Up next: Michigan State

Michigan State is feeling good after a convincing win over Illinois. The Gophers will have to contain some of the Spartans' hottest players on both sides of the ball to have a chance Saturday.

The Spartans have gone from a feel-good story to a major contender for the Big Ten title.

Their latest chapter was written in a one-sided 49-14 road victory over Illinois. While the Illini have been struggling most of the season, they came out hard and responded to an early Michigan State touchdown with one of their own. That showed a team that was willing to fight on its home turf. With a game against powerful Minnesota coming up, it would have been easy for the Spartans to lose focus.

But that's the last thing that happened. The Spartans played error-free football — their third straight game without a turnover — and scored 21 points off three Illinois turnovers.

Once again Jeff Smoker led the way. He threw for 317 yards — his fourth 300-yard passing game of the season — and he threw two more TD passes while adding another on the ground.

"Our team deserves a lot of credit," head coach John L. Smith told the Detroit Free-Press. "This team has taken everything to heart and is a very unselfish team. Good things have happened and we're gaining a little bit of momentum now."

If the 15th-ranked Spartans can win on the road this week at Minnesota, the season will start to look even more special.

GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Jeff Smoker — It's fairly clear with each passing week that Smoker is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. He has a very strong arm and his consistently accurate. He followed up a 32-of-40 performance against Indiana with a 23-of-31 game against Illinois that included two TD passes and a scoring run.

KEEP AN EYE ON: S Jason Harmon — The hard-hitting junior capped a sensational afternoon when he picked up a fumble from Illinois RB Pierre Thomas and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're playing good football right now. We just want to keep that going. We don't want to be satisfied with being bowl eligible." — Smoker on the team's aspirations following the lopsided win over Illinois.

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