are every single year," Cook said. "No matter what kind of season they're having. A good season, bad season, they're an aggressive football team and they're well-coached, they're smart players and they're going to be intense."