Sam Riche
October 24, 2014
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio watches his team during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. Michigan State won the game 56-17. (AP Photo/Sam Riche)
Sam Riche

A look at what to watch in the Big Ten this weekend:

GAME OF THE WEEK: The gap between Michigan and Michigan State is mighty wide right now, but it's worth a look any time these two get together.

No. 8 MSU (6-1, 3-0) has won five of the last seven meetings. And believe the Spartans when they say it never gets old beating the Wolverines (3-4, 1-2).

Historically, Ohio State has been Michigan's big rival and the Spartans have been dismissed as the ''little brother,'' as an old Wolverine famously said. Michigan did, after all, win 30 of 38 meetings from 1970-2007.

Though Michigan State has been the dominant team in recent years, the chip still sits squarely on its collective shoulder. Coach Mark Dantonio said this is the most important game on the schedule, and he has coached like it. His average margin of victory in his five wins over the Wolverines is 14.8 points, and the Spartans are favored by 17 at home Saturday.

Michigan State is one of the Big Ten's best hopes of making the College Football Playoff, so Sparty can't afford to slip up. Given the opponent, motivation will not be a problem.

The Spartans savored last year's 29-6 win, in which they held Michigan to a school-record minus-48 yards rushing on 29 attempts and sacked Devin Gardner seven times.

''The day after last year's game, as soon as the game was over, you're already ready to play them again,'' MSU defensive end Marcus Rush said.

BEST MATCHUP: Minnesota (6-1) is trying to go 4-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1967. Illinois (3-4) has lost all three of its conference games and is running out of chances to become bowl-eligible and, in all likelihood, save Tim Beckman's job.

This isn't necessarily a blowout waiting to happen, though. The Gophers needed a late 52-yard field goal to beat Purdue by a point at home last week, so it's a bit early to call them juggernauts. Minnesota is alone in first place in the West Division but probably must win this game to have a realistic chance to stay in the race to the end.

The Illini's problem isn't offense; it's defense. They're giving up 271 yards a game on the ground and will be hard-pressed to stop David Cobb, who has carried 30 or more times in each of the Gophers' last four games.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The three 100-yard receiving games by DaeSean Hamilton are most in a season by a Penn State freshman. ... Rutgers' Gary Nova is third nationally in yards per completion (16.3). ... Ohio State has generated at least 500 yards in four straight games, tying a program record. ... Nebraska's total-offense average of 523.3 yards is the Huskers' best through seven games since the 1995 team averaged 584.9.

LONG SHOT: Riding a five-game road win streak, Maryland (5-2, 2-1) makes its first trip to Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) as an 11 1/2-point underdog and in need of a win to keep pace in the East Division.

Good vibes abound for the Terrapins. They've scored 34 or more points in five games, and their comeback from a 14-point deficit to beat Iowa last week was their biggest since 2010.

Wisconsin is counting on another big game from running back Melvin Gordon, who leads the nation at 174.3 yards a game. Over the last four games he's averaging 217 a game and 8.8 a carry and has 12 touchdowns.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Ohio State's J.T. Barrett has thrown 17 touchdown passes against just one interception in the past four games. Barrett will try to help the Buckeyes extend their school record of scoring at least 50 points in four straight games when they visit Penn State.

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