Game: Michigan State Spartans at Northwestern Wildcats
Time: 9:00 PM ET
Spread: Spartans +3, Wildcats -3
It’s another Big Ten season opener tonight as Michigan State attempts to go for two consecutive upsets of Northwestern. The Spartans went just 2-5 last season, but the two wins were over Michigan and the Wildcats. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern are three-point favorites heading into tonight’s game and rightfully so.
The Wildcats are coming off a 7-2 season in which they won the Big Ten West Division and played for the conference championship. Northwestern even capped off last season with a win over Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. How the Wildcats did it and how they will continue to do it in 2021 is with defense.
Northwestern finished fifth in the nation last year allowing just 15.9 points per game. The 29 points they gave up in the loss to the Spartans last season was the most allowed by a stingy Wildcats defense. Five starters return including All-American safety Brandon Joseph. Plus, Fitzgerald welcomes back three-year starting defensive end Samdup Miller who opted out of the 2020 season.
On offense, Hunter Johnson, who started for the Wildcats in 2019, will return at quarterback to lead an offense that relies heavily on the run. Three starters return to the offensive line plus running back Cam Porter who had 301 yards and four touchdowns over the Wildcats’ last three games in 2020.
The picture is a little less clear for Michigan State where head coach Mel Tucker enters his second season. A ton of new faces will see the field, including at quarterback where Temple transfer Anthony Russo Jr. will start. The Spartans are built much like Northwestern. They will rely on their defense and then try and control the football with the running game. The problem is that running game finished last season ranked 122nd in the nation averaging just 91.4 yards a game. The Spartans should be better on the ground this season as four offensive line starters return.
After six double-digit win seasons in eight years from 2010 to 2017, Michigan State has taken a downturn. Not only are the Spartans just 16-17 straight up over the last three seasons, but they have not been good to bettors. Last season as mentioned, MSU finished 2-5. They also went 2-5 against the spread.
If you go back through the Spartans’ last 24 games, they are just 6-18 ATS. Also of note is their record against the spread in Big Ten games. Over those last 24 outings, Michigan State is 3-12 ATS in conference games.
Northwestern, on the other hand, is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games overall and the Wildcats are 7-1-2 ATS in their last 10 conference games. Playing solid defense tends to keep Northwestern in games. That also has something to do with the Under trending in Wildcats’ games.
The Under has hit in seven of Northwestern’s last nine games and in six of the last seven at home. Tonight’s total of 45.5 suggests a low-scoring battle between two solid defenses.