It’s not a banner year for quarterbacks in the Big Ten, but Michigan State is in good hands with junior Connor Cook.
I have liked the Spartans in this spot since June. Based on the premise they would beat Ohio State, I wagered on Michigan State’s regular-season win total to go over 9 and for it to win the conference title for a plus-500 payout.
That was the thinking before the Buckeyes’ star quarterback, Braxton Miller, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. However, with the exception of a three-interception game in a loss to Virginia Tech, freshman J.T. Barrett has been an excellent replacement for Miller.
Therefore, we’re not looking at an expensive line for coach Mark Dantonio’s team, which has won 12 consecutive games at Spartan Stadium. Michigan State, a 3½-point favorite today, has compiled a 4-1 spread record in five home games.
In the only noncover, the Spartans had a 27-3 lead over Nebraska entering the fourth quarter before the Cornhuskers scored 19 unanswered points to post the backdoor cover. Other than that anomaly, Michigan State won its four other home games by 38, 59, 42 and 24 points.
The Spartans have not exactly played a murderer’s row schedule, but they did play two ranked one-loss teams in Nebraska and Oregon. Michigan State has played two bad quarters all season, the fourth against the Cornhuskers and the Ducks. It has destroyed the rest of its foes.
Cook has a 17-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His favorite target might be the Big Ten’s best receiver. Tony Lippett has 42 receptions for 889 yards and nine touchdowns. The Spartans have plenty of balance with the presence of Jeremy Langford, who has 841 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Dantonio’s defense is dynamite, too, ranking fifth in the nation in total defense and seventh against the rush.
Ohio State has played a cupcake schedule. Michigan State had an open date last week, and I like the Spartans to win by at least a touchdown.
Three more plays for today (home team in CAPS):
■ Duke (-3½) over SYRACUSE — The Orange have lost six of their past seven games, with five of those defeats by double digits. Duke has won eight of its past nine on the road and prevailed in 15 of its past 16 regular-season outings.
Although coach David Cutcliffe’s team is off a double-overtime win and on the road for a second straight week, fatigue should not be an issue. The Blue Devils had open dates Oct. 4 and Oct. 25. Syracuse is playing for the ninth consecutive week and won’t have its two best quarterbacks in uniform. Duke will win by at least a touchdown.
■ Baylor (+5½) over OKLAHOMA — This is the first time Baylor has been an underdog since the 2012 Holiday Bowl, when it smashed UCLA 49-26. The span of 21 consecutive chalk roles demonstrates the tremendous strides this once-moribund program has made under coach Art Briles. On that note, I have zero concern about the fact that the Bears have never won in Norman.
The Bears posted a 7-1 spread record in their past eight underdog spots. They have the better quarterback in Bryce Petty, who has 20 touchdown passes to four interceptions. He faces an Oklahoma secondary that ranks No. 108 in pass defense. Sooners sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight has been inconsistent.
■ Kansas State (+6) over TEXAS CHRISTIAN — Since November 2009, Kansas State has thrived in the role of road underdog. Coach Bill Snyder’s team has cashed tickets at an incredible 13-1 ATS clip in the past 14 road underdog situations. The Wildcats have won five in a row, with four of those victories by 23 points or more.
In TCU’s first two seasons in the Big 12, it has lost to Kansas State twice. The Horned Frogs will miss leading rusher B.J. Catalon, who has 493 yards and 10 touchdowns but will miss the game because of a shoulder injury.
Last week: 2-4 against the spread
Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.