Expert NCAA Football Picks: Michigan Wolverines at Michigan State Spartans
Michigan Wolverines at Michigan State Spartans, Saturday Oct. 20, Noon ET
It wasn't my intention to write about Michigan two weeks in a row. I don't like writing about any team two weeks in a row - not even one that is kind of the center of my universe. But Michigan has struggled in big games for years now, and that changed last week in a big way when they hosted 15 th-ranked Wisconsin and absolutely crushed them. Suddenly the axles on Michigan's bandwagon are getting a serious workout. They climbed all the way from 12th to sixth in the polls - and not just because of the carnage in the Top 10 last week. Opinions of them fell significantly after their opening loss to Notre Dame - not just because they lost but because they came out so flat. But they have remade themselves since and are again that legitimate playoff contender that people thought they were entering the season.
And they absolutely control their own destiny. They play at major rival Michigan State this week. Then, after a bye, they host Penn State. And after a couple of easy games they play hated Ohio State in the finale. Win those games, and then likely beat Wisconsin again in the Big Ten Championship Game, and they are unquestionably a playoff team. But that is easier to say than to do.
Michigan State has struggled at times this year but is riding high off a huge win over Penn State. The Nittany Lions are obviously vulnerable but can never be taken lightly. And Ohio State has easily the best quarterback in the conference - one of the best in the country - and ridiculous depth that has led them to an unbeaten record. Michigan has a whole lot of work to do, and it all starts with a win against a Michigan State team that has absolutely owned them in recent years.
This game alone won't decide how the playoffs look, but how Michigan responds in a hostile building against a confident team, in what could be nasty weather, will go a long way to telling us if they are legitimately viable as one of the final four. This is a bellwether game, and that's why we are back looking at Michigan for the second week in a row. It doesn't hurt also that backing them last week worked out well for the old pocketbook.
Michigan at Michigan State Betting Storylines
The game is really going to come down to two things. You never want to oversimplify a game, but it is very easy to boil this one down. First, it's whether Michigan will be able to run the ball. After an ugly early start for their offensive line in South Bend, which followed several ugly years up front, the line has really come together. Michigan's run game has improved dramatically as a result, and against Wisconsin and their traditionally-sound run defense they ran for 320 yards - at a rate of 6.7 yards per carry. Michigan's offense is run-centered, and it is now threatening. But the Spartans have the top run defense in the country to this point, allowing just 62.3 yards per game. One of those things is going to have to give, and this will be even more important if the rain and potentially snow that is forecast shows up.
Second, is Michigan's defense against the Michigan State offense. The Spartans rank just 85th nationally in points scored, and that is a number that is inflated by their weaker opponents. It is not a dynamic offense. And Michigan's defense is brutal, ranked second nationally in yards allowed. Against Wisconsin the defense was the entire difference, holding the Badgers to just 25 yards of passing until well into the fourth quarter and only 100 for the game. The defense, when focused, demoralizes opponents. But early against Notre Dame and Northwestern, it has not been focused, and the team has found itself in a hole. That's a bad habit and one they can't repeat here.
Michigan at Michigan State Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Michigan favored by 6.5. That very quickly climbed to seven points, and it has stayed at that level since . Michigan has a slight edge in betting action to this point, so the line movement is consistent, and we aren't likely to see much more movement without significant news on either side. The total opened at 45.5 and has fallen as low as 40.5 in early action.
The Wolverines are 4-1 ATS in their last five conference games but have failed to cover the last four times they have left home. They are just 3-8-1 ATS in their last 12 games in October. The Spartans are just 1-4 ATS in their last five home games and have struggled to carry momentum, going just 2-5 ATS in their last seven following a straight up win. Michigan in a hideous 1-10 ATS in their last 11 games against the Spartans and 0-5 ATS in their last five trips to East Lansing.
Michigan at Michigan State Predictions and Picks
I'll take off my maize and blue colored glasses and be as objective as I can be here - something you will find harder to believe when I say that Michigan is the clear play. Their defense is playing extremely well and is against an offense that lacks dimension and confidence. The Spartans will struggle to score. And while the Spartans have been great defensively on the ground, they are a disaster through the air - ranking 118th nationally - and Shea Patterson is playing more than well enough to exploit that and to open up running opportunities on the ground. This feels like a more focused and competent Michigan team than we have seen in many years at this point in the season, and until they prove that that isn't the case we have no choice but to back them in a game they match up well in.
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