Week 8 Fearless Prediction - MSU at Michigan

Posted Oct 18, 2012

Week 8 Fearless Prediction - Michigan State vs. Michigan

Michigan State (4-3) at Michigan (4-2) Oct. 20, 3:30, BTN

Here's The Deal: For all the talk about Michigan and Ohio State forming one of the nastiest rivalries in college football, that doesn't actually matter that much anymore. Of course, it's a big deal for the fans, and it's always going to be one of the biggest games of the season, but now that's an interdivisional matchup. Michigan State vs. Michigan is the rivalry that actually does mean everything to the Big Ten title chase since it'll probably decide the Legends.

For Michigan fans, generally, as much as it stinks to lose to the Buckeyes, it's a bigger problem – in more of a little brother sort of way – to lose to the Spartans, and in a rivalry like this, four years is an eternity.

MSU has never beaten Michigan five years in a row, but that's only part of the equation this week. The Legends division is going to be a dogfight until the end, and with two losses already including a heartbreaking gaffe to Iowa last week, one more loss ends the fun for the Spartans. With as much defensive talent as any team in the Big Ten, and despite the terrific running game, MSU will effectively be out of the Big Ten title chase in mid-October with a loss.

The problem has been a passing game that can't keep the chains moving. No one has any fear of Andrew Maxwell and the Spartan receivers, so it's easy to load up to stop Le'Veon Bell, let him get his yards, and then move on. However, the defense has done its part - leading the Big Ten in total defense, run defense and scoring defense – but the offense has to be more opportunistic and has to start picking up the slack.

On the other side, Michigan is in the perfect position to put the Spartans away. Denard Robinson is starting to crank things up, the offense is starting to hum, and the team has rolled out a 2-0 start with dominant wins over Purdue and Illinois by a combined score of 89 to 13. The two losses on the year came against two teams deep in the national title chase – Alabama and Notre Dame – and it just might be possible that the Wolverines are really, really good, but looked bad against two of 2012's superstars. Beating Michigan State would truly show that the season is on the right track, but a loss could be devastating with a road trip to Nebraska up next and with Northwestern and Iowa to deal with before going to Ohio State.

Why Michigan State Might Win: It's not like Michigan's defensive front seven has been a dominant force. It's been fine against the run and it doesn't get shoved around, but it doesn't get to the quarterback on a regular basis and was dominated by Alabama and torn up by Air Force. Michigan State doesn't want to throw, so the more power can come from Le'Veon Bell and the ground game, the faster the Wolverine defense can wear down. Even Notre Dame, who's making a living off of being physical, doesn't have the power running game the Spartans do.

Defensively, it's a simple equation that worked well for Alabama and Notre Dame: stop Denard Robinson and you stop Michigan. That's far easier said than done, but the Spartans have the ability to actually do it with a talented group of veterans at linebacker and a tough defensive front that's allowing just 91 yards per game. Wolverine running back Fitzgerald Toussaint hasn't done much yet, and he's the No. 2 rushing weapon behind Robinson and get quickly erased. The receivers haven't been bad, but the offense needs No. 16 to make things happen on the move for everything to work. However …

Why Michigan Might Win: Michigan State's great run defense had one job to do against Michigan State – stop Braxton Miller. All the Spartans had to do was slow down the Ohio State quarterback to win, but Miller ripped off 136 yards on 23 carries while completing 16-of-23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown with a pick. Miller was too fast, too slippery, and had too easy a time getting time to operate against a defensive front that doesn't attack into the backfield. If Miller could roll for over 100, then Robinson should be able to do more of the same.

Michigan State's offense just isn't working quite right. There are too many dropped passes, the passing game is among the least efficient in the Big Ten, and the points aren't coming averaging just 21 per game. While Michigan might seem one dimensional, at least that rushing element has been explosive. MSU isn't getting the big plays on a regular basis needing to grind it out with Bell while hoping the defense can hold up. It's not working.

What To Watch Out For: All the problems and all the issues so far will quickly go away if Andrew Maxwell can come up with just one big performance with a win over Michigan. The junior has the arm and he has the skills, but he's not taking a step forward completing just 12-of-31 passes for 179 yards against Iowa. The poor passing numbers aren't a plus, but since the opener against Boise State he didn't throw any picks and wasn't hurting the team. The one pick against Iowa wasn't the reason the team lost, but he can't make mistakes and he has to hit on more third down throws. It wouldn't be a bad thing if the receiving corps started providing a little more help.

For Denard Robinson, this is the win he needs to come up with. In a limited role as a freshman, he was held to -9 rushing yards in the loss. As a sophomore he threw for 215 yards and a score and ran for 86 yards and a touchdown, but he threw three picks – and lost. Last year he was held to a head-twisting 43 yards and a touchdown and completed just 9-of-24 passes – and lost. He has been fantastic over the last two weeks – running for 235 yards against Purdue and 128 with two scores against Illinois, and with no picks.

What Will Happen: The streak ends here. Michigan State might have the talent and the ability to stop Robinson and keep the Wolverine running game down, but Robinson will come up with just enough big plays to get by and the Michigan run defense will keep Bell to under 100 yards.

CFN Prediction: Michigan 24 … Michigan State 20
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Michigan -10 O/U: 43
Must Watch Rating (5 – Seven Psychopaths, 1 – Here Comes the Boom): 4