There’s a clash in East Lansing, Michigan that you won’t want to miss out on this weekend, as the #4 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0) get their first real road test of the season against #15 Michigan State (5-1) who looks to hold strong at home for a second straight week after bumping off in-state rival then-#11 Michigan . While the Badgers have been hammering away at opponents all season long with the top-ranked scoring offense averaging 50.2 points per game, and containing opposing offenses to the tune of allowing just 9.7 points per game (3rd in the FBS), Wisconsin runs into a much different problem on Saturday as they face the Spartans; playing a team that is just as good, and just as capable as they are at controlling football games, and aggravating powerful offenses.
Wisconsin has had the luck of playing 5 games at its home in Madison, as well as one pseudo-road game in Chicago against Northern Illinois, where it has put up monstrous offensive numbers thanks to the skill of quarterback Russell Wilson (%74.1 pass completion, 14 TDs to just 1 INT), and the pounding running of Montee Ball ( 107 carries, 653 yards, 16 TDs) in the Badger backfield. Though these numbers for the two top offensive producers have been outstanding, they have been generated on their own turf against names like UNLV (1-5), Oregon State (1-5) and Indiana (1-6), with 5 of their six wins on the year coming against teams with a combined 11-22 record. However, knowing what Wisconsin is able to do against even top talent like then-#8 Nebraska (who got the worst part of a 48-17 blowout), this Badger squad, off to its best start in 7 years, looks ready to take on its first road test certainly better prepared than when they came in last October and lost 34-24 to continue a three-game skid at Spartan Stadium dating back to 2002.
Michigan State on the other hand seems to be the team with little to lose in this match-up on Saturday, coming off a scrappy 28-14 win at home where they completely shut down the Michigan Wolverines offense, holding QB Denard Robinson to just 123 yards passing and 42 yards rushing, while the Spartan’s mighty-might running back Edwin Baker put up his first 100 yard game of the season in style, carrying the ball 26 times for 167 yards and a touchdown. With MSU coming into this match-up barely behind Wisconsin in scoring defense (10.7 points), and ranked 2nd in the nation in total defense behind 21 sacks and 8 interceptions, the key to their game will certainly be to bring Russell Wilson back down to earth (he’s got a ridiculous 210.9 passer rating vs. MSU’s allowed 84.4 rating), and finding a way to plug the middle and keep RB Montee Ball treading water at the line of scrimmage.
In a classic match-up between an offensive-centered Wisconsin squad and a defensive-minded Michigan State team, something simply has to give in East Lansing on Saturday, making for an exciting pick for betting on sports at one of the top online sportsbooks reviewed here.
Betting Lines for #5 Wisconsin at #15 Michigan State
Intertops Sportsbook (Intertops.eu) puts the Wisconsin Badgers at a hefty -240 favorite to win on the money line, while the host Michigan State Spartans ride the underdog wave once again at home at +240 odds to win. With two defenses that combined are allowing just over 20 points per game, it’s expected to see the over/under lines come down a bit for this Big Ten clash, currently standing at 50.5 points (-110 odds either way). Where this could give you room to take the underdog with confidence though is the points spreads, where Michigan State is getting 7.5 points at -110 odds, while Wisconsin gives up 7.5 points at the same odds. Considering MSU has given up just 27 points in 4 contests (just over 6 points per game) at home, even an offensive juggernaut like Wisconsin may have trouble scoring on the road here, keeping the Spartans within a touchdown’s reach at the end of the game.
Our Pick to Win:
Though having to fess up that yesterday’s pick taking #11 West Virginia to blow through Syracuse was one of the more embarrassing calls in NCAA Football so far this year (ending in a 49-23 rout by the Orangemen), today’s featured match-up is not going to be nearly so lopsided, or unexpected with two very disciplined teams playing in their biggest game of the season thus far. We all know Wisconsin is dominant at home, but can they stand up on the road in one of the toughest houses to play at in NCAA Football? While Michigan State may stick to the same aggressive tactics at home that helped them prevail over Michigan last week, the Badgers are a much more well-rounded team than the Wolverines are this year, and their taught defense combined with so many options on offense will get them through today’s road game with a win. Wisconsin takes a tough battle down to the wire, and emerges victorious for the first time in 3 failed attempts in East Lansing, 27-21.
Players to Watch, Michigan State:
Edwin Baker, RB – Though the 5’9″ junior comes into this match-up off his best performance of the season, it’ll be tough for him to repeat that success against a Wisconsin defense that has allowed just 3.5 yards/carry this year. In order for the Spartans to give their QB Kirk Cousins enough time to work downfield, Baker is going to be key in keeping the Wisconsin defense in check and could be a big difference maker today.
Kirk Cousins, QB – The aforementioned 5th year starting quarterback has built up a lot of confidence after defeating Michigan for his third consecutive time, however today’s challenge is the next huge step for Cousins and the Spartans’ season aspirations. Having built up confidence against Wisconsin in last year’s game where Cousins threw for 269 yards and 3 TDs in a 34-24 win, expect this veteran starter to focus on limiting his mistakes even further (Cousins threw 2 picks last year as well), which will be necessary against a Badgers D that loves to capitalize on mistakes.
Players to Watch, Wisconsin:
Russell Wilson, QB – With Michigan State allowing a meager 119 yards of passing per game with an outstanding 5:8 TD to INT ratio, Wilson will certainly have his hands full trying to distribute the ball as normal to his usual receiving suspects, Nick Toon (25 catches, 447 yards, 6 TDs) and Jared Abbrederis (24 catches, 391 yards, 2 TDs). With the best passer rating in the country, Saturday’s game will likely prove whether Wilson has been benefitting from mediocre competition, or whether he’s a real-deal Heisman Trophy candidate.
Montee Ball, RB – With 16 TDs on the year (2nd in the FBS), Ball is already putting on a clinic with the rock, averaging almost 3 touchdowns a game. What was most impressive about Ball’s resume this year is that he managed 4 TDs against then #8 Nebraska, something that shouldn’t happen against a Top-10 team, even if that team is on the road. However, Michigan State is allowing half as many yards/carry as Nebraska this season (a stingy 2.2 yards/carry, and just 67 yards/game), and Ball may find the sledding much tougher on the road than at the friendly confines at home. This will be a real test for the Badgers top running back, but if Ball can break out today and keep possession in Wisconsin’s hands for prolonged periods, the game is the Badgers’ to lose.