Week 12 – Northwestern at Michigan State

Posted Nov 15, 2012

Week 12 Fearless Prediction – Northwestern at Michigan State

Northwestern (7-3) at Michigan State (5-5) Nov. 17, 12:00, ESPN2

Here's The Deal: Even though Nebraska and Michigan are in the battle for the Legends title, and even though those two beat Northwestern and Michigan State, isn't not crazy to suggest that the Wildcats and Spartans still might be the two best teams in the division. It's not hyperbole to say the these two are each two plays away from this being the game for a shot at the Big 12 title.

Northwestern invented another way to lose in spectacular fashion, choking away the loss to Michigan after not providing enough safety help on the miraculous deep pass to Roy Roundtree that led to the overtime defeat. This came on the heels of another gag two weeks early to Nebraska, with deep passes down the middle proving to be a problem, too. Now it's time to jockey for bowl position, and with the layup against Illinois coming up next, NU can finish the regular season a rock-solid 9-3 with a win over the Spartans.

Michigan State knows how to lose in painful ways, too, giving up a late field goal to the Wolverines and suffering a late touchdown pass to Nebraska. There was a brilliant comeback win over Wisconsin, but in all, the four Big Ten losses have come by a grand total of ten points. The defense is phenomenal and the offense decent enough to get by, but the Spartans still aren't bowl eligible and need to either win this week or next week against Minnesota to get a 13th game.

Why Northwestern Might Win: You can't win if you don't score. Michigan State has only scored more than 16 points in two of the last six games; it's been pulling teeth to put points on the board. The passing game continues to be wildly inefficient and ineffective, and the ground game isn't enough to pick up the slack even with Le'Veon Bell putting up a strong season. For all of Northwestern's issues, points aren't an issue scoring 21 or more in every game this year while MSU has scored more than 21 in four of the ten games. With no Michigan State pass rush to worry about, the NU passing game might be able to work a little bit.

Why Michigan State Might Win: Northwestern, welcome to the Michigan State run defense. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in total defense and scoring defense, and while the pass rush has been woefully inadequate, the defense doesn't have any problems getting into the backfield. Second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, William Gholston and Max Bullough are great at screwing up running games before they can get started. Northwestern threw the ball relatively well last week against Michigan, but it has to run the ball to win. Without much power to blast away on the MSU defensive front, there could be big, big problems trying to get wide on the Spartan front seven.

What To Watch Out For: It's a battle of Doak Walker semifinalists with Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell bringing the thunder and Northwestern's Venric Mark showing off the speed. With little help from the running game, Bell has been able to carry the MSU offense with 36 carries for 188 yards and two scores two weeks ago against Nebraska and with 1,249 yards and ten touchdowns on the year. He might have been held in check by the top teams on the slate like Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, but he has been everything the team has hoped he could be. Mark suffered a shoulder injury against Michigan, but he's going to play this week needing to continue to bust out big plays. He has hit the 100-yard mark in each of the last four games with 1,181 yards and ten scores on the year, and he continues to be one of the nation's top kick and punt returners.

What Will Happen: The Michigan State defense will rise up and shut down the Northwestern offense. It's going to be a low-scoring battle with mistakes and field goals being a big deal, but in the end, it's going to be dogfight that goes down to the final play. These two are used to that.

CFN Prediction: Michigan State 16 … Northwestern 13
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Michigan State -6.5 O/U: 44
Must Watch Rating (5 – Killing Them Softly, 1 – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2): 3.5