Published Friday, October 11, 2013 at 8:35 pm / Updated at 8:42 pm
Barfknecht: Hoosiers break through, but can they keep it going?

The big game in the Big Ten this week is No. 19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1) at Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1). I’ll be there with full reports in The World-Herald and online.

So let’s focus here on what we’ll label the league’s most intriguing matchup: Indiana (3-2, 1-0) at Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) on ESPN2 at 11 a.m.

The contrast could hardly get more stark, as these national statistical rankings indicate:

Ľ Total offense: Indiana No. 9, Michigan State No. 100.

Ľ Total defense: Indiana No. 104, Michigan State No. 1.

In a battle of such high-contrast strengths, wild momentum swings aren’t uncommon.

That’s what happened last year in this matchup when Indiana opened a 17-0 lead, Michigan State closed to 17-14, IU went back up 27-14, then MSU added a field goal and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to win 31-27.

Indiana, under third-year coach Kevin Wilson, is still trying to teach his team how to win important games.

Last week might have been a huge first step as the Hoosiers thumped Penn State 44-24 — their first win in a Big Ten opener in 13 years.

“We needed confidence,’’ Wilson said. “We were trying to give some backhanded confidence: practicing like a winning team, treating it like a winning team because we were working like one.

“We weren’t getting the results, but we thought our plan was in place.’’

The victory has put Indiana back on track to win enough for a bowl bid, which has happened only once in the previous 19 years.

But Wilson, who previously coached as an assistant at Northwestern and Oklahoma, planned no parades after one win.

“What we did last Saturday to me wasn’t unusual,’’ he said. “What to me is unusual is if we can do it again because we haven’t done that. I’d like to see if our kids can handle the success of being a winning team.’’

Indiana is playing its first road game of the season. Michigan State is coming off a 26-14 road win over Iowa in which its maligned offense gained some credibility under sophomore quarterback Connor Cook.

“I have felt all along that when our offense makes some plays,’’ Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said, “confidence is going to breed confidence and things are going to flourish.

“I think you saw some of that start to happen last week. I feel our players made a big step in the right direction.’’

My pick: Michigan State 29, Indiana 21

Other Big Ten games

No. 19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1) at Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1), 2:30 p.m., ABC: Not much lines up in Northwestern’s favor here. The Wildcats are coming off an emotional home loss to Ohio State and have to go on the road to face arguably the second-best team in the league. Also, Wisconsin has had a week off to get healthy after its loss to Ohio State. Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 21

Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) at Purdue (1-4, 0-1), 11 a.m., BTN: Sometimes funny things can happen when a team goes on the road for the first time. But Nebraska has enough of a talent edge here that it should avoid a crazy outcome. Purdue gives true freshman quarterback Danny Etling his first career start. Etling, who said he looks like “a tall eighth-grader,’’ was a four-star recruit and can sling it. Nebraska 34, Purdue 17

No. 18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0) at Penn State (3-2, 0-1), 4 p.m., ESPN: The way the Wolverines have struggled, it’s hard to remember they remain undefeated. Quarterback Devin Gardner finally played turnover-free last week. If he’s close to that again against a Penn State defense that lacks speed and a consistent pass rush, UM should remain undefeated. Michigan 31, Penn State 17

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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