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Last-Minute Gameday Study Guide: Week 12, Michigan State

By Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn).

Arguably the biggest fan lament of Northwestern’s 7-3 start is its inability to close out close games in the fourth quarter. There are good reasons for this. The Wildcats held double-digit leads in the second half of all of their losses. On two occasions, one single play – against Nebraska, two potential game-sealing interceptions that were dropped; and against Michigan, a batted pass gone wrong – would have prevented a loss. It is not unreasonable to think Northwestern should be undefeated. So the regret rings loud, and I totally get that. But Wildcats fans should consider themselves lucky, because when it comes to poor late-game management, the 2012-13 Wildcats have nothing on Michigan State. The Spartans (5-5) have dropped four games by four or fewer points, including two in overtime. The toughest part for Michigan State fans is that the Spartans entered this season with expectations soaring, harboring legitimate designs on a Big Ten championship run, with anything less than a BCS postseason destination representing a disappointment. It’s November 16, Michigan State has yet to secure bowl eligibility, and fans are already starting to shift their attention towards the hardwood, starting to neglect the struggling football team.

I paint this picture to give you a window into the emotional state of these two fan bases. Both sides enter this game bemoaning what could have been. The pain is worse for MSU fans because of the glory-filled trajectory they envisioned for their Spartans heading into this season. Disappointment runs rampant for Wildcats supporters, too, but Northwestern has already exceeded most folks’ preseason projections. No matter the dejection amongst both sides, one team will leave Spartan Stadium Saturday feeling a little better about their season. A win gives Northwestern a positive Big Ten win-loss record. For Michigan State, victory erases the possibility of a must-win scenario to attain bowl eligibility the final week of the season at Minnesota. The stakes aren’t quite as high as either fan base would have hoped, but the competitiveness between these Legends rivals burns true all the same.

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We hope this post finds you in good temperament as you proceed through whatever gameday routine accompanies these precious fall Saturdays. Hopefully our preview material has you ready for the upcoming matchup, but in case you missed anything, below we’ve compiled a last-minute study guide for any opponent queries that may yet stand unresolved. It never hurts to get some last-minute cramming in before watching your beloved Wildcats in game action. That said, read up, and enjoy the game!

Our weekly opponent Q&A series spotlights MLive.com Spartans beat writer Michael Griffith, who offered first-hand analysis, plus a somewhat surprising prediction, of this weekend’s matchup.

The headline challenges rational thought – “Northwestern’s Seconday is There; It Just Has to Seal The Deal” – which is all the more reason to dig in and gain some perspective on the matter.

You know about Michigan State’s lights-out defense. The rest of the Spartans’ units are something of a mystery. Find out how they stack up against Northwestern’s groups.

No consensus on this week’s matchup from the Northwestern media. Find out where some of NU’s writers stand on the Wildcats chances in East Lansing.

Pinning down one underlying cause for Michigan State’s struggles this season is – like any assessment of a football team’s season performance – innately difficult. We did our best to break down the Spartans and lay out the key players and data points that should influence the outcome of Saturday’s game