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This has to be one of the more enticing lines of the week. Northwestern comes into this game with a 9-1 record against the spread this season. They are coming off an OT loss at Michigan last weekend, a game they should have won. Their other two losses were to Penn State and Nebraska, both respectable opponents and close games. Michigan State, on the other hand, is just 3-7 ATS this season and has not beaten anyone in Big 10 play by more than four points. In fact, their only big wins of the year came against Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans are at home, but they have actually lost three straight games in East Lansing. Each school has had trouble closing out games all year and that will have to change in this one.
Michigan State comes in as 7-point favorites in a lot of books. They've covered and won the last two meetings between each school, but this MSU offense is not as good as previous seasons. Last year, Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham sliced through the Wildcats secondary. Andrew Maxwell has not been able to slice through anyone all season.
Actually, Maxwell hasn't really had an impressive game yet. Even though Michigan State should've won their last game against Nebraska, Maxwell only completed 9-of-27 passes for 123 yards. He wasn't going to be the reason they won. Le'Veon Bell was the workhorse as usual in that game carrying the ball 36 times for 188 yards and two TDs. He has at least 25 rushes in six of 10 games this year. Northwestern doesn't have a top run defense and give up 100-yard rushers on a regular basis. The Wildcats know they have to stop Bell, but that doesn't mean they can. The Spartans receiving core has been plagued by drops all season and shouldn't be a problem for Northwestern.
Even with a 5-5 record, Michigan State still has one of the best defenses in the league. They were one of the best defenses against the run until Nebraska rushed for over 300 yards against them. The Wildcats are a run heavy offense and need to find room on the ground if they want to come away with a win.
Kain Colter was in and out of the lineup last week because of injury, but he will be fine for this game. Between Colter and Trevor Siemian, the Wildcats have as many passing TDs as Maxwell and that's not saying much. However, on the ground, Northwestern has 25 rushing TDs as a team. Venric Mark leads the team in rushing with 1,176 yards and 10 TDs. He has at least 100 yards in four straight games. Behind him is Colter with 704 yards and 11 TDs. The most important thing in this matchup is this running game. If they can't move the ball on the ground, they'll have trouble moving the ball at all. That may be a reason why this line is bigger than people think it should be along with the Spartans coming off a bye.
Northwestern is 6-1 in their last seven road games and Michigan State is a disappointing 0-6 ATS in their last six home games. The Wildcats are also 5-0 ATS in their last five meeting in East Lansing. In addition, the road team is 10-1 ATS in the last 11 contests between these schools. The over is 6-2 in Northwestern's last eight road games and the under is 5-1 in the Spartans last six home games.
Michigan State isn't a "bad" team. 4 of their 5 losses have been by 4 points or less with only Notre Dame being able to extend the margin. The Spartans have been hampered by a sputtering offense all year. Despite that sputtering offense, our model still likes the Spartans to win straight up by a score of 19-14. Enough to grab a win and a bowl qualifying 6th win, but not enough to get the cover. We're going to stay away from the side in this one though, despite the numbers pointing towards Northwestern. This is one of those spots where we could see Michigan State putting everything together offensively in a big way, taking their frustrations out on Northwestern. Instead of the side, we're going to go with the under in this one. One aspect of the Michigan State team that's not broken, is their defense and we think they'll come up big once again here. Under 45
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