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Lovie Smith and Illinois can scare Michigan State

Michigan State is 2-10 against the spread in its last 12 games and has failed to cover against four consecutive Big Ten opponents.

The Spartans, who lost to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State by a combined 83 points, get some class relief Saturday when they host Illinois.

The Fighting Illini also have faced three strong Big Ten opponents, upsetting Wisconsin and pushing Michigan for much of the game.

According to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, Michigan State’s roster ranks No. 31, just ahead of Illinois (No. 37). But the Spartans should be missing starting center Matt Allen and No. 1 receiver Darrell Stewart Jr., and senior linebacker Joe Bachie, the team’s best defensive player, is suspended.

Illinois has covered in four consecutive games. Michigan State’s run defense can limit running backs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown, but quarterback Brandon Peters and his receivers will provide just enough punch to keep the Spartans honest.

I don’t trust Michigan State’s offense to score enough to embarrass Illinois. Take the Fighting Illini plus 14½.

Four more plays (home team in CAPS):

■ Texas Tech (-2½) over WEST VIRGINIA: Transfers, suspensions and injuries have depleted the West Virginia roster, and it’s getting worse. Leading receiver T.J. Simmons is unlikely to play, linebacker Quondarius Qualls is out for the season, and kicker Evan Stanley is doubtful, among other new injuries. West Virginia played Baylor tough thanks to a strong pass rush, but the Bears rank 104th in sack rate and the Red Raiders rank ninth. After losing by three, 10 and three in its last three, Texas Tech is off a bye. Bowling Green transfer QB Jarret Doege, who will start the game as the West Virginia backup, may be the Mountaineers’ best chance at a cover.

■ Tennessee (+1) over KENTUCKY: The Wildcats have gotten comfortable with their gimmick offense, which features leading receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. as a running quarterback. After an 0-3 start in the SEC, Kentucky needed a comeback to beat a poor Arkansas team by four. Then the Wildcats played back-to-back games in a downpour, failing to score against Georgia and punishing a faltering Missouri by 22 despite just a 71-yard advantage. Kentucky went 3 of 12 on first downs and got a cheap score off a Missouri fumble. An improving Vols defense on a sunny day should be able to expose the Wildcats. Tennessee has covered in four consecutive games and probably should’ve covered in five straight.

■ Washington State (-7½) over CALIFORNIA: The Bears feature a strong secondary, but the Mike Leach system can gain yards on almost anyone. Washington State’s offense is fourth in yards per possession, fourth in yards per play and fourth in SP+. Even if Cal QB Devon Modster is healthy enough to play, this is an offense that has failed to reach 20 points in five Pac-12 games. Cal won’t be able to keep pace.

■ Iowa State (+14½) over OKLAHOMA: Matt Campbell has been a thorn in Oklahoma’s side. He’s 3-0 ATS against the Sooners, covering by a combined 56 points, including a 38-31 win the last time the teams met in Norman. Campbell deploys a 3-3-5 defense that matches up well against spread systems. This is the best team that Oklahoma has played, better than Texas (Oklahoma won 34-27) and Kansas State (Oklahoma lost 48-41). The Sooners have faced one offense inside the SP+ top 40, and Brock Purdy leads the Big 12 with 2,567 passing yards. An unlucky Iowa State outgained Iowa in a one-point loss, outgained Oklahoma State in a seven-point loss and saw Baylor outgain it by 6 yards in a two-point loss.

■ Last Week: 4-0-1

■ Season: 28-19-3

Christopher Smith of AL.com, NOLA.com and MyBookie is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @cfblocksmith on Twitter.

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