Michigan Wolverines vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Betting Odds and Pick to Cover the Point Spread

Michigan Wolverines (7-5 SU, 3-9 ATS) vs. No. 21 Mississippi State
Bulldogs (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS), Progressive Gator Bowl, 1:30 p.m. EST,
Saturday, January 1, 2011, Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla., TV:

by Badger of Predictem.com

Betting Odds: Mich +4.5/MSU -4.5
Over/Under Total: 60

The Michigan Wolverines could be playing to try and save their head
coach Rich Rodriguezs job when they strap it up on New Years Day
against the 21st-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl in Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville.

Im not exactly sure why the 7-5 Wolverines were invited to a New
Years Day bowl to begin with, considering they had another late-
season meltdown under Rodriguez going 3-5 in the Big Ten Conference
including losses their final two games of the season to Wisconsin
(48-28) and longtime rival Ohio State (37-7).

New Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon has said he would wait to
see how the Wolverines play in the Gator Bowl before making a final
decision on the fate of Rich Rod, who in his third year is just 15-21
overall, 6-18 in the Big Ten and 1-10 versus ranked teams. The
program has also been rocked by a practice scandal as well, which is
not quite what the Wolverines wanted when they wooed Rodriguez away
from West Virginia at 2.5 million a season.

Heavy speculation is that the Wolverines are courting former QB and
Michigan Man Jim Harbaugh to come back and take the reigns, and
Harbaugh has helped fuel the speculation because he has yet to come
out and say he doesnt want to make the move from Stanford back to
the Midwest.

While the focus is on the coach on the Michigan sideline, the
Bulldogs of Miss. St. are doing everything they can to make
sure their new head coach Dan Mullen stays in Starkville. In two
years Mullen has turned the Bulldogs program around and into one of
the top teams in the SEC, and when Urban Meyer unexpectedly stepped
down at Florida the speculation immediately turned to Mullen (his
former QB coach and offensive coordinator).

Miss. State was one of the few teams in the country that nearly
beat Auburn and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton this season, losing
by a narrow, 17-14, score back in early September. After starting 1-2
on the year the Bulldogs went on to win seven of their last nine
games of the season with the only losses coming at the hands of
Alabama and Arkansas, so they are certainly deserving of the New
Years Day bid into the Gator Bowl and will be looking to make a
statement for them to be considered a strong contender in the SEC
next season.

Oddsmaker originally opened this game with Mississippi State as 6-point favorites, but most of the action at the betting window for
this game has been coming in on Michigan so the line has dropped all
the way down to Mississippi State minus -4.5-points at most
sportsbooks. There are a few offshore sportsbooks as low as 4-points, and a couple up as high as 5-points, so
shop around if you want to move the hook instead of buying the half-

The over/under total opened at 58.5 back in early December soon after
the Gator Bowl matchup was announced, but after a few weeks the total
is up to 59.5 or 60 at most of the sportsbooks on the Web. Its up to
as high as 61 at the Las Vegas Hilton, so most of the early money
(public money) has been coming in on the over in this game.

Most of the money coming in on the over is not surprising considering
both of these teams run similar spread-option offenses that spread
the opponent from sideline to sideline and then use their duel-threat
quarterback to pick apart at the seams.

For the first five or six weeks of the season Michigan QB Denard
was the front-runner for the Heisman, but he started getting
dinged-up and slowly tapered off during the Big Ten season. The
sophomore still amassed over 2,300 yards passing and 1,600 yards
rushing, and a total of 30 touchdowns, but his production slipped a
little when teams started focusing on stopping his running game and
forcing him to throw.

Mississippi State started the season using both Chris Relf and Tyler
at QB before Relf took over the lead role midway through the
season. Relf, much like Robinson, is more valuable as a runner (671
yards, 4 TD) than he is as a passer at times (1,495 yards, 9 TD, 5
INT). But unlike Robinson who is Michigans best runner at QB, Relf
is aided by running back Vick Ballard (905 yards, 17 TD) in the
Bulldogs run game.

What will be interesting to watch in this game is how much manpower
each defense will invest to stop the other from running the ball.
Both Michigan and Mississippi State finished the year in the top-20
in running the ball (Mich.-251.5 ypg 11th; Miss. St.-218.9 ypg
16th), so this game will likely turn on which team (and QB) is able
to take advantage of throwing the ball over the top of eight- and
nine-man fronts.

Both defenses are weak against the pass too (Mich. 260.2 ypg allowed; Miss. St. 236.4 ypg), so theres extra incentive to try
and take advantages of man coverage and mismatches on the outside

And since were on the topic of defenses, will mention the most
obvious weakness in this game that most handicappers already know
Michigans defense is terrible. The Wolverines finished the season
ranked 105th in the NCAA in total defense (432.7 ypg) and 102nd in
scoring (allowing 33.8 ppg), and considering there are only 119 teams
in Division 1 football lets you know just how bad they really are
this year.

These two schools have never met on the gridiron, so theres no
history or many valuable betting trends to follow on this matchup.
The Wolverines are 6-0 ATS in their last six non-conference games,
but none of those games came against an SEC team so you can basically
throw that trend out the window.

The over/under trends depend on which team you follow. The over is
4-0 in Michigans last four bowl games, its 4-0 in neutral site
games and 6-1 when Michigan plays an SEC team. But it is the under
that is 5-1 in the Bulldogs last six games overall and 10-4 when the
Bulldogs are the favorite, so take those numbers for what they are

Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan might be a great first half play because I
expect them to come out fired up and ready to defend their coach and
his job, but I just dont think they have the defense to stay in this
game long term. Mississippi State pulls away and covers the number in
backdoor fashion in a game that goes WAY over the total despite the
total going up before kickoff. Im taking Mississippi State minus the
4 points with a little lunch money on the over of 59.5.