No. 11 Northwestern looks to take one step closer to securing a spot in the Big Ten Championship when it travels to play Michigan State on Saturday.
The Wildcats (5-0, 5-0) are coming off a monumental victory over Wisconsin on Saturday. The win propelled Northwestern to the top of the Big Ten West Division and into the College Football Playoff picture.
According to ESPN's Allstate Playoff Predictor, Northwestern has a 13.9% chance to make the playoff. Those are the ninth-best odds in the nation.
The Wildcats' road to this point has not been easy. They played with a chip on their shoulders after Joey Galloway called the team a bunch of "Rece Davises" on television prior to the game against Wisconsin. Branding themselves the "Fightin' Rece Davises," Northwestern outplayed the Badgers, and proceeded to call out Galloway after the game.
"I think our guys ran with it and had a little bit of fun and enjoyed it," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
While Northwestern is solidifying itself as a national contender, Michigan State and first-year head coach Mel Tucker are looking to return to the heights of a few years back.
The Spartans are 1-3 this season, with their only win coming against Michigan on Halloween. After that win, Michigan State was blown out by Iowa and Indiana and had its game last week against Maryland canceled due to a COVID outbreak in College Park.
Tucker did not name a starting quarterback on Tuesday, saying the competition is still open.
"We have to give our quarterback an opportunity to be successful," Tucker said.
The battle is mainly between junior Rocky Lombardi and redshirt freshman Payton Thorne. Lombardi has started all four games this season but has struggled. If you take away the victory over Michigan, he has thrown seven interceptions and only three touchdowns.
Lombardi was benched midway through the second quarter against the Hoosiers two weeks ago in favor of Thorne. Thorne finished 10 of 20 for 110 yards.
Either one will be faced with a staunch challenge, as Northwestern enters with the second-most efficient defense in the country.
On the other side of the field, Northwestern is set at quarterback with graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey. Ramsey has added stability and efficiency at the position after the Wildcats quarterbacks combined to have one of the worst passing attacks in college football last season.
The transfer from Indiana is completing 62 percent of his passes and has tossed eight touchdowns. While he is not blowing away defenses with his talent, his game-management skills and burgeoning connections with pass catchers have turned the Northwestern offense into an efficient force.
"Our wide receiver core is at an all-time high right now and it's also at an all-time high with Peyton," wide receiver Kyric McGowan said. "We believe that he's gonna put the ball in the right place and we just gotta trust that we're gonna get in the right spot."
--Field Level Media