Well, here we are, another State Championship weekend. This rivalry has, to put it mildly, been suboptimal for Wolverine boosters the last two years. Is this game, and season for that matter, going to be a different story? Oddsmakers hint that it might, installing the Wolverines as 4.5-point chalk, but it seems like everyone is picking Michigan State to win or at least cover that seemingly generous spot. Well, almost everybody. And, here's another brave soul. But most folks across the interwebs are picking Sparty to not only cover, but win and possibly move closer to a BCS bid.
Quick aside on the odds for the rest of the season, by the way. Remember how Michigan was a 10-point dog over the summer at Penn State, and how that line plunged to just 3-points after Week 2? Well, now your Michigan Wolverines are a pick 'em in Happy Valley in three weeks. Cheers to the smart souls who grabbed those fat ten points back in August. Most of the other lines have stayed fairly pat in recent weeks, with MIchigan -2 against both Iowa and Wisconsin. The OSU number has dipped to just +12.5, the lowest its been yet. As for Heisman odds, after a brief flirtation with Mark Ingram, the chalk is back in Denard Robinson's corner. At +150, its the smallest payout for a Robinson win at any point in this season. Ingram is +350, Pryor, the preseason favorite, +450 and Kellen Moore +800. Everybody else on the board is 12/1 or higher.
Speaking of odds, the JCB Pick-4 games are up for the week. Jump in and play.
Getting back to this game, I'm sure everyone is an eager beaver to hear what I have to say, especially after that great 4-10 a week ago at the JCB. Big 10 home teams are hot after they're 5-0 sweep a week ago. Four of those teams were underdogs, however, with three losing, but covering the number. I dont know if that really helps us handicap this game at all. I've already made some thoughts clear on this game. I tend to always take the underdog in regular season games pitting 5-0 or better teams against one another. The counter to that, however, I always want to make sure any underdog I pick has the ability to outrush their opponents. With all due respect to the Baker-Bell-Caper combination, I'm not sure that's the case with the Spartans. I annoy everybody every home game in Section 14 when I mention to folks there are no worries about Michigan as long the visiting underdog's rushing numbers are below the Wolverines. It never seems to calm anybody down, but the truth is if you're looking for a quality underdog play look for one who can outrush--not outpass--the favorite. Its why teams like Air Force and Navy make great underdog plays. Michigan's rushing attack is what is driving this line, which most of us bloggers expected to be smaller, to be more than a field goal in favor of MIchigan.
In the end, I just cant buy Michigan's defense as a unit that screams 'trust us, we'll cover as chalk.' Therefore, I am buying this bad boy up to +5 and taking Sparty. Even if I leave the stadium despondent over a loss, I will be a few bucks richer. And if Michigan covers, we'll then thats the best spent money of the day, if you ask me.
Want to argue with me? Tell me I have no soul? Go right ahead. BUT DO IT PERSON. Yes, for all the folks in Ann Arbor tomorrow, you are ALL INVITED, to our tailgate. We'll be at the Fingerlee Lumber Yard, right next to the Business School Tailgate. You cant miss us, we'll be the ones partying in front of a big dark blue RV, our official 2010 tailgate moble. We should be settled in by 10 am. The more the merrier, so stop on by. Dont feel nervous about walking up blind and asking for Jamie Mac; the folks I am with know all about my invisible friend habit.
On to the mock prop board and subtle keys to the game:
Michigan, Yards Per Rush: O/U 6.0
To me, one of the biggest matchups of the season, and, d'uh of this game, is how the Michigan offensive line attacks the MSU defensive front. I talked a little about this in my Big 10 post at the JCB earlier in the week. This has been a mismatch the last couple of seasons. In 2008, MSU was able to jump the snap over and over again and they dominated. A year ago, was every bit as bad even if the Wolverines were able to disguise their snap counts better. Michigan's right side of the line was a turnstile en route to a 28 carry, 28 yard day rushing the football. A main culprit was the 55 yards in lost rushing yards on attempts throughout the game. At first, I was going to throw up an over/under on lost rushing yards, but I changed my mind halfway through this post. That 1.0 yards per carry from a year ago against the Spartans kept bringing me back to that stat. I kept glancing back and forth between last year's box score and this year's stats for Michigan throughout putting this post together, and it just hammered home more so just how much different this year's Michigan's club is than a year ago. I'm more than eager to see how this plays out.
Michigan comes into the game with a different, more talented and athletic offensvie line that they Spartans have had to deal with in this matchup the last couple of years. Center David Molk is healthy after missing this game a year ago. Patrick Omameh and Taylor Lewan have been inserted in the starting unit since the match in East Lansing. Both are upgrades over the incumbents on the field a year ago. Lewan has been an outstanding edition since coming into the starting lineup two weeks ago. He already has become the third most productive blocker of this unit in half the field time. This entire offensive line can get second level blocks on linebackers, a skill the blocking front has lacked for several years now. As for State, its a relief that guys like Orien Wilson and Trevor Anderson are no longer Spartans. Anderson wasnt effectively blocked at any point the last two Paul Bunyan games. They're still strong up from with Jerel Worthy at tackle and the front should be bolstered with the return of Cam Neely and Kevin Pickleman (the latter had a big TFL a year ago in this game) to the lineup.
Let's be clear. A 1.0 ypc is not happening this year. Michigan probably wont hit their current season average of 7.1 ypc, but thats a lot more likely to happen that a reprise from a year ago. In fact, I think this number will be no worse than closer to 7.1 than 1.0. But that's not saying much really. If Michigan hits its season average of 4.5 from a year ago, they wont have enough to win this game, despite the much better effort at running the ball. But, if they get to 6.0, which I think is achievable, then Michigan gets the W. I have to set this number high because most Michigan fans will take the Over, but dont kid yourself. I'm trying to lure in some MSU in here. So, come on LVS, Spartan Dan, CPT Hoolie and Doctor Worm! Where you at? Place your bets. We accept change, but not bus tokens.
Jerel Worthy, Greg Jones, Johnny Adams, total combined Tackles, Sacks, TFLs, TOs and PBU: O/U 25.5 (Diarist Note: Oops Forget to put, uh, you know, a number on this one. All who took the Over on zero, your bets are invalidated, lulz)
I'm throwing this headache of a prop on the board because it gives me a chance to rap about one of my favorite topics that I pretend to be a faux expert in. Worthy, Jones and Adams are the most important players on defense tomorrow for the Spartans. They might be their three best defensive players. They certainly are their best lineman, linebacker and defensive back. Everyone is waiting to see just what happens when Greg Jones meets Denard Robinson. Jones and Adams have been impact players since Day One. Worthy redshirted but has been a starter at tackle since the dat he was eligible after that. If MSU achieves their dream of a BCS bowl that some folks are projecting, two of these guys will end up as All Big 10. Maybe even all three. And, they're all from Ohio. Ah yes, there it is. It always comes back to recruiting in the o-h-i-o for me, doesnt it? Here's the deal. I could give a sack of Alpo about this alleged recruiting battle in the state of Michigan. It does not exist. Its the true Wag The Dog comparison in this rivalry. The real worry for me are the inroads in Ohio that Dantonio (and, well the rest of the league) has made in Ohio to make themselves stronger. Watch these three stuff the defensive stat sheet and maybe even swing the game in the Spartans favor tomorrow. And remember that these kids arrived at Michigan State, as did recruits on campuses throughout the league, during the tail end of an era where Michigan was one of the worst teams in the Big 10 at recruiting, retaining and developing talent from the most rich state in the conference's footprint. There are factories all over the state that produce fantastic collegiate defensive players. Rodriguez has turned that around on a pure number basis for Michigan, even if its lacked a blue chip flair. But those classes are still babes. Positive impact on the field, at least on the defensive end, is still in the future, although true freshmen Jibreel Black, Courtney Avery and Terrance Talbot are bucking to make plays now. For now, though, most of Michigan's Big 10 brethern will have more Ohio influence on the defensive side of the ball. Throwing the Buckeyes out of the equation obviously, no team brings that influence on D more than the Spartans. And that, not their 'pipeline' at places like Renaissance, is one of the primary reasons they have elevated their program.
Total Kickoff and Punt Return Yards: Keshawn Martin -35 yards over Michigans Return Specialists
Keshean Martin's total yards was a Pick-4 contest in Week 3. He skied over the 126-yard total with a fun all-around a game against the Irish. We'll go a different direction here and just focus on the return game with MSU and UM's going head to head. Martin is probably the Big 10's best return man. And he handles both the punt and kickoff return duties. He could dominate this game like no other opposing return man to enter Michigan Stadium since......I cant say it, so I wont. Look, this will be a shootout. Michigan's defense wont have any chance to succeed with bend, but dont break if Martin is setting them up in great field position. I also cant think of too many times Michigan has won giving up a kickoff return for a TD. And dont even get me started if this guy pops off a game changing punt return like he did a week ago against the Badgers. Oh sure, that means the O might get the ball back fast, but that also means we are PUNTING!! Didnt we decide to go full steam Romer ahead? Come on Rich, we worked this out in an email exchange this week. Do it. Dont just punt to this guy; dont punt at all.
Anyway, in this corner is the assortment of talented, but struggling as of yet to produce Maize and Blue specialists. Daryl Stonum was one of the best KOR guys a year ago, breaking program records for yards. He has not had an impact this year on this part of the game. He dominated three games a year ago on this skill alone, let alone the isolated times he set Michigan up in other contests. Hard to fathom, but the Wolverines are likely mere 3-game winners in 2009 without Stonum's special teams production. Through five games this year, he's pretty much on pace for the same number of returns, but he has yet to break off a return of more than 30 yards and is pace for nearly a 300-percent drop off in yardage. Maybe the added receiving burden is wearing him out on this front. I dont know. A big part of me does not mind the tradeoff since Stonum is on pace to shatter his career cumulative stats in this one single season. However, if Michigan intends on stealing enough Big 10 games to actually play in the month of January, it's probably going to need Stonum (or really somebody else, on any of the special teams units) to make a play in this department. Michigan's wideout crew seems to be rotating big games. Maybe tomorrow is Stonum's turn and his return game is part of that equation.
I almost had to make the Spartan Keshawn Martin a heavy favorite in this one. His production, like silence, speaks volumes. Stonum will have the chances to make a play and keep up. But, the Michigan punt return team probably doesnt, that is even if they make it on the field. Other than a Drew Dileo quick grab as the up man and ensuing scoot for 15 yards, nothing has been happening here. Michigan fans are still in 'please football vahalla, dont make us fumble' every time the punt is in the air to really worry too much here. There is so much win in the other's team punt right now, that I'm high fiving everyone in Section 14 after every secured fair catch. Hemingway actually had nice numbers in the chances he had a year ago, now that's he's healthy I wonder if the coaches would put him back out there if some of the quirky fielding issues and decisions continue out of Gallon?
Taylor Lewan, total penalty yards: O/U 12.5
I am just going to let this one sit out there and not comment too much. But you cant help but wonder if the refs are going to be vigilant and judge this kid extra harsh after the closing sequences the week before. And I'm not refering primarily to what happened in the end zone. It's more about what looked like an obvious hold at the start of that game winning drive that went uncalled. One week's fortune and refs' blind eye could be the next week's unfair ticky-tack foul victim. I think its a lead pipe lock that Lewan will get a holding call in this one. So, basically this number comes down to whether or not you'll think he'll be a multiple
Will the cute Sparty girl who sat next to us at the 2008 game that I bought a hot chocolate for return and pay me back in kind? Yes/No
A deal is a deal, girl. You were cold, for some reason were sitting by yourself because you could not get a ticket near your friends and I bought you a hot chocolate during a third quarter television timeout because you were shivering. You were a good sport all day, even telling our whole section 'that's why we are Sparty' as Brett Swenson started shanking field goals like it was his job. Dont blow the memory by not coming through on the promise to buy me a hot chocolate at the next game in Ann Arbor. You know where the seats are. You're probably done with college by this point, so if your shift at the Vu finishes in time and you can make the game, stop on over. Its supposed to be pretty warm, and the concessions might not even have cocoa, so just bring us some pops. Dont worrying about paying for the souvenir cups. No need to waste all your tip money