Wisconsin at Michigan State
Saturday, 9 am PT - BTN
CRIS Opener: Michigan State -6 O/U 45.5
CRIS Current: Michigan State -5 O/U 42
Recommendation: Michigan State
What on earth does Michigan State have to do to earn some real respect from the betting markets? This team went 13-1 in 2013, 11-2 in 2014 and 12-2 last year, rising to elite program status in Mark D’Antonio’s tenth year on the job. But the Spartans suffered some significant graduation losses in the offseason, especially on offense where QB Connor Cook and three of the linemen protecting him went to the NFL. And then Michigan State looked sluggish in their opener against Furman, never even sniffing the -37.5 point spread in a 28-13 victory. The betting markets, as they do, dramatically overreacted to that sluggish showing, installing the Spartans as 7.5 point underdogs at Notre Dame last week. They dominated wire-to-wire in a ‘not as close as the final score’ 36-28 romp.
But the betting markets that didn’t respect Michigan State in 2013 or 2014 (combined 19-8 ATS), and didn’t respect them down the stretch last year still aren’t all that excited about the Spartans in what is perceived to be a ‘letdown’ spot after that huge win over Notre Dame. I don’t care what kind of spin you want to put on it – a Big 10 home opener against Wisconsin is no ‘letdown’ spot for any team. And the fact that this has been a tight series in the past – each of the last three meetings has been decided by less than a touchdown – also has the markets devaluing Michigan State in this spot.
I’m not worried about tight games between these two programs in 2011 and 2012 (the most recent meeting), because the Wisconsin program has declined markedly over the past three or four seasons. Multiple coaching changes haven’t helped matters, but the weakness of the Big 10 West has kept the Badgers in contention despite their overall decline. I’m expecting that process to accelerate here in 2016.
Michigan State has no issues without Connor Cook behind center. Tyler O’Connor lit up Notre Dame’s defense with his arm and his legs last week, as the Spartans ran for 260 and passed for 241 yards against a solid stop unit. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has serious QB issues. Senior Bart Houston got benched against Georgia State. Redshirt frosh Alex Hornibrook has only faced Georgia State at home in his collegiate career. Neither guy is a particularly good option for Paul Chryst on Saturday. Expect Badgers scoring drives to be few and far between, especially given all the injures they’ve suffered at running back over the past two weeks. Spartans win this one by a TD or more.