Pick – Analysis
The Big Ten championship could really mess up voters, no matter which team wins. Iowa is undefeated, but hasn’t gotten respect almost the entire season, while Michigan State has one loss at a five-win Nebraska team. The Spartans opened as a -3.5 point favorite for the Game at LUcas Oil Stadium (as seen at 5 Dimes Sportsbook).
The Spartans squeaked by opponents early in the season, highlighted by a three-point win over Oregon, but have since been somewhat underrated, covering in five of their last six Games. Wins at Michigan and Ohio State (with backup quarterbacks) were nice and their defense is probably playing its best of the year holding three straight opponents to 16 points or less. A 55-16 win over Penn State was a huge result in a must-win situation.
Iowa hasn’t gotten much respect for good reason so far. The Hawkeyes best non-Conference wins include at Iowa State and a last-second field goal over Pittsburgh. In Conference play, wins at Wisconsin and Northwestern highlight the Schedule. Their defense is rated highly, but hasn’t exactly dominated lately, allowing at least 20 points in Four straight, including 35 points to Minnesota a few weeks back.
Michigan State has a couple of advantages in key spots and that’s the main reason MSU is the favorite. Quarterback Connor Cook is one of the best in the nation throwing 24 touchdowns compared to only 4 interceptions, although with a 57.6% completion rate. If MSU wins, Cook will probably be a major talking point. Iowa has a good run defense, but mediocre pass defense so that could play right into Cook’s hands, even with a bum shoulder. Cook had great numbers last week (3 TDs, 0 INTs) and should be healthier for this Game.
In addition, MSU’s offensive line is reaching its peak, having played well against both OSU and PSU. Running backs LJ SCott and Gerald Holmes could each see double-digit carries and even against a stout Hawkeye front, should have some success. WR Aaron Burbridge is almost unstoppable with Cook at quarterback and Iowa will need to focus on stopping him.
On the other end, Iowa lives by its running Game, which may be a problem here. The Spartans have one of the best defensive lines in the country, but struggle in the secondary. Jordan Canzeri is back to being the workhorse, but Iowa has plenty of guys to handoff to. The Hawkeyes have 35 rushing touchdowns as a team, compared to 14 TDs through the air. C.J. Beathard has been serviceable for the Hawkeyes, and his main goal is to not turn the ball over. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Oct. 17. Will Iowa attack MSU’s pass defense, or stick with its ground-and-pound approach in this Game?
Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country at not turning the ball over and Iowa thrives on that. If the Spartans don’t turn it over, it’ll be hard for Iowa to come out on top.
The Hawkeyes have always been a tough matchup for the Spartans and have covered in six of the last eight meetings. These teams met two years ago with Michigan State winning 26-14 on the road. Still, it’s hard to bet against the Spartans who have covered in six straight neutral site Games. The Hawkeyes haven’t played in a Game this meaningful in a while.
Our Pick – Certainly, whichever team emerges on top is going to take a ton of heat as a result of their weak Big 10 Schedule. That’s especially true with Iowa. At least the Spartans can claim Ohio State and Michigan as wins.
One of the things we like to do with Our model this time of year, is look at how the model sees the Game when only using data from the most recent Games. When we use only 7 Games, it has Michigan State on top by a TD. When we use only the last 4 Games, it has the Spartans by 19. When using the entire season, well, it still has the Spartans on top but by just 2.
That would suggest that Michigan State is peaking at just the right time.
Case closed, right?
Sometimes, you have to kick the stats to the curb. To begin with, only the prediction using the last 4 Games has a sizeable margin. All other predictions with the model, as well as other methods we use to predict a margin, suggest a tight Game.
These two teams are good across the board, regardless of who they have played. Michigan State has been in the mix this late in the season in recent years. Iowa hasn’t. The feeling here is simply that this is Iowa’s year. Going undefeated is no easy task and speaks volumes about a team. They find a way to win. We think Iowa finds a way here, remains unbeaten, and give everyone ageda. Let the cries of “they don’t belong” begin. Iowa +3.5