Michigan State Pointspreads: Spartans Draw Early Action in Nonconference Games

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on June 25, 2012)

Two weeks ago the Golden Nugget released lines on 111 college football games for the season, including nearly all of the major showdowns. This past weekend it presented a list of all the lines again, highlighting some of the major changes (bettors are extremely high on Ohio State). Here’s a look at the Spartans, who had six of their 12 games placed on the book and opened for business. MSU was favored in four of the six games and – using some common sense logic one would assume the Spartans would be favored in their other six non-listed games – is favored in a total of 10 of 12 games.
Since the release of the spreads two weeks ago three lines have remained steady while three others have moved at least a point. Here are the released Michigan State spreads, compliments of The Golden Nugget:
What we’re seeing is the public’s sorting of the Big Ten teams based on their expectations. Michigan and Wisconsin continue to generate the most love while Ohio State climbs up Mt. Hype daily. Michigan State, despite being a favorite against the Buckeyes, seems to be No. 4 in the conference’s pecking order. Naturally, home-field advantage is playing a major role in some early line movement. The Buckeyes, for instance, opened as a 2-point underdog hosting Michigan but are now 1-point favorites. Here’s a quick breakdown of of where Michigan State’s six listed spreads stand:

The line opened with MSU as a 6-point favorite. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this line is moving. What would be surprising is if the line doesn’t move any more before kickoff. That isn’t to say the Spartans will continue to give more points, however. Expect the Broncos to pull in some bets with their recent clout, especially against BCS big boys in season openers. I would expect this line to move closer to MSU -6 before moving back up where it is now.Beyond the Bets, which projected lines for 798 college football games, pegged MSU as a 7-point favorite. Regardless of how it moves one thing appears to be clear: MSU will be a near-touchdown favorite for the Friday, August 31 kickoff.
One interesting note is how Boise State has actually been favored in its past three season openers against Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia. None of those games were played on the road (Oregon was in Boise while the Hokies and Bulldogs played at home-friendly neutral sites). The last time Boise State ventured on the road for a top-flight game was 2008 against Oregon. Despite entering Eugene as 10-point underdogs Boise State won, 37-32, and finished the regular season unbeaten.

No surprises here; a Notre Dame-Michigan State contest is expected to be around a field goal. Before a run where three of the last five games have been decided by 16, 17, 18 points, respectively, each meeting was decided by a touchdown or less dating back to 2000. That’s a pretty impressing run of one-possession games, many of which were decided by late field goals, late touchdowns and even major choke jobs. Don’t expect the line to move much more, if at all, before the season starts. While MSU opened as a 3-point favorite, the public will have a better feel for both MSU and Notre Dame after each plays two games (MSU has the big contest with Boise State while Notre Dame travels to Dublin to play Navy and hosts Purdue). If MSU loses to Boise while Notre Dame seems to have solved some QB issues this could be closer to a 2-point game at kickoff.

This is the ultimate wild-card game. Urban Meyer’s presence alone is making people consider Ohio State an extremely dangerous team — one that could win the national title if it were eligible for postseason play this season. The Buckeyes are moving lines everywhere in their favor and this is just one example. MSU was a 4.5-point favorite has already given back two points. Beyond the Bets’ original prognostication had MSU giving 1.5 points. There are so many unknowns with both teams that this is already one of the more intriguing games in 2012. If the Buckeyes look explosive – which they should – in four fairly-easy nonconference games and MSU has a hiccup or two we could see a different team getting points on Sept. 29.

Going for a fifth-straight win in this series will be the most difficult challenge yet for Mark Dantonio’s team. Expectations are sky-high for the Wolverines, which is one reason Brady Hoke’s team is nearly a touchdown favorite despite losing three of the past four games by at least 14 points. The line hasn’t budged in two weeks and it makes sense; bettors like the Spartans enough to give them anti-blowout respect but like Michigan more to see the Wolverines winning by about a touchdown. Expect the line to move once the season begins, but it’ll fall in the 4.5 to 6.5-point range (Beyond the Bets set it at 6.5) when October 20 rolls around.

The Spartans have never fared well in Madison. The last two games have been the most respectable losses at Wisconsin in recent memory, with MSU losing 38-30 in 2009 and 37-34 in 2007. Prior to that, most of the losses resembled defeats like the one under then-coach John L. Smith in 2003: Wisconsin 56, MSU 21. Heck, even Nick Saban’s best team in East Lansing was whitewashed in Madison. The Badgers embarrassed that 10-2 Spartan squad with a 40-10 beatdown. While the line hasn’t budged yet, I would expect to see Wisconsin closer to a touchdown-favorite on Oct. 27, which is exactly what Beyond the Bets projected.

The Spartans just haven’t fared well against the Black Shirts. Prior to last year’s inaugural Big Ten meeting, which Nebraska dominated 24-3, the Spartans last played the Cornhuskers in the 2003 Alamo Bowl in another one-sided affair (Nebraska won, 17-3).It didn’t help that the other meetings in the series came during the Tommie Frazier dynasty years in 1995 and 1996. Nebraska won those games 50-10 and 55-14, respectively. So, while it’s only a small, 4-game sample size, the Spartans have never beaten the Cornhuskers. If that stat gets more airtime during the season coupled with the fact this year’s MSU-Nebraska meeting, like last year’s, comes at the end of a semi-gauntlet stretch, and MSU might only be giving a field goal. (Beyond the Bets agrees with me with its initial spread of MSU -2.5). There is one thing most books are pretty sure of: MSU won’t be giving more than six points on November 3.