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State Spartans vs. Wisconsin Badgers Pick.
No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0 SU, 5-0-1 ATS) vs. No. 15 Michigan State Spartans (5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS), 8:00 p.m. EST, Week 8 NCAA Football, Saturday, October 22, 2011, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich., TV: ESPN
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Wisky -8.5/MSU +8.5
Over/Under Total: OFF
For a second straight week the attention of the college football national pollsters will be focused on Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan, on Saturday when the 4th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers travel to play the 15th-ranked Michigan State Spartans in the Big Ten Conference clash of the weekend.
Not only is Saturdays tilt between the Badgers and Spartans a potential preview of the first-ever Big Ten Conference Championship game later in December, but it also has serious early BCS ramifications in what on paper looks like a classic offense-vs.-defense matchup on the gridiron.
UW, who slipped to 6th in the first BCS ranking released this week due to their weak non-conference schedule, come into East Lansing with the top-ranked scoring offense in the country at an average of 50.2 points per game and a Heisman hopeful at quarterback in Russell Wilson. Wilson and company took care of business last week in a non-conference-like, 59-7, victory over conference foe Indiana.
Wiscy also has plenty of motivation besides proving that they are for real, as the sting of their 34-24 loss at East Lansing last year, their only loss of the regular season, is still lingering and in the backs of the minds of the badger players who where in uniform last season.
Michigan St., who came out at No. 16 in the BCS rankings, will have to have another standout performance from its 2nd-ranked defense after stopping previously unbeaten in-state rival Michigan last Saturday, 28-14. The Spartans heralded defensive unit held duel-threat QB Denard Robinson to 42 yards rushing and just 9-of-24 passing in the win over the Wolverines, so they certainly wont be worried when Wilson and the high-flying Badgers come to town this weekend.
It appears that the betting public is favoring the glamorous offense of the Badgers over the down and dirty defense of the Spartans so far, since the Badgers opened the game as 7point favorites on the road and the early wagering has been so one-sided on Wisconsin that the point spread is already up to 8.5-points or even 9-points at a few offshore sports books on the Web. Theres even one offshore sportsbook that lists the Badgers as 9.5-point favorites already and were still five days from kickoff.
The over/under total has yet to be released as of press time.
Since weve already disclosed the fact that Wisconsins high-powered offense will face its first real challenge in the Spartans defense, its pretty easy to see that one of those two stellar units is going to have to break come Saturday. So lets take a look at the other side of the equation in this game, the Spartans offense versus the Badgers defense.
In last years game it was a clock-controlling ground game that helped the Spartans spring the victory, running it 43 times for 173 yards and a 4.1 yards per carry average and holding the ball 13 minutes longer than the Badgers had the ball on offense.
The Spartans were also very efficient on offense too, converting on 9-of-18 third-downs and on 2-of-3 fourth-downs including the coffin-nailing touchdown on a fourth-and-goal when Kirk Cousins found B.J. Cunningham with 2 minutes and 43 second to play.
But last year was last year, and the Badgers defense is hoping that their overall unit depth this season will be able to stop Cousins and the Spartans more often this Saturday. Wisconsin had some issues stopping the Nebraska running game early in their game this season (they allow 123.2 ypg 42nd), but when forced to throw the Badgers pass defense was able to bring pressure and limit the Huskers ability to throw the ball effectively (allowing 144.8 ypg 4th).
Wisconsin head coach Brett Bielema is also using last years loss as powerful motivation for the Badgers this week, stressing how important one game can be to the entire season and how teams that can win road games in the Big Ten eventually win championships.
In order to win on the road in East Lansing the Badgers will have to erase a host of bad memories, since they havent won in Spartan Stadium since the 2002 season (a 42-24 victory as 4-point favorites), long before all of the current players in the program even made their way to the Madison campus.
Wisconsin does hold a 6-4 SU advantage over the past decade between these two, but only two of those wins came in Spartan Stadium and both of them were well before the two current coaching regimes in Bielema and Michigan States Mark Dantonio. The Badgers also hold the same 6-4 advantage against the spread in the series, but that advantage disappears and turns into a 3-2 ATS advantage for the Spartans in the last five (since 2004).
A look at the betting trends shows a slight edge to Wisconsin for the most part. Not only are the Badgers 8-0 ATS in their last eight Big Ten games, 9-1-1 ATS in their last 11 as a favorite and 5-2 ATS in their last seven road games, but when you add the fact that the Spartans are only 2-6 ATS in their last eight games as a home underdog (4-10 ATS in the last 14 as a dog in general). But Michigan State is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 Big Ten Conference games, so there are some reasons to like the Spartans in this spot.
The over also looks like a strong trend play, since it is 8-1 in the Badgers last nine games as a road favorite, 21-7-1 in their last 29 Big Ten games, and its also 5-0 in the Spartans last five games as a home underdog.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I have to admit Im surprised at the lack of love for the Spartans in this spot at home too. Wisconsin struggles away from home, and Michigan State has a good enough defense to avoid the letdown game here following the big win over rival Michigan. Ill gladly take the 9-points here in a game the Spartans may just win straight up. My bet is Michigan State plus the points.
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