Michigan State Spartans (4-4 SU, 2-6 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (6-2 SU, 4-4 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date/Time: Saturday, October 27th, 2012, 3:30 p.m. EST
Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MSU +6.5/WIS. -6.5
Over/Under Total: 41.5
The two teams that played for the inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship last season will get together to renew what has become a testy rivalry of late, when the Michigan State Spartans travel to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers this Saturday on ABC/ESPN2.
But this year it looks like only the Badgers will be fighting down the stretch to try and get back to the conference title game, since the Spartans have struggled to reload after graduating a lot of important pieces to last year’s Legends Division winning team.
MSU dropped its third conference game of the season and second in a row last Saturday, and to make matters worse it came against their heated in-state rivals Michigan, 12-10. Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons drilled a 38-yarder with five seconds left to steal a win away from the Spartans in a game that was a stalemate for almost the entire 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Badgers are starting to look like they’re getting their issues ironed out following another big blowout win over Minnesota for the Axe, 38-13. Montee Ball is finally getting adjusted to the “new” offensive line in front of him, and new coordinator Matt Canada has decided to go back to the smash-mouth style that the Badgers made famous over the years. Wisconsin has averaged 35 points a game during a modest three-game win streak and (33.5 ppg in Big Ten play), so it appears to be working again for the Badgers offense, but this week it might not be so easy against the Spartans stout defense.
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas opened the game with Wisconsin as 6-point favorites at home, and it appears the early money is agreeing with the house since the point spread has moved up the hook to minus -6.5 at almost every sportsbook offshore and in Vegas (5Dimes is the only book still at -6 right now).
As of press time there are only a few offshore sportsbooks that have released an over/under total, and the few that have are listing 41.5 as the number.
If you’re not a fan of grind-it-out football then you may want to tune into a different game on Saturday, because these two teams prefer to try and jam it down your throat with the running game on offense.
Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell (984 yards, 8 TD) is the main weapon for the Spartans, but they only rush for 140 yards a game as a team (86th in FBS) and have been held to low scoring outputs (19.6 ppg - 109th) in their losses when defense take Bell away with stacked boxes on early downs. Andrew Maxwell has thrown for a lot of yards because of this (230 ypg), but overall he’s still adjusting to the speed of the college game as the starter with a 55 completion percentage and a 7-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio indicates.
Wisconsin’s offense has rebounded since almost suffering an embarrassing loss at home to Utah State in week three, but it’s taken a fired offensive line coach, two new starters along said O-line, a new starting QB (Joel Stave) and a “dance with the girl you brought to the dance” approach on offense to get back on track. Ball is the headliner at running back for the Badgers, but it’s actually backup James White (6.9 ypc, 6 TD) that has sparked the running game resurgence (201 ypg - 32nd). The shifty White has flourished in what the Badgers call their “Barge” package, where they employ seven offensive linemen and a tight end in overload formations and just put beef-on-beef.
Defensively the Spartans hold an advantage, allowing just 277 yards game total (5th) and just 100 on the ground (12th), so on paper they looked well equipped to handle the Badgers style. But Wisconsin’s defense has come on of late, and is not exactly a slouch when it comes to the numbers on the stat sheet (19th overall - 316 ypg; 24th vs. run - 114 ypg; 17.8 ppg - 21st.)
The Spartans-Badgers series has been dominated dominated by the home team of late. Excluding the Badgers win in the title game last year at a neutral site (Lucas Oil Stadium), the home team has won this matchup seven straight years. The last game in Madison, in 2009, was a solid 38-30 win for the Badgers as 2-point favorites. The last time the Spartans came into Camp Randall and won was back in 2001, in a lopsided 42-28 victory.
The Sparty-Bucky series has also been dominated by the over and the underdog. The over is 9-1 in the last 10 head-to-head meetings, including a 6-0 mark in the last six games played at Camp Randall Stadium. The underdog is a solid 6-1 ATS in the last seven meetings, which has been Michigan State in most of those games (5-2 ATS in L7).
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: These two teams are mirror images of each other, with Wisconsin’s offense slightly better but the Spartans defense a little stiffer, which in the end washes it all back to even. I think the difference is that Michigan State has played Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan, while Wisconsin has played Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. Wisconsin may prevail, but the Spartans will play them tough the entire 60 minutes. I’m betting Michigan State plus the 6.5-points.
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