I have to admit I am a tad leery on previewing a Michigan State game again as the Spartans are responsible for two of my ATS losses this season. But No. 20 Sparty’s matchup with No. 14 Ohio State is pretty clearly the game of the day Saturday; the only other all Top-25 matchup (ESPN/USA Today poll) is Baylor-West Virginia in the Mountaineers’ Big 12 debut, and there will be plenty of big games involving WVU to choose from later this season. ESPN GameDay will be in East Lansing, so that’s the clincher.
In my weekly look-ahead story, I have belabored the point that the Big Ten is pretty lousy this season. Only the Buckeyes, Northwestern and Minnesota are without a loss heading into this weekend’s conference openers. I still believe the Spartans are the banner-carriers for the Big Ten because OSU is ineligible for postseason play. Michigan State, the +200 Big Ten favorite at Sportsbook.ag, has just one game remaining vs. a team currently ranked – Nebraska – and the game is in East Lansing. MSU does have to visit Michigan and Wisconsin, and both could well be ranked by the time those games roll around.
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It was pretty evident both teams were looking ahead last Saturday. Ohio State beat UAB, probably one of the 10 worst teams in the nation, 29-15 in Columbus. The Blazers were still within six points with six minutes remaining, and they outgained Ohio State by nearly 60 yards and held the ball for almost eight minutes more. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes offense struggled against a defense that gave up an average of 44 points and 477 yards in its first two games.
MSU bounced back from a loss to Notre Dame with an ugly 23-7 win over Eastern Michigan, also one of the 10 worst programs in the country. Heisman candidate Le’Veon Bell had a career-high 253 yards for Sparty, but it’s somewhat concerning that MSU had to give him the ball 36 times against such an overmatched opponent.
Ohio State at Michigan State Betting Storylines
Let’s get to the two key injuries here. Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde hasn’t played since the second quarter of the second game of the season with an MCL strain but will return. Thus, it would be the first time all season that Urban Meyer has his top three offensive weapons -- Hyde, hybrid back Jordan Hall and quarterback Braxton Miller – on the field at the same time. Can you say triple-option?
For Michigan State, star defensive end William Gholston will be good to go. He did not play until the second half Saturday after not practicing all last week with an unspecified injury.
The Spartans need Gholston at full strength because they aren’t going to score many offensive points. Andrew Maxwell hasn’t been great in place of departed Kirk Cousins, completing just 56.6 percent of his passes for three TDs and three picks. To be fair, all of MSU’s top receivers from last year moved on with Cousins. Thus, there’s little doubt that OSU will load up to stop Bell. Notre Dame did that and held the Spartans to three points as Maxwell couldn’t make the Irish pay.
On the other side, OSU’s offense has been rather inconsistent itself. With the dual-threat Miller, the Buckeyes can run, but they still aren’t very dangerous through the air, ranking No. 99 in the country in passing yards per game. Miller has been much more accurate in his sophomore season, but he hasn’t seen a defense anything close to Michigan State’s yet. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in total defense (233.5), scoring defense (11.8) and rushing defense (69.3 ypg) and are No. 2 against the pass (164.3 ypg).
Last year in a 10-7 Michigan State win in Columbus, the Spartans overwhelmed the OSU offensive line with nine sacks. The Spartans allowed just 178 total yards and 35 yards on 39 rushing attempts. Miller was 5-of-10 for 56 yards with a pick before being replaced. Bell had 50 yards on 14 carries for MSU, while Maxwell never left the bench.
That victory snapped MSU’s seven-game losing streak in this series. The Buckeyes have won three straight games in East Lansing, with the Spartans’ last win in 1999 (the teams didn’t play in 2009-10; OSU hasn’t visited Spartan Stadium in four years).
Ohio State at Michigan State Betting Odds and Trends
MSU is a three-point favorite, according to college football odds, with the total at 43 on BookMaker. The Buckeyes are 1-3 ATS this season and 2-2 “over/under”. Spartans are 1-3 ATS and 0-3-1 O/U.
Ohio State is 0-5 ATS in its past five games following a win. Michigan State is 5-1 ATS in its past six after a win and also in its past six vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-1 in both teams’ past five Big Ten games. The road team has covered in the past four meetings.
College Football Predictions: Ohio State at Michigan State Picks
For what it’s worth, OSU was 0-3 on grass fields last year and this is its first on grass in 2012. This also is the Buckeyes’ first road game and they were 1-5 outside of Columbus in 2011, but that team didn’t have Meyer. It’s the first time that MSU’s Mark Dantonio and Meyer, both Ohio natives, will face off as head coaches.
I love the under here as both quarterbacks will struggle to throw the ball. This is one of those games that likely will come down to turnovers or bad penalties. I’m going to cast my lot with Michigan State one more time, although a push wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
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