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Michigan State Spartans vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights Preview and Prediction

Leonte Carroo

Leonte Carroo

For a struggling and inconsistent Rutgers program, there’s nothing worse than false hope, right? Well, trying to find a silver lining from Michigan State’s 24-21 victory over Purdue could lead to a very deflating result on Saturday when the Spartans come into High Point Solutions Stadium looking to earn their fifth win of the 2015 season.

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Rutgers is fresh off a bye week, and just reinstated leading receiver and team captain Leonte Carroo for their big upcoming in-conference game. Do the Scarlet Knights have a fighting chance against a Spartans team that’s aimed at a berth in the second College Football Playoff? With major questions on defense, and an inconsistent offensive product, Rutgers could be in line to see an in-person replay of the last matchup against Michigan State which ended in a 45-3 loss on the road.

Michigan State is of no shortage on offense. Senior quarterback Connor Cook leads the offense with already 10 touchdowns to just one interception on the young season. Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge leads the team with 25 receptions and four touchdowns, and the Spartan rushing attack is as potent as always with both L.J. Scott and Madre London both over 370 yards on the season each with seven total touchdowns between them.

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Michigan State at Rutgers

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: MSU -13.5, o/u 54.5

Three Things to Watch For

1. Michigan State QB Connor Cook

Cook is undoubtedly one of the nation’s top signal-callers, and will easily be the toughest test under center for the Scarlet Knights at any point this season. Cook has led the Spartans to an early 5-0 record, a No. 4 national ranking and a claim to first place in the Big Ten Eastern Division.

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Spartans head coach Mike Dantonio acknowledged that Rutgers' secondary is a concern for he and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cook looking to stay upright with three starting offensive lineman out.

"It is tough to win games," Dantonio said. "I don't care who you play. People spend 80-plus hours as coaches every week to develop a plan with what they have.”

Cook could be in for a big day, with receiver Aaron Burbridge expected to be the focus in the passing game; Burbridge leads the team in receptions at 25, with the highest total after being just 10. Unless Rutgers gets pressure early and often against Cook, the Scarlet Knights defense could be ripe for picking at the hands of Cook and the Spartans.

2. Rutgers' Defensive Line

As mentioned before, the Spartans are expected to be without three starters along the offensive line, including All-American left tackle Jack Conklin. In light of Conklin’s absence, starting center and All-American Jack Allen will bump out to left tackle.

If the Scarlet Knights want to take the pressure off their secondary, their best bet is to utilize the pass rush in an attempt to fluster Cook and force the Spartans to use the rushing game, something the Spartans might actually find works in their favor considering Rutgers is just two weeks removed from Penn State rushing for more than 200 yards against them.

3. Janarion Grant

The Scarlet Knights have very few bright spots on this year’s team, but Grant is one that fans and pundits can cling to when looking to shine some light on a rather ugly season so far.

Grant has already taken three kicks back to the house in the young 2015 season, having already earned himself a Big Ten Player of the Week award after his Week 2 performance. The Michigan State kick coverage team is average on a good day, so this could be an avenue the Scarlet Knights look to exploit with creativity.

Final Analysis

Michigan State is coming off an ugly win against Purdue, but they’ve dominated the rest of their competition along the way. Look for Connor Cook to possibly have his first “big” game of the season against a Rutgers defense that has been far from dominant this year.

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Michigan State has the advantage in both the running game, and the passing game, and their defense ranks as one of the best in the conference. Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano has been inconsistent and unable to truly take over games, and could falter early against a turbulent pass rush from Michigan State.

Prediction: Michigan State 44, Rutgers 17

— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.