The best game on Saturday will likely be the one in East Lansing. Michigan State hosts Michigan in what promises to be another great game in one of college football’s most underrated rivalries. Both teams have played well this year. Sparty enters the contest at 4-1 having lost to Notre Dame, while the Wolverines are 6-0 including a dramatic comeback win against the Fighting Irish.
The line opened with the Spartans as 3 point favorites. After getting bet down to a single point midweek, some buyback on Michigan State has moved it back up to 3 points. Sharp money initially brought the line down, but wiseguys also bought back in on Sparty with a little more value and that buyback seems like the play to follow here. Consider joining the wiseguys who see the home team as the play to pay and lay a few points.
In all fairness, neither team has played a respectable schedule to this point. Aside from Notre Dame, neither team played a decent opponent outside of conference. But in conference both teams earned nice road wins their last time out. Michigan was down 10 at halftime against Northwestern, but then came out and thrashed the Wildcats in the second half, winning easily. Michigan State has a bye last week but the week before they went into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes in a defensive battle, 10-7. Granted, Ohio State is down this year. But they’re still a solid team that rarely loses at home.
The technical numbers seem to slant towards the Spartans in this game, but there’s one number that scares me. Coming out of a bye over the past three seasons, Sparty is 0-3 against the spread; since 1992 they’re a miserable 11-21. That kind of trend is worth taking note of; however, this is a rivalry game. It’s hard to imagine the Spartans will be flat or unprepared. Otherwise, Michigan State is 10-9 ats as a favorite, 8-8 at home, and 3-3 when the line is at or between +3 and -3 – all over the past three seasons. Not bad, not good – about as average you can get. Michigan, on the other hand, has been horrible: 4-8 as an underdog, 3-7 on the road, 3-15 against conference opponents, and 2-12 against teams with a winning record. Those terrible numbers all come from Rich Rodriguez’s tenure, though. This year Michigan is 5-1 ats overall, but again, the competition has been poor.
There are a few good reasons for like the Spartans here. For one, Michigan State has won the past three games in the series. That kind of recent dominance is indicative of a trend, and with this being a home game, it’s hard to imagine the streak will end this year. Also, Sparty is coming off an impressive regular season in 2010. Sure, they got waxed by Alabama in the bowl game. But in the regular season their only loss came at Iowa, which is no cupcake opponent. Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham, and Le’Veon Bell lead an experienced, balanced offense. Defensively, MSU has the top ranked defense in the country, giving up just 173 yards per game. But like Michigan, the Spartans schedule has something to do with this. Nevertheless, any football team giving up fewer than 175 total yards per game after 5 games is doing something right. The defense has some good athletes and I suspect they’ll be an unusual challenge for Denard Robinson who can usually out-athleticize whoever he plays. He’ll have to make some big time throws to keep the offense moving.
All in all, the Spartans seem like a solid play this week. Hopefully they won’t lay an egg coming out of a bye, but considering how important this game is, I don’t think they will. Michigan has a chance to earn a great deal of national respect if they can get a win, but I don’t think they’re there yet. Consider following the recent movement of the line and laying a field goal. Good luck!