1.) How much are the past two MSU-Nebraska games being talked about this week in East Lansing?
That is probably the biggest thing coaches and players are talking about. MSU came into Lincoln a couple years ago with the chance to basically lock up the Legends Division and got rolled 24-3. Last year, it looked like MSU would win in East Lansing, but came up short. MSU actually has never beaten Nebraska in its history.
This time, it is a lot like the 2011 game and that's why it is being talked about. For MSU, this is a chance to take at least a share of the division title. That's something they are very aware of after a down year that left a chip on their shoulder.
In some ways, the 28-24 loss to Nebraska last year is the epitome of why they have a chip. It was a tight game that MSU probably should have won but didn't make the last couple plays, which kind of embodied the 2012 season.
2.) Just talk about Connor Cook's growth in the last few weeks.
Cook has been incredibly steady of late. He is not spectacular, but he does enough to win games and has taken care of the ball so far, which is probably his biggest strength. In his first few starts, he was more erratic and missed some wide-open, easy throws. He still does miss those occasionally, but far less.
He is the X-factor for MSU and will be all season. As he goes, the team will go. When he played badly against Purdue, it was clearly on him as the rest of the offense was clicking. He made a big leap during MSU's first bye week with his footwork, so I guess we will see if he made another one.
3.) Nebraska has really started to dial up the blitz in the past 2 games, how does Michigan State's front five, and for that matter Cook, handle pressure?
MSU's offensive line has been as instrumental to the offense picking it up as anything. Having a true left tackle in redshirt freshman Jack Conklin allowed everyone to move to their true spot on the line and has given MSU a solid group in the trenches that has allowed just seven sacks this season (which also is a credit to quick passes and play calling). Despite that success, their strength is much more in run blocking and the best thing they do is wear teams down late in the game.
As for Cook, he does pretty well with pressure. He hasn't seen a lot of it behind a pretty good offensive line, but he is mobile and can get out of the pocket. I don't think he has seen enough heavy/max blitzes to gauge just how well he handles the pressure.
4.) Looking at the schedule, Nebraska likely has the best rushing attack MSU will have faced all year. Talk about Sparty's ability to shut down the run at this point and what makes them so good defensively?
I think Nebraska does have the best running game of any team MSU sees on its regular-season slate for sure. What MSU does defensively is try to take away the run to the best of its abilities to make a team throw the ball and be one-dimensional.
They do that with a veteran group that knows Pat Narduzzi's scheme inside and out and understand the gap assignments on each play. The linebackers are the key to that, but the safeties also are playing close to the line in run support and play downhill. The defense also is successful because it has a swarm mentality and everyone is flying to the ball on every play.
The key to the defense though is the cornerbacks. MSU leaves its corners on an island and believes they will shut down opposing wide receivers, which allows them to load the box and, in turn, shut down the run. Without good corners, though, the defense would not be nearly the same.
5.) Your keys to the game and prediction.
The key for MSU is to not let Tommy Armstrong and Ameer Abdullah beat them. Taylor Martinez in Nebraska's offense has been MSU's kryptonite and Armstrong obviously can run, too. Keeping him contained will go a long way for MSU.
I also think turnovers will be important. MSU forces a lot but doesn't give up many. Continuing that trend in Lincoln is important. Not having rust coming off the bye week also comes in there.
As for a prediction, I think MSU wins it with a score somewhere around 24-17. Nebraska might be the toughest offense MSU will face all year because of players like Abdullah and Kenny Bell, but I think the MSU defense is up to the test. I also think the offense does just enough to win it.