Michigan and Michigan State will meet under the lights Saturday at the Big House.
The bitter rivals enter the game in very different positions, and because of that, the Wolverines are a three-touchdown favorite. But strange things can happen in a rivalry game, especially this one. Toss in the fact it’s being played at night on Halloween weekend, and there’s potential for weirdness.
We talked to an expert from each side of the rivalry to see what they think will happen Saturday night: Matt Sheehan, host of the Locked On Spartans Podcast, and Brandon Justice, senior editor covering Michigan at Rivals.
To add a neutral party, PlayMichigan also spoke with DraftKings Director of Sportsbook Operations, Johnny Avello.
How do Michigan and Michigan State fans feel heading into rivalry week?
Before we asked for a breakdown of the game, we wanted to get a general feeling of the mindset of each team’s fans.
We had our ideas, but Sheehan and Justice are both very-well plugged into their respective fanbases.
“As you’d expect, there’s no shortage of confidence from Michigan fans. It’s hard to blame them given the records and trajectories of both programs. Still, in a rivalry setting, the veteran fans who have watched this game annually for the last decade-plus know to not hold their breath. Nothing is guaranteed in this game.”
“This 3-4 start has the fanbase all over the place, but the majority is this — not expecting a win but would be lying to themselves if they said there isn’t a glimmer of hope. If they lost (the Oct. 15) game against Wisconsin — and the coaching staff tried its best to do so — there would be no hope at all. But, we saw everything we hoped to see this season in that game. Jayden Reed and Keon Coleman looking like Sunday talent. The defense looking Not Horrific with Xavier Henderson, Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow back in the mix. Yes, Wisconsin is not a good team, but we finally saw what we’ve been hoping to see this season. And, in a game against a team where 10 of the last 14 wins have gone to the Spartans, the track record is there to never think the Spartans are completely out of it, even in our worst years and their best years.”
Keys to a Michigan victory over Michigan State
Now for the keys to the game.
Michigan will win, if …
“It doesn’t beat itself. Michigan is superior to MSU in every facet in 2022. ESPN’s SP+ lists Michigan as the No. 4 team in the country, 19.9 (call it 20) points better than No. 52 Michigan State. U-M is a top 10 team in every facet — offense, defense, and special teams — according to SP+, while MSU ranks 41st, 58th, and 125th, respectively. Michigan has no business losing as a 20-plus point favorite at home. But that’s what happened in this game in 2020. As Jim Harbaugh said in his weekly press conference, you can throw the records out the window. Still, the only way I see the Spartans upsetting the Wolverines is through a mistake-heavy day from McCarthy & Co. Against Penn State, that was a huge concern, given the Nittany Lions walked into Michigan Stadium forcing the sixth-most turnovers in college football. Of course, when a pick-six is a result of a ball bouncing off of two helmets before landing perfectly in a defender’s arms, it’s hard to blame the QB. But J.J. McCarthy has fumbled a few times this season, yet Michigan’s recovered all of them. He can’t afford mistakes like that on Saturday.”
“They pass the ball. Look, I get it, their offensive line is probably the best in the nation and that run game has road grated teams. But MSU might be able to stop the run a little bit and make this game muddy in that regard. Again, I said might. Now it is certain — unless your quarterback’s name is Graham Mertz — that you can have a career day against this MSU secondary through the air. So if the playbook is truly open for Michigan and they utilize JJ McCarthy, I think they put up the points needed to win. Oh and MSU’s offense can’t generate any semblance of a run game. That, too.”
Keys to a Michigan State victory over Michigan
Conversely, Michigan State will win, if …
“Its Sunday players play out of their minds. We need that Jayden Reed and Keon Coleman performance again through the air, and add in tight end Daniel Barker too if they decide to finally throw to him more than three times on Saturday for once. On defense, if Jacoby Windmon (who is back to playing linebacker) helps to clog the run and limits one option in pass coverage, that’s a win. And Bryce Baringer — another guy that should be playing on Sundays next year — needs to do what he’s done all season long and just boot the hell out of the ball.
I have little-to-no faith in the run game on MSU’s offense. I have even less faith in MSU’s passing defense. But if the passing game can flex that NFL talent and the defense can mitigate the damage, there might be a shot.”
“If its best plan of attack is mimicking what Indiana did against U-M offensively — but does it better. I’m not sure MSU has the ponies to run an Air Raid, up-tempo offense. But in the Spartans’ win last year, tempo was their X-Factor and ultimately flipped the game on its head when it looked like U-M was running away with it. Indiana put on tape what tempo can do to the Wolverine defense, but DC Jesse Minter made halftime adjustments, shutting out the Hoosiers in the second half. Still, WR Jayden Reed and the MSU offense, despite the struggles this season, present a greater challenge than IU. If QB Payton Thorne plays like he did a season ago and effectively runs an uptempo offense, then it perfectly counters what Michigan does defensively, and exploits the defense’s biggest flaw: linebackers in coverage. Heading into the Penn State game, Michigan’s highest-graded linebacker in coverage — Junior Colson — ranked 122nd among qualifying linebackers, according to PFF. Defensively, MSU, on paper, doesn’t have many counters. The D-Line is its strength, which should keep the Wolverines honest — but it’s not a better DL than PSU’s, which U-M embarrassed two weeks ago, rushing for over 400 yards. On paper, there’s no way for the Spartans to win. But, again, throw the metrics, records, and season away. On Saturday night, it’s just Michigan, Michigan State, and Paul Bunyan. Anything can happen.”
Is the Michigan vs. Michigan State spread fair?
The number was 23.5 when we sought out the answer to this question. It’s settled in at 21 or 22.
“If it wasn’t for that Wisconsin game, I would say ‘yeah that sounds about right’ as MSU was riding an ugly four-game losing streak. But the Spartans getting back Xavier Henderson and Jacob Slade on defense and seeing Keon Coleman and Jayden Reed be the receivers we thought they could be against the Badgers gave us all a glimmer of hope. HOWEVER, I’m not saying it should be a pick ’em or anything. I just figured the spread would be in that 16-18 point range after we (finally) saw positive signs from MSU in its latest game. With that said, I still don’t love either side of this spread because as much as I can see MSU keeping this somewhat close, I can just as easily see UM trying to blow the doors off of MSU and extract revenge from the pain brought to the Wolverines the last two seasons.”
“With the line hovering between 21.5 and 23.5, until it surpasses a key number, I’m not sure Vegas will give an idea of what to expect. If it floats over 23.5, then I think U-M could win by 30-plus. But if it plummets to 20.5, then oddsmakers are telling us it’ll be close. What do I think? On paper and at home, according to numerous projection models, Michigan is ~22-to-23 point favorite. So I think the line is just about right, and should settle right in the middle at 22.5, leaving bettors in limbo.”
Michigan vs. Michigan State prediction
For two guys on opposite sides of this rivalry, they came eerily close in their predictions.
Justice’s reasoning is described in detail above, so he simply sent a score: Michigan 42, MSU 17.
Sheehan had a little more to say:
“Either Michigan State wins by four and, once again, we hear inane excuses for the next 365ish days or Michigan wins soundly. There is no in between. I hope I’m wrong here, but I am taking Michigan 42, MSU 21.”
Michigan vs. Michigan State betting insights from Johnny Avello
With the spread sitting at 22.5 points as of Tuesday afternoon, it’s close to the 21.5-point spread the Spartans faced when traveling to Ann Arbor in 2020.
That year saw MSU pull off a 27-24 upset of Michigan.
Can the same happen again this Saturday? College football bettors may take that gamble.
With the spread being so large, MSU finds itself at +1100 on the moneyline for the game, while Michigan is at -2100.
Mel Tucker has won his two meetings with Jim Harbaugh, while the Spartans have won 10 of the last 14 meetings overall.
“It’s unusual to have the spread this high in this particular game,” Avello said. “So what the general public will try to do with a game like this is, they’ll try to maybe bet Michigan State on the money line, figuring they’re gonna win the game straight up. They’re not going to bet Michigan because you have to put up too much to win less.”
The spread opened at 22 points at DraftKings Sportsbook MI, fell to 21.5 points and has jumped back to 22.5. Avello believes that the spread will work its way back up by the weekend. He’s already been proven correct, as the jump from 21.5 to 22.5 happened after this interview.
“We opened this game 22 points, and we’re down to 21.5. I think this game is going to go back up, certainly by Saturday, if not before,” Avello said. “But as far as the sides are concerned, I think by the time we get to Saturday, we’re going to have quite a bit of Michigan money laying the points.”