Two big instate rivals face off this weekend in the great state of Michigan. The #4 ranked Michigan Wolverines face off at home against the Michigan State Spartans in a Halloweekend matchup. Michigan State, although unranked, has had a lot of success against the Wolverines, and many of those wins have occurred when Sparty is the underdog. Can Michigan State do the impossible once again?
Most of us Michiganders understand this rivalry, but for those of you that don't follow these teams, here you go.
Michigan is a historic team. One of the first non-Ivy football teams in the country. They have the most wins in college football and have had decades of success. Michigan State is more the new school team. Still a lot of history follows the Spartans, but their success has been more in this century rather than last, and one could argue the opposite of the Wolverines.
I grew up in one of the worst possible times to be a Michigan fan (extremely subjective). Born in 1995, I was too young to see Michigan's national championship in 1997 and their reign of power in the 90's. I began to remember in the early 2000's when Michigan was a perennial powerhouse, beating Ohio State, and winning the Rose Bowl what felt like every other year. Those were the glory days. Unfortunately, those days ended just as my friends, and I started to become competitive and cocky about our teams.
The decline started in 2007, Lloyd Carr's last season, which started with one of the biggest upsets in college football, Appalachian State knocking off #5 Michigan in the Big House. A day that I will always remember as one of the worst. After the 2007 season, Michigan really struggled. Putting up a 3-win season in 2008, 5 wins in 2009 and 2014, 7 wins in 2010 and 2013, this was not the Michigan that I grew up loving. These teams sucked and Michigan desperately cycled through coaches during this time period.
As Michigan declined, a new state powerhouse arose. They also happened to be the fan favorite in my town as well as in my friend group. The Michigan State Spartans took over the Big 10 and the state by storm, leaving Michigan in the dust. All of this was happening between my 7th grade year (when we used to get in fights about whose dad can beat up each other's dad's) and my senior year of high school. It was truly scarring.
Michigan State started its success in 2010 with a 11-2 record (winning the B10), followed by a 11-3 record in 2011. Then continued in 2013, winning the B10 once again and finishing 13-1. 2014 and 2015, were like before, filled with Spartan success. They even made it to the CFP in 2015 and... you guessed it also won the B10.
I was extremely bitter at this point, but some of our contributing members at WorstBets went to MSU during this rise of power and were living a glorifying life. I am actually really happy that they got that college experience!
Getting back to the Wolverines, their (success) returned with the hire of Jim Harbaugh in 2015. This was also the year of the play that was top five worst days of my life. If you don't know what I'm talking about, see below:
Harbaugh had numerous seasons where he was just inches away from being THE team. Harbaugh was literally an inch away from getting to the CFP in 2016 when JT Barrett got a controversial 4th down conversion to beat the Wolverines in OT. He always had successful seasons, but his kryptonite was the rival teams. Harbaugh, before last season was 0-6 vs OSU and is currently 3-4 against MSU.
Because of Michigan's history and their standards of creating Champions, Harbaugh's job was in question coming into the 2021 season. It was pretty much a Championship or bust, and Harbaugh did just that. Won the Big 10 and got smoked in the CFP but let's not talk about that.
Going back to the Michigan/MSU matchup, Michigan has still struggled to get back on track as the dominant team in the state. Michigan State has won 10 of the last 14 matchups, and it is clear they owned Michigan during most of my young adult life. Despite winning the B10 last year, Michigan still couldn't handle the Spartans. I believe they are cursed. Ever since Mike Hart said these stupid words, State has been the big brother. Something needs to change.
Michigan is currently firing on all cylinders right now, as State still tries to find their identity this year. Michigan is 7-0 for the second consecutive season and State has struggled with a 3-4 record this season but is coming off a big win against Wisconsin in OT.
Let's looks at the statistics for this matchup:
Michigan's Offensive Strengths & Weaknesses:
Michigan has had a lot of offensive success on the ground. No team has stopped the Wolverines run game so far this season, and it is unsure if any team can (exclude UGA). Led by Heisman hopeful Blake Corum, Michigan is running for 241 yards per game, ranking 8th in the country. Not enough people realize how important the run game is for the offense. Football as a whole has moved fast paced, spread offenses where they pass the ball 50+ times a game, and people have forgotten a lot about the run game. With that, people forget that when you can run the ball at will, you completely open your playbook. Everything is available, and the defense is left gassed and clueless. Michigan has successfully done that through the first seven weeks and even dismantled a top 5 defense. Michigan put up 430 rush yards in their last game against Penn State who was ranked fifth in the country in run defense. Yikes.
Because of Michigan's dominant run game, their passing game has yet to be truly tested. 5-star sophomore QB, J.J. McCarthy, does lead the country in completion percentage primarily because he doesn't have to pass much, and because the run game, as I said before, opens up the offense. No one knows how J.J. will perform under pressure when he needs to pass the ball. We might not find out until OSU, which is a little scary.
Michigan's Defensive Strengths & Weaknesses:
Michigan has it figured out defensively this season. A top 5 defense that excels in both the run and pass game is something that is very rare, but the Wolverines have done it. A big question at the start of the season was how Michigan would replace Aidan Hutchinson and Djabo on the defensive line. That question was quickly answered, and Morris has become the new threat on the defensive line. Michigan currently ranks 8th in the country in sacks and seems to have figured everything out.
As of now, Michigan has no defensive weakness. One could say it's a perfect and complete squad, but as a fan I believe the wolverines may have some weaknesses down the road. I briefly commented on this before, but I am worried about Michigan's passing defense and their ability to compete with a fast-paced offense (like Ohio State). From my analysis, Michigan has struggled with tempo, and I am worried about their lack of experience facing a true passing offense.
Michigan State's Offensive Strengths and Weaknesses:
Obviously, I am a Michigan fan, so my knowledge of the Spartans is not what it is for Michigan, but with that being said, MSU needs to keep the passing game going. MSU lost their star running back last year who really made MSU a very competitive offense. Michigan State does still have star power even with losing Kenneth Walker. MSU's WR core has the ability to break open any secondary in the country. Lead by Jayden Reed, these receivers are right up there with the most athletic in the country. Coleman, a two-sport freak athlete, leads the Spartans receivers on the season, and Tre Mosely is coming alive as well. Star Jayden Reed has struggled with injuries this season but is still the Spartans biggest deep threat. Michigan State must utilize these guys to salvage this season.
Stated earlier, Michigan State has almost no run game. They rank 116th in the country in rushing offense. Keep in mind there are 131 teams in College Football. They have not replaced the void that KW9 left, and it really has hurt their success. Another weakness has been Payton Thorne. Thorne had a great season last year, but has really struggled this year finding his receivers, and not finding the defense. Payton already has 7 interceptions on the year and has been sacked 12 times. He has the WR's, he just needs to find a way to get them the ball.
Michigan State's Defensive Strengths and Weaknesses:
I will be blunt here. State does not have a great defense, but I do think there are some positives to point out. MSU's defense has always been relentless, tough, and gritty. They will need to dig deep and bring out these characteristics in order to find some success. When you play fast and play hard, good things happen. Michigan State will need to bring its energy and passion for the remainder of the season to finish the season off with a good note.
Overall, MSU has a lot of holes in their defense. They rank 104th in the country in total defense, and their secondary has been abysmal the last two seasons. It was unbelievable how good MSU was last season with one of the worst secondaries in the country. MSU's run defense in comparison to their secondary is a little better, but still nothing to write home about. A lot of improvement must happen on this side of the ball for the Spartans.
On paper, Michigan should absolutely annihilate the Michigan State. Michigan's run offense shouldn't have a problem putting up 300 yards and Michigan's defense shouldn't have anything to worry about. With that being said, we have to take into account that it is a rivalry game which means emotions, nerves, and energy's will be high. When that's the case, anything can happen. Bad teams can fight their way to crazy upsets, and good teams can be overcome by the emotions of the game. I will not be placing a bet on the spread, but MSU +23 seems like a very good play.
Where I will be throwing money is on the over. One of two things will happen in my mind. Either Michigan blows State out of the water and wins 52-10, or State sticks around and battles with Michigan in a back-and-forth game resulting in a 35-24 outcome. The over is currently sitting at 55, so I am hoping that option one occurs, and Michigan scores 55 themselves.
That is all I have for you. Hope you enjoy your weekend, win some bets, and most importantly stay safe.