The intensity is ratcheting up to a downright scary level all across the Great Lakes State this Halloween weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State will square off for the State Championship, my personal favorite annual rivalry as a Wolverine. The Wolverines are rocking and rolling towards another playoff bid, while the Spartans are playing below .500, but even so, this game is going to have energy, and a high level of competition. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some predictions for this year’s battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy.
Michigan Vs. Michigan State Odds
Michigan are massive favorites at home, by a margin of 23 points; interesting in a rivalry that is generally fairly tightly contested, regardless of how good either team is. The points total is set at 55, and you’d imagine that for the over to hit, Michigan would have to do much of the heavy lifting.
Michigan Vs. Michigan StatePrediction & Pick
It may not always feel like it, with the coverage that generally surrounds Michigan as a program, but MSU has actually owned this rivalry in the Harbaugh era and a bit beyond. Michigan’s head coach is 3-4 against his in-state rival, and MSU holds a 10-4 edge in this series since 2008. State is also 12-5 against the spread in this series since 2005. So while at a glance, this may appear as an easy win, it could easily become anything but. Even a year ago, the Wolverines were cruising towards a three-score win when it all fell apart late in the game; it was their only loss of the season, until a playoff blowout at the hands of eventual champs Georgia. This year’s Michigan is arguably better than the squad that finally beat OSU and won the Big Ten a year ago, particularly on offense as the run game continues to ascend and the passing attack is much more competent than it’s been in recent years.
Michigan State has floundered to a 3-4 start to the season, but honestly, they’ve only lost to good or great teams. They had a tough out of conference road trip to Seattle, where they got slammed by a solid Washington team, were taken down by quality Big Ten teams Minnesota and #2 Ohio State at home, and suffered a road defeat at Maryland, who are currently sitting at 6-2. They were even able to keep the final score against the Buckeyes from being a complete joke, so it’s not impossible to imagine an incredibly motivated Spartans team staying tight with Michigan in their biggest rivalry showdown of the season.
This is a tough one for me to pick. On paper, it’s an enormous mismatch, and with the much better team being the home team, that should theoretically only serve to exacerbate the gap. That being said, college football does not take place on paper, it takes place on grass- and the particular grass this game is taking place on has seen some incredibly strange outcomes between these very two teams. I’m certainly not predicting that Sparty will end the Wolverines’ undefeated run for the second year in a row- which would send shockwaves through the entire Michigan program- but I do think they’ll make this a real ballgame and cover the generous spread. It’s worth noting that Michigan- coming off a bye- hasn’t played in a couple weeks so while they should be well rested, it might take them a bit of time to be at their sharpest. I also think they’ll do this by hanging some points on Michigan rather than by limiting their offense, so I’m picking the over as well. That being said, the entire point here is that anything can happen between these two teams, so I’m not particularly eager to invest large sums of money on any wager in this one.
Will this Michigan State offensive line be able to hold up against this Michigan front 7? Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Michigan St vs Michigan below.
Michigan State Offensive Line vs. Michigan Front Seven
If there’s a strength for this Michigan State team, it’s certainly their offensive line. The most essential unit on the team has put together a great performance so far, ranking 13th in PFF’s grades for both pass blocking and run blocking. Three of MSU’s o-line starters have a pass blocking grade above 80, highlighted by side-switching guard Brian Greene’s 85.2. Left tackle Jarrett Horst is graded a bit worse than those top three in terms of pass blocking, but he has the line’s best overall offense grade with 81.8, and has posted a stellar score of 88.6 in run blocking. MSU’s best shot to win this game is to jump out front and effectively shorten it, and the best route to that game script is domination at the line of scrimmage.
They’ll be attempting to do so against a Michigan front seven that has been solid, but not quite the unstoppable unit of a year ago. They’re PFF’s fourth-favorite run defense in the nation, but a still solid but less elite 16th in pass rushing. They are of course without the superstar duo of edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who famously ended CJ Stroud’s Heisman campaign last season, but their void has been admirably, even if not equally filled by Mike Morris and Eyabi Anoma. Mazi Smith and Kris Jenkins have anchored the interior d-line, and Michael Barrett and Junior Colson have been by far the most important linebacking contributors. If the Wolverines defensive front can dominate, they’ll cruise to a win, but if they’re below their peak, it could mean a more tense finish.
Michigan Rushing Offense vs. Michigan State Run Defense
Slowing down Michigan’s offense this season is going to have to start with handling their running game, which is arguably the nation’s best. They’re led by Heisman hopeful running back Blake Corum, who has racked up a sickening 901 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground through 7 games thus far. He’s done it in big spots too, racking up 243 and 166 yards against Penn State and Maryland- as well as 2 touchdowns in each instance. However, it doesn’t quite start and end with the nation’s most dangerous halfback. Donovan Edwards missed a couple of games, but has flashed big-play potential, averaging over 7 yards per carry and broke out with 194 total yards and 2 scores on just 17 touches against Penn State’s vaunted rush defense. QB JJ McCarthy hasn’t put up gaudy rushing numbers, but he’s been known to pick up a first down or two (or even a score) with his legs, when the situation calls for it.
MSU will look to counter Michigan’s explosive ground assault with a run defense that has struggled a bit this year; PFF has them ranked 83rd in the country, while EPA/play would place them just outside of the top 60. Edge Jacoby Windmon has been a bright spot, putting up a team-best PFF run D grade of 79.1, as he’s missed only 2 tackles thus far, compared with 3 forced fumbles. Linebacker Ben VanSumeren only has 1 missed tackle in over 200 run prevention snaps- in fact, PFF lists State as the 14th-best tackling group in the country. This will be vital; MSU hasn’t shown an ability to generally snuff out rushing opportunities, but consistently stopping Corum and Edwards with the first tackle would be a trend that most opponents haven’t been able to achieve. It’s a strength that could limit Michigan’s big-play ability, something that has been a major hallmark of their running game success so far.