Spartans spilling over with confidence

While the Gophers are trying to rebound from a loss, their next opponent, Michigan State, is beginning to burgeon with confidence.

Just how good can these Spartans be?

After last week's win at Illinois, head coach John L. Smith made noises about the Spartans challenging for the Big Ten title.

While that would still seem to be a little too much to fathom, it's becoming more of a possibility every week. QB Jeff Smoker is playing near-perfect football, as he does not throw interceptions and he hits his receivers in stride. The Spartans don't fumble either. They have gone three straight games without a turnover.

On the defensive side, they hammer away at opposing ball carriers and they come up with takeaways.

Perhaps most important, they are playing with tremendous pride, desire and toughness under Smith's leadership.

"It's that dream, that goal you have out there that we're going to have to go earn it, but we can actually make something happen," Smith told the Detroit Free-Press. "If we keep going in the right direction -- we're going to have to have a little bit of luck along the way, too -- it could be special."

Playing at Minnesota this week is a difficult task, and it will be tough to get a read on the Gophers' emotions after they squandered a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to Michigan last week.

There's no such issue with Michigan State's mental state.

"The dream is out there and everybody should have that dream," Smith said. "Championship -- that's our goal."

QB Jeff Smoker is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. He throws a great deep ball and he excels at reading coverages. Smoker has gone three games without an interception and he should be able to take advantage of the yielding Minnesota secondary.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This was supposed to be a weak spot for Michigan State this year, but coach John L. Smith and his staff has turned this unit completely around. The Spartans are aggressive and nasty. S Jason Harmon is the Big Ten defensive player of the week after recording eight tackles, an interception and a fumble returned for a TD vs. Illinois.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we take care of what we're supposed to take care of we have a chance to win this league." -- MSU head coach John L. Smith.

Michigan State at Minnesota, Oct. 18 -- The Spartans are on a tremendous roll, while Minnesota fell on its face in the fourth quarter against Michigan and lost its first game of the season. The Spartans are playing with confidence, and a quick start could really be damaging to the Gophers' psyche.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: S Jason Harmon -- He made eight tackles and an interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown at Illinois. Harmon is a big hitter who is smart and aware in his coverage.

QB Jeff Smoker -- Is one of the best stories in college football after going through drug rehab last year and emerging as the best QB in the league ... and one of the best in the nation. Smoker completed 23-of-31 passes for 317 yards with two TDs against Illinois last week.

INJURY IMPACT: Safety Monquiz Wedlow (ankle), linebacker Ronald Stanley (hamstring) and running back Tyrell Dortch (ankle) are expected to play against the Illini.

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