Buckeyes first of three tough games for Spartans

Noah Trister The Associated Press
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, left, shared a laugh with Spartans basketball coach Tom Izzo after Dantonio was given a game ball Saturday for becoming the winningest football coach in school history. Wins could be hard to come by in October with games against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State looming. [Al Goldis/The Associated Press]

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Forget about waiting until the stretch run in November. The Michigan State football team will find out this month how it measures up against the Big Ten’s top teams.

Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State — all in a row, the first two on the road. That’s the October schedule the 25th-ranked Spartans are facing.

First up is No. 4 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten), which has won its past four games by at least 41 points each, including a 48-7 rout of Nebraska on Saturday. Some of Mark Dantonio’s greatest wins as Michigan State coach have been against the Buckeyes, but the Spartans have managed only nine points total in the past two meetings.

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“I think it’s a measuring stick. … We’ve got two big ones,” Dantonio said. “We’ve known this. We understand this. When you do your summer studies and things of that nature, you understand what you’re up against when you come to this part of the season.”

Michigan State at least will have an open date between the Wisconsin and Penn State games, but that feels a long way off with the Buckeyes looming. The transition from Urban Meyer to coach Ryan Day has gone well, with Ohio State looking like every bit the juggernaut it usually is.

“Ohio State has been a dominant program in this conference,” Dantonio said. “I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag here.”

This will be the earliest matchup between Michigan State and Ohio State since 2012, when they played in late September.

Michigan State (4-1, 2-0) has had its ups and downs, losing at home to Arizona State but starting Big Ten play with wins over Northwestern and Indiana.

The Northwestern game was an impressive blowout on the road. Against Indiana, Michigan State won 40-31, which was a step forward for the team’s much-maligned offense. Dantonio became Michigan State's all-time winningest coach in that game.

“You can see each and every week, we want to get out there on Saturday and prove that we can be better,” receiver Darrell Stewart said.

There may be no better opportunity than Saturday for the Spartans to prove their worth, on both sides of the ball.

“It’s going to be a challenge as we back it up to Columbus, Ohio, but that’s part of it. We understand that,” Dantonio said. “Again, if you want to be the best, if you want to say you’re one of the best defenses in the country, you’d better play well against a great offense as well. That’s part of it.”

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