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Northwestern gameday study guide: Michigan State

As the losses pile up, and Northwestern watches its postseason hopes dwindle, the question is worth asking: are there supernatural forces working against the Wildcats this season? Quarterback Kain Colter stopped just short of saying he believed as much. “It almost feels like we’re cursed,” Colter said Monday. Cursed or not, Northwestern needs to win its final two games to reach a bowl, starting with Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State (9-1, 6-0 Big Ten). The Spartans have one of the best defenses in the country, and an offense that, but for a few hiccups, has steadily improved since sophomore Connor Cook was inserted as the starting quarterback earlier in the season.

To beat MSU, Northwestern will need to do a few things. Shedding blocks, tackling well, avoiding penalties. All the simple stuff good teams do that fans like to take for granted. The Wildcats also need to avoid melting down in the final minute of the fourth quarter. In five of its six losses this season, it seems Northwestern has committed the one mistake it can’t afford to commit: a crucial penalty at Iowa, poor Hail Mary defense at Nebraska, a dropped interception against Michigan. The list goes on. If Northwestern can avoid making another debilitating mistake Saturday against Michigan State, maybe it will upset the Spartans.

Our picks ands score predictions for Saturday’s game. Hint: we all like MSU.

The best unit on the field Saturday will be Michigan State’s defense. How do these teams’ offenses and special teams stack up?

There are three big things you need to know before watching Saturday’s game.

Get to know the Legends Division-leading Spartans in this week’s edition of the links.

Last year's Spartans bear a striking statistical resemblance to this year's Wildcats.

Maybe Northwestern simply wasn't "due" last week against Michigan.

InsideNU's Kevin Trahan previews Saturday's game with the Northwestern News Network.

An update on proceeds from the Wounded Warrior Auction and attendance numbers.

If Northwestern is going to beat Michigan State, here's how it will happen.

Practice and press conference notes from the week: Monday press conference notes, Wednesday practice notes (including new information on one player's season-ending injury), Big Ten teleconference notes.