Week 3 - Notre Dame at Michigan State

Posted Sep 12, 2012

Week 3 CFN Fearless Prediction – Notre Dame at Michigan State

- CFN Fearless Predictions

Notre Dame (2-0) at Michigan State (2-0) Sept. 15, 8:00, ABC

Here's The Deal: Notre Dame's rivalry with Michigan might have more hype, and the yearly USC showdown might have more history and tradition, but the Michigan State battles have been as good as any in college football with nine of the last 12 decided by a touchdown or less including thrilling finishes, a post-game heart attack scare from Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, and plenty of early season intrigue. This year's game should be among the most intriguing of the recent lot, and the most important.

All Michigan State has to do is save the reputation of the Big Ten. After a rocky first two weeks, the conference has taken it on the chin from the national media with Wisconsin underperforming, Michigan underwhelming, and Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State all suffering embarrassing losses. The Spartans are the last reasonable hope to keep Big Ten hopes alive for the BCS championship, and this week it's time to show that they're more than just the potential class of the conference.

The opening weekend win over Boise State was far more impressive than it ever got credit for, mostly because it was hardly a thing of beauty, but it showed off the phenomenal defense and tough running game that made the Spartans one of the preseason favorites to go the Rose Bowl. But last year's team looked even better in dominant wins before inexplicably coming out flat in an ugly 31-13 loss in South Bend.

The Irish are in a night-and-day different situation than last year, losing the first two games before coming up with the desperately needed victory. This year, the turnovers have slowed down, the offense is working, and the pass rush has been terrific. More importantly, Notre Dame is 2-0 coming off a thrilling win over Purdue. The schedule doesn't get any easier with Michigan up next, but this is the last true road game – the date with Miami on October 6th is in Chicago – before a late October trip to Oklahoma. With USC, BYU and Stanford still to deal with along with the Sooners and Wolverines, it's all about surviving and moving on. However, beating Michigan State this year would show that the Irish are ready to be major players on a national scale.

Why Notre Dame Might Win: The pass rush has been fantastic. With seven sacks in the first two games, including two in each game from rising sophomore Stephon Tuitt, the Irish have been terrific at getting to the quarterback. Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell was solid in last week's win over Central Michigan, but he was shaky in the win over Boise State and is still just two games in to his career. The Broncos didn't register any sacks, but they were able to generate just enough pressure to force three picks and keep the game close. With six takeaways so far including three interceptions, the Notre Dame defense has been great at forcing mistakes.

While the Irish pass rush has been stellar, the Michigan State defensive front hasn't done much of anything so far with just one sack and a mere seven tackles for loss. Everything else has been working for the D, but against the Irish the more quarterback Everett Golson is pressured, the better. He's a baller who makes things happen, but the Spartans would much rather have him taking off to run into the great linebacking corps than sitting back and bombing away.

Why Michigan State Might Win: The Notre Dame offensive line hasn't been able to keep Golson from getting popped. The Irish have allowed seven sacks so far and didn't have too many answers for Purdue's defensive front, especially tackle Kawann Short who came up with two sacks in the interior. MSU hasn't been able to dial up the pressure so far into the backfield, but the potential is there with an elite group of pass rushing prospects led by William Gholston. If the Irish line is as leaky as it was last week, the already banged up Golson will be in for a long day.

The front five could have a bigger issue trying to get the running game going. Purdue bottled things up allowing just 52 yards with Theo Riddick coming up with the longest run with just 11 yards and averaging a mere 3.5 yards per carry. Purdue's run defense is good; Michigan State's is phenomenal allowing Boise State to come up with just 37 yards on 24 carries while giving up just one decent run against Central Michigan. Notre Dame is going to have to be ready for a slugfest, but there's a chance the ground game can make a dent thanks to the return of …

What To Watch Out For: Cierre Wood. The Irish junior missed the first two game for violating team rules, and now he's fresh and ready to go coming off a 1,102-yard, nine score season. He struggled to get going against the Spartans last season with just 61 yards on 14 carries, but he scored twice in the blowout. It's going to be even tougher to find room to move this year, and he's going to need a few carries to get back into the swing of things, but he gives the Irish attack another option and a playmaker to take the heat off the passing game.

This likely isn't going to be a shootout with field position vital putting the spotlight on two of the nation's best returners. Michigan State running back Nick Hill hasn't been able to get too much work with Le'Veon Bell serving as the workhorse, but he's averaging 15.3 yards per punt return and over 23 yards per kickoff return. Last year he was terrific against the Irish averaging over 32 yards per kickoff return. However, he was overshadowed by George Atkinson III, who returned a kickoff for a gamebreaking score against the Spartans. He has only had two punt return chances so far, but he broke off a 32-yarder against Purdue last week to make up for his lack of workload in the offensive gameplan.

What Will Happen: This is when Michigan State starts to get the national respect it should've received after the Boise State game. Notre Dame won't be awful, but the offense won't go anywhere consistently with Golson struggling to find room to make anything happen. The Spartans won't explode, but they'll be steady and balanced on the way to a bruising 3-0 start.

CFN Prediction: Michigan State 27 … Notre Dame 17
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Michigan State -5.5 O/U: 43
Must Watch Rating (5 – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX, 1 – Go On): 4.5