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Michigan State Spartans vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview and Prediction

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The Michigan State Spartans and Minnesota Golden Gophers will meet up in Minneapolis on Saturday in key conference battle between two teams in two very different places at this point in the season.

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The Spartans are 2-0 in the Big Ten after grinding out a couple of impressive performances against Iowa and Michigan. P.J. Fleck's Golden Gophers have struggled during the early part of the conference slate, dropping games to both Maryland and Purdue.

Minnesota is looking for a big upset to help begin the climb out of the Big Ten West basement, while Michigan State looks to keep winning ugly and keep pace with Ohio State and Penn State atop the Big Ten East Standings.

Michigan State at Minnesota

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: Michigan State -4

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Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Gophers get the passing game going?

Minnesota hasn't had much trouble moving the ball on the ground, but at the heart of its offensive issues is a lack of overall effectiveness through the air. Quarterback Conor Rhoda has put up pedestrian numbers despite defenses loading the box to stop the run. If the Gophers want to be competitive in the Big Ten — especially in games against stout defenses like the Spartans' — they need more balance on offense. It's just a matter of whether that balance will from a schematic or personnel change.

2. Are the Spartans still celebrating?

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has talked about measuring his team's success in the games after big games. There aren't many bigger on the schedule than the game Michigan State won last week. The Spartans are young, and the ability to be mature enough to pack away the emotions from last weekend and head out on the road to face a tricky opponent and savvy head coach will be key. Minnesota has the weapons to hurt the Spartans if there appears to be any lack of focus on the part of Michigan State.

3. The evolution of Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke

Lewerke is quietly having himself an pretty solid year under center. His leadership, athleticism and ability to take care of the football are three of the biggest reasons for Michigan State's success in 2017. The fact that he leads the Spartans in rushing is pretty amazing considering some of the names on the running back depth chart. His dual-threat ability has caught opponents off guard and made the Spartans a difficult team to defend — especially on third down. Keep an eye on how the Gophers attack him defensively. Are they going to make Lewerke try to beat them through the air or force him out of the pocket and hope to minimize the damage he does on the ground?

Final Analysis

If you've followed both of these teams all season, you've seen this coming. Minnesota has some serious flaws and missing pieces that have been exposed over the last couple of weeks. The Spartans, on the other hand, are built to win tough games in the nation's most physical conference. They appear to be better than the Gophers in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and that's going to be the difference in this one. Look for another low-scoring game in which the Spartans take advantage of Minnesota's one-dimensional nature on offense, letting their defensive backs play man-to-man while loading up the box. When Michigan State has the ball, Minnesota just doesn't have to horses to slow down a powerful rushing attack and an underrated group of receivers who get better by the week.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

Prediction: Michigan State 24, Minnesota 10

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott