(WSCR) – The Northwestern Wildcats are preparing for one of their biggest games of the year. It’s a home game that couldn’t come at a more crucial point in the season. After losing at home to Purdue two weeks ago, the Wildcats now welcome the 8th ranked Michigan State Spartans to Ryan Field. While this is not only a big home game for the Wildcats, it is an equally big road game for the visiting Spartans.
Michigan State’s longest trip this season was to Detroit, and their only true road game was an hour away.
Now, it’s finally time for the Michigan State Spartans to do some real traveling. They leave their home state for the first time when they head west for this weekend’s game at Northwestern.
“If we’re going to have a special season, we have to win on the road in the Big Ten,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
The eighth-ranked Spartans played five of their first seven games at home. The only exceptions were against Florida Atlantic at Detroit’s Ford Field and a trip to Michigan Stadium to play the Wolverines. The latter wasn’t exactly a friendly venue, but it’s a lot closer than Evanston, Ill., where the Spartans will bus this week.
It will be the first of two big road games for Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten). After facing Northwestern, the Spartans play at Iowa in a game that should have major conference title implications.
“We’re sort of starting to get into a little bit of uncharted territory here,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “Nobody is going to take any football team we play for granted, especially this weekend going to Chicago.”
Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) won its first five games before a 20-17 loss to Purdue on Oct. 9. The Wildcats had last weekend off, giving them extra time to prepare for Michigan State.
The Spartans have stayed undefeated amid trying circumstances. Dantonio had a mild heart attack a month ago, followed by a blood clot in his leg. He coached the last two games from the coaches’ box and said his vantage point for the Northwestern game is still to be determined.
“I’m feeling much better, walking much better,” he said. “It may be something where you sort of ease into it down there some and up top some, something like that, but we’ll make the call probably at game time on that.”
The Spartans’ schedule hasn’t hurt. With Dantonio recovering, the team has been able to stay close to home.
“We’ve been fortunate when we did play down at Michigan, there were a lot of Spartan fans there – enough to be heard,” Dantonio said. “So I think the same will be true in Chicago this weekend because we have such a strong alumni base there. That’s the way it’s usually been.”
Cousins said he knew coming into the season that Michigan State might have a chance to build momentum with so many early games in or near East Lansing.
“We looked at the schedule in the summer … and knew that was going to be a great help if we wanted to have a special season,” he said.
But the Spartans aren’t quite there yet. Three of Michigan State’s final five games are on the road. The Spartans are No. 7 in the BCS standings, their highest ranking in that formula, but there’s a lot of football to be played.
Dantonio said he didn’t find out about the new BCS rankings until Monday.
“I refrained from looking at that Sunday night because I want to stay focused,” he said. “I think it’s a good moment. It’s a moment that you can be happy with, but I believe that football teams are measured over the course of 12 games. Right now we’re a 7-0 football team. If we falter, we’re a 7-5 football team.”
© 2010 The Associated Press. The Associated Press contributed to this article. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.