Free Expert NCAA Football Picks: Michigan State Spartans at Oregon Ducks Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 9/2/2014
Michigan State Spartans at Oregon Ducks, Saturday Sept. 6, 6:30 p.m. ET
As soon as this game appeared on the schedule we had a sense it was going to be a good one. The closer to the game we have gotten, though, the more intriguing and important it has become.
First, while Oregon's offense stayed mostly elite last year, the Michigan State defense took a big leap into the all-World realm. A good game became a battle of giants. Then Braxton Miller was hurt and Michigan State suddenly had an unexpected chance to own the Big Ten. Now this game is even more important for the Spartans. Then UCLA was really rough in their opening game and had some issues exposed, and now Oregon has to feel like their chances in the Pac-12 are even better. Add it all up and we have the biggest game of the week.
It's amazing to think that that is the case when you think about where this squads were a decade ago - you couldn't have given away tickets to this game back then.
The Spartans very nearly had a major issue heading into this game. In a game against Jacksonville State that was otherwise meaningless, Michigan State QB Connor Cook had a major injury scare on just his second pass of the game. Well after he threw the pass he was hit very low, and his knee bent backward. It was one of those hits that makes you cringe, and it could have been very bad. He was carried off the field and was seen limping heavily on the sidelines, but in the end he returned to throw two touchdowns and is expected to be fine. Cook is not a big-name guy, but he is far better than people give him credit for and his loss would have been very significant against an offense as good as Oregon's.
Michigan State at Oregon Betting Storylines
Oregon opened their season against South Dakota, so it's not surprising that they didn't look particularly motivated at times during a game that they absolutely knew they were going to win. During mismatches it's tough to really learn much about where a team is really at. One area that did stand out as a potential concern, though, is their tackling. Time and again the Ducks struggled to contain a play in the open field - and that was against a team that isn't nearly as talented as Michigan State is. Against a team like South Dakota it ultimately didn't matter much, but they won't be so lucky again.
With six new starters on defense, that side of the ball was a concern heading into the season. Now we need to determine whether those faults were just caused by a lack of focus - something that won't be an issue again here -- or if the sloppy fundamentals were a sign of preparation and skill issues for this defense. To add to the concern, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, an all-American and the only returning member of Oregon's secondary, was banged up against South Dakota and could be limited. Though the Oregon offense and Michigan State defense are the focuses of the coverage of this game, it could be the other sides of the ball that shapes the outcome of the contest.
For Michigan State's great defense the task is clear - stop the run. Stanford has showed us the last two years that you can frustrate and contain - at least relatively - this Oregon offense if you can contain the run and force them into longer third-down situations. With four wide receivers missing from last year, the passing game from Oregon is a question mark. Third downs could be particularly concerning. The challenge for a Michigan State defense that is breaking in some new faces of their own is that they very rarely play against a zone read, and Oregon runs it about half the time on running plays. If Michigan State can adjust to that then they are in good shape. If they can't, though - and a lot of very good teams have struggled with it - then it will be Oregon that is in good shape.
Michigan State at Oregon Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with the Ducks favored by 11.5 points, and the spread has since climbed to a dozen points in several spots. About 70 percent of bettors have backed the Spartans, so the line movement suggests that some sharp money has been played on the home team. The total has stayed stable up to this point at 58 points.
The teams are 2-2 historically but have not met since a home-and-home series in 1998 and 1999. The home team won both games, but Oregon covered both spreads as underdogs. The Spartans are 3-0-1 ATS in their last four nonconference games. The Ducks have a 5-1 ATS mark in their last six nonconference outings.
Michigan State at Oregon Predictions and Expert NCAA Football Picks
This Oregon team makes me uneasy. I didn't like the mindset or the execution of the team last year in their first year without Chip Kelly, and they are facing a whole lot of changes this year. They have a tremendous amount of talent, but they are facing a team that is disciplined and physical, and it is going to be a challenge. They are giving up far too many points here, so the value is in the Spartans.
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