In one of the sneaky good rivalries of the 21st century, Notre Dame and Michigan State square off in an afternoon tilt in South Bend on Saturday afternoon.
The two teams have had nine games decided by a single possession since 2000, and who can forget the 44-41 Notre Dame comeback victory of 2006 and the purely epic Michigan State radio meltdown it precipitated?
There may be no such collapse and meltdown this season, but a matchup of two of the top defenses in the nation should provide plenty of hard hits and drama for sixty solid minutes.
Rankings and records: Notre Dame enters Week 4 at 2-1, ranked 22nd in the AP poll and 21st in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Undefeated Michigan State is the top team also receiving votes in the AP and sits at 24th in the Coaches Poll.
Vegas: Notre Dame is favored by 4.5 points, and the over/under is 42 points.
Weather: It's perfect football weather in South Bend this Saturday, as it'll be clear with kickoff temperatures right around 70 degrees and staying in the upper 60s for the game.
Three names to know
Connor Cook is Michigan State's starting quarterback this week after shredding Youngstown State for four first-half touchdowns last week. He has emerged from the Spartans' four-man QB race as the lone starter on the depth chart, but this'll be his first true test as the leader of the offense.
Making Cook's day difficult will be Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt, a 6'7, 312-pound first-team All-American who should terrorize Michigan State's tackles over the course of the game. Tuitt is a matchup nightmare with the size to dominate smaller linemen and the speed to get around mountains ... and he doesn't miss tackles.
Meanwhile, there's no shortage of playmakers on the Spartans' defense, but MSU defensive end Shilique Calhoun has been a hell-raiser in the early going, collecting four turnovers and scoring three touchdowns in just three games thus far. After the first two games, Calhoun (who, again, is a defensive lineman) actually led the Spartans in scoring. He has since been supplanted by RB Jeremy Langford, but Calhoun's also a wonderful guy off the field, according to the Detroit Free-Press.
Two things at stake
For Notre Dame, a 2-2 start to the season would be tough to stomach -- especially with a brutal slate of Oklahoma-Arizona State-USC looming. The home stretch gets considerably easier from there (aside from a trip to No. 5 Stanford to finish things off), but a home loss to Michigan State could portend a five- or six-loss season. That'd be far less than ideal for a team coming off a berth in the BCS Championship Game.
Meanwhile, Michigan State absolutely needs to see good play from Cook, otherwise its QB race isn't truly settled -- and that's a recipe for disaster coming into Big Ten play. This game won't directly affect the Spartans' run for another Legends Division title, of course, but it'll go a long way in determining how likely a trip back to Indianapolis might be for coach Mark Dantonio and his crew.
How to witness
TV: This game will be on Notre Dame's station, NBC, at 3:30 p.m. ET. Announcers are Dan Hicks and Mike Mayock in the booth with Alex Flanagan on the sidelines.
Online streaming: NBC Sports will offer this game on its LiveExtra streaming service.