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Michigan State Spartans vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Point Spread - Pick

Michigan State Spartans (3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS), 3:30 p.m. EST, Week 5 NCAA Football, Saturday, October 1, 2011, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, TV: ABC/ESPN
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: MSU +3/OSU -3
Over/Under Total: OFF

Two one-loss teams looking to make a spark and get back into the eye of the national pollsters will clash in the Horseshoe this Saturday when the Ohio State Buckeyes host the Michigan State Spartans for a tough Big Ten Conference opener for both teams in Columbus.

But with the national spotlight 400 miles away in Madison, and the new oddity of the Leaders Division (Ohio St.) and the Legends Division (Mich. St.) in the Big Ten putting these two schools in opposite brackets, the Spartans-Buckeyes opener that looked so promising in the preseason has turned into an undercard-type of game on Saturday’s college football docket.

Michigan State enters the Horseshoe on Saturday fresh off a solid tune up against an inferior Central Michigan team last weekend, 45-7, in a game where the Spartans successfully exorcised the demons from their loss the week before at Notre Dame. Offensively the Spartans ran the football for 197 yards and over 4 yards per carry against the Chippewas (held to 29 yards vs. ND), and the defense intercepted four passes and held Central Michigan to 112 yards of total offense in the lopsided win.

Ohio State also enters the game Saturday riding high on the rebound, scoring a, 37-17, win last Saturday over a mistake-prone Colorado Buffaloes one week after their disappointing loss at Miami. The Buckeyes turned to true-freshman quarterback Braxton Miller to spark the offense, and Miller (83 yards rushing; only 5-of-13 passing, 83 yards, 2 TD) took advantage of great field position to give Ohio State exactly what they needed in the victory over the Buffaloes.

Adding to the malaise kind of feeling around this game is it’s ho-hum point spread from the oddsmakers, opening with the Buckeyes listed as the “standard” 3-point favorites for having homefield advantage at the Shoe. The early action has been pretty even-handed on that number for both teams, resulting to very little line movement thus far. There are a few offshore sportsbooks that have moved the point spread to 3.5-points, but for the most part everyone is still listing the game at minus -3.

As of press time the over/under total has yet to be released.

The key to this game is going to be defense. More specifically, the defense that stops the run because that’s what both offenses are built to do.

The Spartans grind away with Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker as much as they can on offense, but with an offensive line that’s already on their backups at several positions they might struggle against the Buckeyes front seven. The good news for Michigan State is that the Buckeyes have struggled stopping the run, giving up 5.7 yards per rush against Miami and 4.8 per against Colorado the past two weeks.

Ohio State will also rely on a time-consuming running game on Saturday, especially now since Miller is much more dangerous as a runner than as a passer this early in his college career. The combo of Miller with Jordan Hall is going to be a tough task for the Spartans run defense, but the unit should be up to the task since they only allowed 114 yards (3.6 ypc) in the loss at Notre Dame. Look for them to sellout to stop the run and make Miller have to throw it over the top to beat them.

If either of these teams is unable to run it and is forced to play catch-up, the edge has to go to Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins over Miller. Cousins played well under pressure at ND (34-of-53, 329 yds., TD, INT), but he’s not really a “carry-your-offense” type of QB but more like a “manage-your-offense” kind of one that needs a running game.

But Cousins might be good enough though, because Miller is still raw in the passing game and is likely to be replaced by Joe Bauserman if the Buckeyes fall behind too quickly. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility to see the Buckeyes game plan a few series for Bauserman anyway, because they really need to try and remain two-dimensional with both the run and pass and the jury is still out on Miller as a passer in comeback or two-minute mode.

The Spartans and Buckeyes haven’t met on the field since the 2008 season, a 45-7 butt-whoopin’ the Buckeyes laid on the Spartans in their home stadium. Ohio State won the matchup the year earlier in ’07 at the Horseshoe as well, but it was a much closer game all around with the Buckeyes eventually prevailing, 24-17.

All told the Buckeyes haven’t lost to Michigan State since the 1999 season, a seven-game win streak that also includes a 5-1-1 ATS mark for bettors who bet along with it.

The year before, in 1998, is the last time the Spartans have won in Ohio Stadium in a major upset,28-24, as 27.5-point underdogs before kickoff.

Ohio State is a rock-solid 17-4 ATS in their last 21 home games as the Shoe. Michigan State is not a great road team either, going 1-5 ATS in their last six games as a road underdog.

The under is riding a few nice betting trends, including a 5-2 mark in the Spartans last seven Big Ten games and a 4-1 record in the Buckeyes last five at home. Both teams play under the total on fieldturf too, with both teams playing under the total in four of their last five on the fake-grass surface.

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I was burned by the Spartans a few weeks back at Notre Dame, so it’s hard for me to pull the trigger on them. But with a senior QB in Cousins, and enough defense to contain Miller and make Ohio State one-dimensional, I have to say I like the Spartans straight up here as well. Burn me twice, shame on me, but I like Michigan State plus the 3-points.

Make the Spartans a +23 underdog by placing them into a 20 point college football teaser at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

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