Michigan Wolverines (7-0 SU, 4-3 ATS) vs. Michigan State Spartans (2-5 SU, 1-6 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date/Time: Saturday, October 29 at 12pm ET
Where: Spartan Stadium
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH -23.5/MSU +23.5
Over/Under Total: 54
The only thing better than a rivalry game is a revenge game. Michigan travels to East Lansing this Saturday to take on Michigan State for the 109th edition of this rivalry and the Wolverines have one eye on the College Football Playoff and the other on settling a score from last season. A fumbled snap by Michigan and the subsequent return for the winning score ruined what was going to be a happy night for the maize and blue fans last year and you just know that is fresh on the minds of Jim Harbaugh and his team. Michigan State is floundering right now after losing five straight games but you really do have to throw out the records for these types of games. The Spartans are in full desperation mode as a loss this weekend probably requires they run the table to be bowl eligible. Maybe that kind of motivation will turn them around.
It was no surprise to see Michigan come out as a 21-point favorite in the early betting but that line has been pushed to -23.5 as of Wednesday with 53% of the public money still on the Wolverines. The sharps have jumped on Michigan State as the spread pushed past 23 with roughly 70% of the wise guys backing the Spartans mid-week. MSU has won the last three in this series straight-up and the last eight against the spread. The favorite has notched a 7-3 ATS record in the last ten meetings with Michigan riding an 0-4 ATS mark in the last four at Spartan Stadium. The Sagarin computers have Michigan ranked 2nd, Michigan State at 68th and the new offense-defense method has the Wolverines drubbing Sparty by a score of 54-9. There hasnt been much to take the shine off of Michigans 7-0 start but they have played just the 50th toughest schedule to this point, so Michigan State, while struggling, still represents one of the tougher opponents that the Wolverines have faced.
This one looks like a battle of the haves and have-nots at the QB position as Wilton Speight has been mostly masterful for Michigan while State has struggled to find consistency at the position. Speight enters the week completing 63% of his passes and has a nice 13-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio and the passing game has become a nice complement to a strong ground game. Tyler OConnor has the experience edge among the Michigan State signal-callers but that hasnt added up to production or points and MSU has tried to shake things up a bit recently. Damion Terry and Brian Lewerke have both been worked in against BYU, Northwestern and Maryland but no combination of the quarterbacks have been able to net a win. Terry and Lewerke have a dual-threat dimension that OConnor lacks but it isnt clear who is going to play or how much come Saturday.
One statistical factor that looms large this weekend is third down conversions on both sides of the ball. Michigan has been fantastic in converting 48.5% on offense with State lagging at 37%. Michigan is allowing an unreal 13% on third down defensively with MSU letting the opposition convert over 46% of the time. It is no surprise that Michigan wins the time of possession and routinely has an effective defense late in games with those positive conversion rates. When you add the 11th best run game, it is not hard to see why the Wolverines have rolled their opponents more often than not. The Spartans have not had the benefit of a fresh defense and that really hurt them in the 54-40 loss to Northwestern. MSU managed plenty of offense to win that one but not getting the defensive stops when necessary completely unraveled their chances. The Spartans enter the week outside the top-50 in just about every relevant defensive category and Michigan has not shied away from running up the score in previous weeks.
State has done well in this matchup in recent years but it looks like the pendulum has swung completely in the other direction and fast. Michigan has the better playmakers with guys like Jabrill Peppers and Jake Butt headed for the NFL eventually and everyone in Ann Arbor has fully bought in to Harbaughs system. The Michigan run game is legit with eight different Wolverines recording at least one touchdown run and their specialists make them a bear to guard. Kahlid Hill has eight rushing touchdowns from the fullback spot and Chris Evans plays the lightning role while DeVeon Smith does the thunder work. Evans is questionable with a concussion but there is plenty of depth in that backfield and Michigan State is not a strong run-stopping defense. Wisconsin has been the only team to give Michigan a hard time but it is doubtful that State can duplicate the kind of complete defensive effort the Badgers did.
To make matters worse, it doesnt look like Michigan State is going to be able to score against the top ranked defense in the country both in yards and points allowed. Opponents are averaging just 10 points per game against Michigan and the Spartans have slipped to 106th in scoring, averaging just 23.1 points per game. The QB carousel hasnt helped things with offensive continuity and while State has some capable runners, neither LJ Scott nor Gerald Holmes is a home run threat. It will be a long day if Sparty wants to make this a ground battle as Michigan is allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game. You can bet that the home crowd will be fired up with Michigan in town but Im just not sure how far that takes them once MSU gets down a couple of scores.
This is a hefty line but I think that Michigan is motivated to cover it. There is that feeling of payback after the jaw dropping finish last year and Harbaugh seems all-in on racking up the style points with the playoff rankings just a little ways out. This game has meant more for Michigan State over the last few years but that has changed and Michigan finally has the player advantage back and the coaching edge in their favor. The Spartans seem like a flat-lined program for the first time in a long time and Michigan has absolutely put those teams out of their misery this season. It will take a while but Michigan gets the ATS win here with a 45-10 rout.
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan