Michigan State Spartans (3-8 SU, 4-7 ATS) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2 SU, 7-3-1 ATS)
College Football Week 13
Date/Time: Saturday, November 26, 2016 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania
By Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MSU +12.5/PSU -12.5
Over/Under Total: 54.5
The Michigan State Spartans meet the Penn State Nittany Lions in Big Ten action on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. For Penn State, the stakes are big, as they are still in there with a chance to win the East division. If Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State beats Michigan St. this week, the Nittany Lions would win the division. Standing in their way is a Spartans team that gave Ohio State all they could handle last week. Despite a 3-win season, they look to play the role of spoiler this week after losing to the Buckeyes by one last Saturday, 17-16. Penn State, meanwhile, scored a 39-0 shutout over Rutgers for their 7th win a row.
It has been a big season for Penn State, as they return to prominence. They are sitting in a good position as big favorites over a bad Spartans team, needing a favored Ohio State home team to beat Michigan on Saturday. There is a very realistic path to the Big Ten title game for this squad. Last season, they lost by 39 the Spartans, but this is a different team and you canít underestimate the character of a team that is able to bounce back from being in the dumps, as the Nittany Lions have done this season. After losing badly to Michigan in week 4, they were 2-2 and it looked like another so-so season was in store for Penn St. Seven consecutive wins later, itís a completely different story. As 17.5-point underdogs, they pinned the only loss on Ohio State on October 22. Itís been a banner season for the this bunch and they likely wonít be easily separated from this good feeling they worked so hard to get.
Penn State offers a lot of balance on both sides of the ball. With Trace McSorley behind center, the Nittany Lions have seen the offense develop into a capable and versatile unit. Theyíre not a high-flying group, but they are proficient in what they do. McSorley has 17 TD throws, having also run in six scores. He relies on one of the best backs in the conference in Saquon Barkley, who has run for over 1200 yards with 14 touchdowns, with over 300 yards and two scores aerially. In the passing-game, Barkley works with good players like Chris Godwin and Mike Gesicki. But the role players are deep, with a lot of different guys on this offense that can sneak up and get you.
The Nittany Lionsí defense is also a balanced group. In addition to being moderately-stout against both the pass and the rush, they are a group that can make plays and change a game with their firepower. They have also been very clutch and that has been instrumental in Penn State winning seven straight games. Their pass-rush has been crisp and the secondary makes plays. Defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan have gotten after quarterbacks. They are 22nd in the nation in terms of yardage and have been particularly stingy at home, where they return this week after two straight road games.
Thereís not much sense in going over why Michigan State fell on their face this year with a 3-8 mark through 11 games. Huge personnel voids from last season, injuries, inconsistent play, and being put through the emotional ringer have all taken their toll. Still, being able to come within a converted two-point conversion from beating Ohio State last week shows they are at least capable of ruining things for other teams. In their last two meetings with Penn State, they won both games by a combined 63 points.
After starting the season 2-0, things were looking up for a Michigan State team that was revamped across many areas. A win over a really down Rutgers team is the only thing that has gone well since, with 8 losses in their last 9 games. Still, even within that morass of misery were some covers and cases of the Spartans making life hard for teams with big plans. They gave Michigan a run for their money, or at least they got a clear cover. Rutgers stinks, but beating them 49-0 a few weeks ago showed they might still have some life in their legs. And of course, there was the near-win over the Buckeyes last week. Theyíve shown they are more than capable of being a thorn in the side of even the elite conference teams.
Michigan State operates with a pretty tepid offense. QB Tyler OíConnor is seeing his first extended time behind center this season as the Spartansí starter and he hasnít been all that compelling. LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes lead the rushing attack, but a lack of offensive variety and a heavily-depreciated offensive line has led to a fall-off in production from both players. Receiver RJ Shelton has been productive this season, with some other useful ball-catchers in the mix. But at 25 points a game, they rank 90th nationally with one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten.
As is usually the case, the defense is the strong suit of this Michigan State team. Itís been nowhere near good enough to mask the shortcomings on the other side of the ball. Still, they havenít been embarrassed on too many occasions this season and enter this game having given up 17 combined points in their last two games. Even in the midst of this swoon, theyíve allowed more than 32 points just once. Thatís notable for a team entering a game as such a big underdog. Theyíre a top-30 defense
The gap in motivation for these two teams is enormous, with Penn State looking to win their way into the Big Ten title game and the Spartans just looking to finish strong and maybe play the role of spoiler. Itís odd how little that seems to impact games and how having more to play for isnít always a reliable compass on how a team will perform. Michigan State looks like they still have some life left in their legs and things might not be as easy this week for the Nittany Lions as some suspect. Iím taking the points.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím betting on the Michigan State Spartans plus 12.5 points.
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