All the handwringing and bellyaching about where Michigan State is ranked for the College Football Playoff can finally come to an end this weekend.
If the No. 7 Spartans (9-1, 6-1 in the Big Ten East) can take down No. 4 Ohio State (9-1, 7-0) at the Horseshoe on Saturday, they deserve to be considered among the contenders for the national championship. If they can’t – as the 20-point line at BetRivers, Barstool, and TwinSpires suggests – they won’t.
But can the Spartans overcome that three-score evaluation and vie for a spot in the College Football Playoff? We don’t have to look far into the past to find a similar situation. Ohio State has been a three-score favorite (from 17.5 to 21.5 points) in four of the last five games in this series, and the Buckeyes have covered in all but one. Back in 2016, Ohio State escaped 17-16 as a 20.5-point favorite, but that game was in East Lansing.
Can Michigan State keep up?
The good news for MSU bettors is that Michigan State is 7-1-2 against the spread this season, with the only setback a letdown-spot loss at Purdue that came a week after the Spartans took down hated rival Michigan.
But those numbers come with significant context, because Mel Tucker’s squad has not been considered a team of consequence until relatively recently. The Spartans were actually an underdog against a poor Northwestern team to start the season, and they were favored by only 3 and 4 points against Nebraska and Rutgers, respectively.
The 40 points the Spartans surrendered to Purdue should also give Michigan State fans pause, because they’ll take on the nation’s best offense on Saturday. Led by quarterback C.J. Stroud, currently the second choice (+200 behind Bryce Young) to win the Heisman Trophy at DraftKings, the Buckeyes lead the nation in total offense (550.4 yards per game), yards per play (8.04), and points per game (46.3).
While Bryce Young and Kenneth Walker III seem virtual locks to be Heisman Trophy finalists, but who else? @PaulMyerberg explains why @OhioStateFB's C.J. Stroud could make a run. https://t.co/VDElVrrrBB pic.twitter.com/NAyQXptr3c
— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) November 18, 2021
“A shootout, to me, when I hear something like that, it makes me want to vomit,” Tucker said Monday.
If that comment is any hint, expect Michigan State’s own Heisman contender, Kenneth Walker III (+300 at DraftKings, right behind Stroud), to get more than enough carries in an attempt to keep Stroud and the Buckeyes offense off the field.
What about the total?
Michigan State has averaged more than 35 points per game over its last three contests, and most sportsbooks in Michigan feature an over/under mark of 68.5. But if you happen to like the under, you can get an extra half-point (69) at FOX Bet or WynnBET.
Michigan State has cracked the over in its last three matchups, but this total is its highest of the season. An Ohio State game has seen a total of more than 68.5 only once this season, and the game surpassed the number (72) in the Buckeyes’ 66-17 thumping of Maryland.
The Spartans have been much better offensively (and overall) under Tucker compared to Mark Dantonio, so it won’t be difficult to improve upon Michigan State’s recent offensive history against Ohio State. In their last six meetings, Michigan State has averaged 10.7 points per game versus the Buckeyes.
Photo: Nick King/Lansing State Journal