No. 11 Michigan Wolverines (6-0 SU, 5-1 ATS) vs. No. 23 Michigan State Spartans (4-1 SU, 3-2 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, Week 7 NCAA Football, Saturday, October 15, 2011, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich., TV: ESPN
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Mich +3/MSU -3
Over/Under Total: 49
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When the 11th-ranked Michigan Wolverines travel across the state on Saturday to take on the 23rd-ranked Michigan State Spartans in Spartan Stadium they’ll have a lot more on the line than just in-state bragging rights.
The Wolverines have been one of the biggest surprises in college football thus far in the 2011 season, resurging to the cusp of the top-10 under first-year head coach Brady Hoke. A top-10 ranking is likely if the Wolverines are able to topple their rivals in East Lansing, but it won’t be easy as the Spartans are determined to get back into the Big Ten and national contender picture after stumbling a few weeks ago at Notre Dame.
Michigan nearly blew their undefeated season at Northwestern last weekend, but quarterback Denard Robinson ran for two touchdowns in the second half to erase a 10-point deficit and the Wolverines went on to score a go-away victory, 42-24.
The Spartans come into the intra-state showdown off of a bye week, following a narrow victory over Oho State, 10-7 back in week five action. While the win over the Buckeyes was certainly a nice bounce-back win for Michigan State, you can bet the Spartans will be looking to make a statement to get back in eye of the pollsters and try to erase the bad loss to Notre Dame.
The early game on Saturday’s card on ESPN opened with oddsmakers listing Michigan State as the “standard” 3-point favorites at home. So far the early money at the window has yet to move the number in either direction, but a few offshore sportsbooks have dropped it the hook to the Spartans minus -2.5.
The over/under total hasn’t opened yet at a majority of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and on the Web, but the scant few that have are listing the total at 49 to start.
The key factor to watch in this game is how well the Michigan offense is able to move the ball against the Spartans defense.
Robinson is perhaps the most dangerous duel-threat quarterback in the college game today (1,130 yards passing – 770 yards rushing, 18 TD combined), and he runs a more “pro-style” offense this year that is averaging 457.5 yards a game (26th in NCAA) that is still a little slanted toward the run (257 ypg – 7th). The Wolverines are also coming off of probably their most efficient game on offense too, going 14-for-17 on third down versus Northwestern and amassing 541 yards on the day.
But for the first time this season the Wolverines will run into a defense that won’t just get pushed around, as the Spartans are No. 1 overall in the NCAA in total defense (173.4 ypg), 2nd in passing yards allowed (109.4 ypg) and 3rd in run defense (64 ypg) and scoring (10.2 ppg).
In a couple of the Wolverines early wins this season (Notre Dame, Northwestern) they just outscored teams when their defense couldn’t stop them, and that will likely not be an option on Saturday against the Spartans.
Michigan State also has a formidable offense of its own, led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins (269.2 ypg passing – 34th) and the running back tandem of Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker (128.8 ypg rushing – 79th), the Spartans are scoring 28 points per game. Look for the Spartans to control the clock with the running game and then try and take their opportunities downfield with the Cousins-to-B.J. Cunningham combo that has clicked all season.
The Wolverine defense has only been tested once this season (gave up 31 points to Notre Dame), and they do tend to give up a lot of yardage at times (438 last week at NW, 336.5 ypg on the season), but they make up for it in the Red Zone. Michigan is only allowing 12.5 points per game, but as mentioned they have yet to really face quality opposition, but they are not the sieve defense that has plagued them during the Rich Rodriguez era with the Maize-n-Blue.
The Spartans tattooed the Wolverines in the Big House last season, 34-17, to run their winning streak over Michigan to three straight. But prior to that the Wolverines won six straight, so the rivalry is heated.
The last game in Spartan Stadium went into overtime, with the Spartans earning a tough 26-20 victory as 4-point favorites. Sparty has also covered the point spread in all three games of the win streak, but as a whole the series is an even 5-5 ATS at the window the past 10 seasons.
A few of the betting trends favor the Wolverines in this spot, since the road team is actually 6-2 ATS in the last eight head-to-head. But Michigan has been bad on the road 1-5 ATS) and terrible in Big Ten play the past few seasons (5-23 ATS), so take it with a grain of salt.
One interesting trend to keep an eye on is the Spartans following their bye week, as they are 0-4 ATS in their last four games following the off week.
The over also has several strong trends favoring it in this game, including a 6-2 mark in the Wolverines last eight Big Ten games and 9-4 as a road underdog. The over is also 5-0 for the Spartans following a bye, but with the way Michigan State is playing defense this season it’s hard to see that trend continuing.
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The annual wakeup call for the Wolverines in Big Ten play arrives on Saturday. Michigan hasn’t faced an offense like Michigan State yet, and they certainly haven’t faced a defense that can stop them in their tracks. Plus, the game is in East Lansing. I’m taking Michigan State minus the 3-points here.
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