Michigan State Spartans (9-2 SU, 7-4 ATS) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-5 SU, 5-5-1 ATS)
College Football Week 14
Date and Time: November 29 - 3:30pm ET
Where: Beaver Stadium
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread:MSU -13.5/PSU +13.5
Over/Under Total: 45
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This is the time of year when college football teams are busy trying to get in a conference championship game or perhaps earn a bowl berth, but what do you play for when, win or lose, you cant do much to affect your remaining season? Michigan State heads to Happy Valley to take on Penn State this weekend and this one will mostly be for pride as neither team is able to advance to the Big Ten Championship game. A win will possibly mean a better bowl game site but for Penn State at least, any bowl will do as it means the Lions are one step further removed from the scandal that has marred the recent history of a legendary program.
The online betting sites are in agreement that MSU is 13.5 point favorite and the Spartans have been doing well against the spread lately, going 4-1 ATS in their last five games. Sparty is just 2-5 ATS in their last seven visits to Penn State but the Lions have struggled against the Big Ten of late, going 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven conference games.
Michigan State has beaten everyone that they should have so far but their two losses have made a good overall season seem pretty irrelevant. An early loss at Oregon could have been absorbed but a 49-37 loss at the hands of Ohio State eliminated them from the playoff picture and ultimately the Big Ten Championship game. It appears that MSU can handle its business against what appears to be a lesser team but PSU has won seven of the last ten in this series straight up. The Spartans have a good offense, averaging 43.9 points per game, and they will need to be efficient against a Penn State defense that is 4th in points allowed, giving up just 16.2 per contest.
Penn State has its work cut out on offense as well. PSU is outside the top-100 in yards, scores just 20.6 points per game and now faces the 8th best defensive team in yards allowed. MSU surrenders just 20.8 points per game and you start to see why the over/under total for this game is a modest 45. PSU cannot afford to put of the kind of effort it did while losing 16-14 at Illinois. They did well in bouncing back from four straight losses with wins against Indiana and Temple to become bowl-eligible but the offense has lacked consistency and the defense has shouldered much of the load. That defense enters the week 3rd in yards allowed and is the nations best run stopping unit. The Spartans average 514 yards per game on offense so something definitely has to give.
Connor Cook is at the MSU helm and he has played well throughout the year, throwing for 21 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. Jeremy Langford is the bell-cow in the backfield, gaining 1,242 yards (5.7 ypc) and scoring 17 times with Nick Hill adding another 596 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. The Spartans arent going to abandon the run easily, even against a tough D, and this duo is about as good as PSU has seen. If the game falls to Cook, he will most likely be hooking up with Tony Lippett. Lippett leads the team with 56 catches for 1,071 yards (19.1 ypc) and has ten touchdowns. Everyone else is sprinkled in for effect but Lippett manages to get open against all kinds of coverage despite the lack of an additional receiving threat to draw attention away from him.
It has been the Christian Hackenberg show for PSU on offense and they typically win when he plays well, losing when he doesnt. He has converted on just 55% of his passes and thrown 14 interceptions to 8 touchdowns. The line hasnt been good for the Lions and the class of athlete is a step back from what PSU would like but Hackenberg needs to take better care of the ball. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch are serviceable runners but they face a tough run defense and need a big game to help take some of that responsibility off of the young QB. Look for TE Jesse James when Penn State needs a key third down or in the red-zone, he leads the team with three touchdowns and is an easy target to hit.
They could probably put leather helmets on for this one as this game has the makings of an old-school, run-heavy, defensive standoff. Im not sure how motivated either team is given the relatively low stakes but MSU is coming off a 45-3 romp of Rutgers and appears like they can handle a team that just lost to Illinois. PSU looks like it is limping to the finish line and the Spartans are too polished and too solid to not put up a good effort. MSU won 28-22 here last year and Im sure they remember how close they were to losing that game, a memory that will likely serve them well and help them put away the Lions and cover this spread. Michigan State 28 Penn State 13
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan State