EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan State is riding a wave of momentum going into the Big Ten season, extending its winning streak to three games with a win over a rival.
"It's definitely a confidence-booster to beat a team like Notre Dame," quarterback Brian Hoyer said after beating the Fighting Irish 23-7.
Michigan State received 14 votes in The Associated Press poll on Sunday, ranking 34th unofficially.
The Spartans' next test might be more mental than physical because they will be expected to open the conference slate strong at Indiana, against Iowa and at Northwestern.
If they can get through the relatively easy stretch without a loss, it would set up an interesting three-week string of games against Ohio State, at Michigan and against Wisconsin.
Keeping Javon Ringer healthy will be a key.
The running back leads the nation with 143 rushes, 734 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, carrying the ball more than any running back through four games has in more than a decade.
"My ankle is fine," said Ringer, who limped on the field and sideline at times Saturday. "My body, on a scale of one to 10, I would probably give it an eight."
Ringer has been almost perfect in the past two games, becoming the first Spartan to run for 200 yards in consecutive games. His 201 yards Saturday were the most by a Spartan against Notre Dame, breaking a mark that stood for more than a half-century.
"When we are getting talked to by the coaches it's hard not to look up at the big screen and watch what Javon is doing out there," linebacker Eric Gordon said. "The coaches will be writing on the board and trying to tell us what's up, but we are always trying to peek and see him.
"He's an amazing player and he had another great game."
Notre Dame knew the Spartans were going to give Ringer the ball from start to finish, but its defense couldn't slow him down.
"Sometimes it's not pretty, but the game has to played with a lot of toughness up front," coach Mark Dantonio said. "At some point, you're going to have to be able to run the football. If we couldn't run the ball, it would have been an issue when it was 16-7."
After Notre Dame missed a field goal and a chance to pull within six points with 5:50 to go, the Spartans sealed the victory by handing off to Ringer on all seven plays of a 77-yard drive he capped with his second TD.
"The program, from day one, we said as a staff would be built on toughness," said Dantonio, who's leading the Spartans for a second season. "That means mental and physical toughness."
Michigan State was tough up front against the Irish, holding them to 16 yards and making three sacks, and on the back end with safety Otis Wiley, ripping a ball away from a receiver for one of two interceptions. Wiley also had the hardest hit of the game against Notre Dame.
Wiley intercepted two passes for the second time this season, giving him four picks to tie for the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Hoyer, however, has not fared well statistically.
He has completed just 45 percent of his passes for 175 yards a game with only one TD and two interceptions. His quarterback rating ranks 200th among FBS and Football Championship Subdivision players.
Hoyer knows Big Ten teams will dare him to pass with eight players geared to stop Ringer.
"It's exciting," he said. "Purdue tried to do that last year and Penn State did, too, and we exposed them. Javon is going to open things up in the running game and we'll become more balanced as the season goes on."
Wiley said Michigan State is confident heading into its matchup on the road against the Hoosiers (2-1) who are coming off a 42-20 home loss to Ball State.
"We know it's going to be hard to compete for our common goal of a Big Ten championship," Wiley said. "Indiana, the last time we went to we had a bad game and got blew out (46-21), so that's going to be an emotional game."