The last time the Spartans faced Northwestern, they were playing for sole possession of the title of 2011 Big Ten Legends Division champions.
MSU knocked off the Wildcats 31-17 in Evanston, Ill., ensuring the Legends Division would not be shared en route to the Spartans’ appearance in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
A year later, the scene is being set a little differently.
Instead of playing for sole ownership of the division, the Spartans (5-5 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) find themselves fighting to become bowl-eligible and extend their season by one game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats (7-3, 3-3) already have a bowl berth locked up and are playing to improve the game they’ll be playing in.
“We’ve got two weeks left that are guaranteed for us,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “We need to make the best of those and come out of here 7-5 and go into a bowl game and have that ‘feel-good’ feeling about this football team.”
The Spartans will be coming off a bye week after falling 28-24 to No. 16 Nebraska two weeks ago, while the Wildcats are looking to bounce back from a 38-31 loss to No. 23 Michigan in Ann Arbor last Saturday.
The Spartans also are looking to notch their first victory in Spartan Stadium since Sept. 22 against Eastern Michigan, and also their last opportunity to secure a Big Ten victory at home.
The Spartans have yet to beat a Big Ten opponent in Spartan Stadium this season, and if they lose to Northwestern on Saturday, it will mark the first time since 2006 they failed to beat a single conference opponent at home.
But more than anything, it’s also the last time 13 seniors will suit up in green and white at Spartan Stadium, and junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said it’s important to send that group out with a victory.
“This is really important for us and our seniors,” he said. “Just to send them out on a high note and have them leaving with a good taste in their mouth and good feelings about playing in Spartan Stadium.”
The Spartan defense once again has found itself preparing for a dual-quarterback offense, as the Wildcats have balanced Kain Colter’s running ability and Trevor Siemian’s accuracy at the position this season.
Colter tends to get the majority of the snaps at quarterback, but Dantonio isn’t sleeping on the effectiveness of his replacement.
“They don’t seem to miss a beat when (Siemian) comes in there,” he said. “They want to change things and take it to a different concept in terms of passing the football.”
As far as Northwestern’s defense, junior running back Le’Veon Bell already knows he’s in for a grind, preparing to wear down the Wildcats before they wear him down.
“They just play hard,” he said. “They’re solid, they know that you know whatever lineup, (and) they try to out-physical you. (From) play one to play 65, they’ll be physical.”