Michigan State Spartans football teams tries to get over .500 vs. Illinois


AP Sports Writer

EAST LANSING — One stat jumps out at Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio when he talks about Illinois.

“Turnovers,” Dantonio said. “I think turnovers give you a chance to even up the playing field. You know, when you’re plus-three turnovers against Wisconsin, all of a sudden, the game gets a little tight and then they start to believe in themselves. I think they’ve done a nice job since then of capitalizing on that.”

The Illini are plus-12 in the turnover department on the season, and they’re a league-best plus-11 in their six Big Ten games. That’s a big reason they’ve managed a .500 record in conference play heading into Saturday’s game at Michigan State. A win this weekend would make Illinois bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

“Guys that have been here for four years and have contributed so much to the growth of our program, that’s how you reward good play,” coach Lovie Smith said. “A job well done, we feel like let’s get to a bowl game. And to have that opportunity, that’s what we’re talking about now.”

Although Michigan State (4-4, 2-3) and Illinois (5-4, 3-3) have similar records, it feels like they’re moving in different directions. A bowl appearance would be a big step for the Illini. For the Spartans, that’s the bare minimum of what is generally expected under Dantonio. Illinois has won three games in a row, including a huge upset of Wisconsin. Michigan State has dropped three straight and was outscored 100-17 by Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State.

The Spartans also lost linebacker Joe Bachie, who was declared ineligible after testing positive for a banned supplement. Michigan State said it would appeal, but he’s out for now.

Still, the Spartans are favored by about two touchdowns.