Mich St hopes to finish regular season in style

NOAH TRISTER (AP Sports Writer)

It was the type of question many coaches wouldn't want to answer.

Michigan State will play in the Big Ten title game Dec. 7 and can earn a trip to the Rose Bowl with a win. But what if the Spartans lose that game? What do they need to do to put themselves in position for an at-large bid to a BCS bowl?

''You have to think about those things,'' Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ''Certainly we have to win this game to even be in the talk in that regard.''

''This game'' is Saturday's matchup with Minnesota. The 11th-ranked Spartans have already clinched the Legends Division title, but if they win this weekend, they might have a chance at a BCS bid whether they win or lose in the league championship game against Ohio State.

Michigan State (10-1, 7-0) can also wrap up an unbeaten home season - for the third time in four years - with a victory.

Minnesota (8-3, 4-3) has its own bowl position to worry about. The Golden Gophers have won eight games for the first time since the 2003 team went 10-3.

''Winning solves a lot of problems,'' Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. ''So we've got to continue to win some ballgames, and that's what we're going to work at doing.''

Here are five things to watch when Michigan State hosts Minnesota:

STOPPED COLD?: Minnesota's David Cobb has rushed for 1,010 yards this season, but Michigan State has the nation's top-ranked defense both overall and against the run. Nebraska was able to run the ball effectively against the Spartans, but nobody else really has against Dantonio's team.

''People don't realize how good a job coach has done there. He's built that program,'' Kill said. ''He's recruited well to his system. He built it on defense, really similar to what we're doing. They've got good strong defensive linemen. That's what he wants.''

Cobb was held to 68 yards on 17 carries last weekend against Wisconsin, and the Gophers didn't score an offensive touchdown.

QUIET COOK: Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has stayed out of the spotlight - and that's fine with the Spartans. Cook has thrown only three interceptions, and if opponents don't have a short field against Michigan State's defense, they have a hard time scoring.

Cook has completed 61 percent of his passes in Big Ten play.

Minnesota has only 15 sacks on the season, so Cook could have plenty of time to throw.

RUNNING HARD: Jeremy Langford has rushed for 1,076 yards, combining with Cook to make the Michigan State offense look a lot better than it did early in the season. Looking ahead to the Ohio State game - the Spartans probably need Langford to be effective if they're going to pull an upset against the Buckeyes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Minnesota's Marcus Jones has returned both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns this season, but Michigan State punter Mike Sadler has been brilliant. He's had 34 percent of his punts downed inside the 10-yard line.

LOOKING AHEAD?: With so much at stake next week, it would be easy for the Spartans to look past this game. Dantonio wants none of that.

''To me this is an opportunity to win 11 football games, it's an opportunity to go 8-0 in the conference, our senior day at the end of the season in Spartan Stadium,'' Dantonio said. ''And just as importantly, an opportunity to probably get in the top 10 with a win, in the country, which would be something that you strive for at the end of every season, I believe.''