Michigan State Spartans at Northwestern Wildcats Betting Preview

The Big Ten has become the one Power Five conference that hasn’t been shy about scheduling week one conference games. Michigan State heads to Northwestern in one of the Big Ten’s four week-one conference openers to go along with the Illinois vs Nebraska matchup a week ago. 

This is important because most College Football teams are tuning up against lesser competition while these teams are matching up in games that will impact conference races at the end of the year. Despite a rough 2020 for the Spartans, Michigan State gave the Wildcats their only regular-season loss last year. 

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The Teams:

Michigan State Spartans:

Mel Tucker’s tenure as the Michigan State head coach could not have gotten off to much rockier of a start. COVID-19 didn’t allow for a typical offseason, causing most first-year head coaches to lose out on valuable time acclimating players to a new system. 

On top of that, the Spartans won only two games in the shortened season, but both came against top 15 opponents including Sparty’s biggest rival Michigan. Despite Tucker’s defensive acumen having been a former NFL defensive coordinator, the Spartans ranked outside the top 100 in points allowed per game.

Fast forward to this season and Tucker has hit the transfer portal hard to bring in talent on that side of the ball. Quavaris Crouch and Ronald Williams come in from the SEC to start at linebacker and cornerback after short stints at Tennessee and Alabama respectively. In total, the Spartans brought in 14 transfers and all but two come from other power five teams. 

Offensively they’ll be led by transfers as well as former Temple quarterback Anthony Russo and Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker will line up in the backfield. The offensive line and the pass catchers all return from a season ago, but those areas will need to show improvement for Michigan State to improve on their 18 points per game scored a season ago.

Northwestern:

Pat Fitzgerald has defied the odds at Northwestern and has brought the Wildcats to a consistent contender in the Big Ten West. In nearly 130 years of playing football Northwestern has reached the double-digit win mark four times. Three of those have come under Fitzgerald in the last decade, and despite pushes from bigger programs and even the NFL the Wildcats’ headman has remained on the North Shore.

The Cats reached the Big Ten Championship last season losing to eventual champion Ohio State. Unfortunately for Northwestern, only BYU returns less production on both sides of the ball from a season ago. Fitzgerald has built his program on veteran players with multiple years of experience in his program and this season will provide a challenge in that area.

Quarterback Hunter Johnson takes over as signal-caller this season. The former five-star recruit started his career at Clemson before losing the quarterback competition to future number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence. Defensively the Cats only bring back five starters from an elite unit a year ago. Safety Brandon Joseph was a first-team all-conference performer a season ago and looks to lead the defensive backfield in 2021. 

The Bet: 

BetOnline currently has Michigan State as 3.5-point underdogs in Evanston. BetUS and Bovada have the line at a field goal (-3). The Spartans should be the play here after beating Northwestern a year ago and adding an influx of talent this offseason. Fitzgerald should get the most out of his team, but the turnover of the roster will be a challenge early on. 

Michigan State has a good chance to win this one outright and BetOnline provides the best odds at +140. Big Ten matchups are known for their low-scoring nature and the over/under for this one is set at 46 points on each of the sportsbooks. Only three of Northwestern’s games a season ago would have gone over this spread, so keep an eye on the under.

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