Michigan State defense will propel outright win

Michigan State is in its preferred role this week. During coach Mark Dantonio’s seven-year tenure, the Spartans have thrived as road underdogs, compiling an 11-3 spread record.

Notre Dame opened as a 7-point favorite over Michigan State for today’s game, but money on the ’dog reduced the number to 5.

I don’t think bettors have missed the boat. That’s because I’m calling for Michigan State to win outright. Take the points for a larger amount, but don’t miss out on the nice money-line payout in the plus-180 range.

The Spartans had a salty defense last season, when they allowed 16.3 points per game. The unit is even better now, ranking No. 1 in the nation. Michigan State is allowing only 177 yards per game, and its defense has scored four touchdowns in three games.

The offense is still a work in progress, and it was downright abysmal in victories over Western Michigan and South Florida. But sophomore quarterback Connor Cook has firm grasp of the starting job and brings a lot of confidence into the showdown with the Fighting Irish.

Granted, the opponent was Youngstown State, but Cook threw for four touchdowns without being intercepted and led his team to a 55-17 victory last weekend.

Notre Dame is 0-3 ATS after getting extremely fortunate to escape Purdue’s upset bid. The Irish trailed for most of the first three quarters before getting two huge plays, including an 82-yard touchdown pass by Tommy Rees, to win 31-24 as a 17-point favorite.

Last year, Notre Dame had luck on its side when it won a series of close games. Those things tend to even out over the season, and look for the Spartans to win a defensive struggle.

Four more plays for today (home team in CAPS):

■ Purdue-WISCONSIN (Over 48) — The Badgers are averaging 41 points and have one of the nation’s most explosive players in Melvin Gordon. The sophomore running back, averaging an eye-popping 12.9 yards per carry, had 193 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in last week’s 32-30 loss at Arizona State. With quarterback Joel Stave steadily improving, Wisconsin should score at least 38 points. Purdue’s offense showed some positive signs against Notre Dame.

■ MARYLAND (-5) over West Virginia — The Terrapins are off to a flying start — 3-0 straight up and ATS — for coach Randy Edsall. Senior quarterback C.J. Brown has been nothing short of sensational, throwing for 833 yards with a 6-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He is also a running threat, rushing for 257 yards and five touchdowns. Maryland has one of the nation’s premier wide receivers in Stefon Diggs, a future NFL first-round pick. I made Maryland an 11-point favorite.

■ STANFORD (-6) over Arizona State — I made Stanford a 10½-point favorite and was about to pull the trigger on this play when the Cardinal was favored by 7½ early in the week. The Sun Devils are off a nice, albeit controversial, win over Wisconsin, but they are on the road this time. I like Stanford to win by two TDs.

■ LOUISIANA STATE (-17) over Auburn — Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger is playing the best football of his career with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions through three games, and sophomore running back Jeremy Hill has returned from a suspension and is averaging 9.8 yards per carry. I made LSU a 21½-point favorite.

The vibes coming out of Auburn are good, but didn’t we expect coach Gus Malzahn’s team to be undefeated at this point? Auburn has matched its win total of last year, but home victories over Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State aren’t convincing me this program is back in the Southeastern Conference’s upper echelon. Auburn has been atrocious as a road underdog since 2008, limping to a 4-12 spread record.

With quarterback Nick Marshall making his first career road start at night in Baton Rouge, expect a blowout.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 6-9

Brian Edwards of and is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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