All numbers included in this preview are using my PAN metric, Points Above Normal. PAN is essentially how many points above an average FBS team was a team/unit/player worth. For reference, an average FBS is approximately equal to Illinois or a top team from the MAC.
All games against FCS teams are excluded for all teams, as well as any plays in the second half where one team leads by more than 2 touchdowns or any end of half run out the clock situations.
At this point adjustments for strength of opponent are directional but still highly uncertain. They will be now be used in all situations except otherwise noted.
Rush Offense vs Michigan St
Michigan Off: +8 PAN, 2nd nationally, 1st Big Ten
Michigan St Def: -0 PAN allowed, 54th, 6th
[Chart note: positive numbers mean good performances for both offense and defense.]
Despite Michigan St holding Wisconsin to 24 points last week, they fared worse against Wisconsin’s running game than the average team has in 2010.
Michigan has been between good and ridiculous in every game this year. Michigan St’s rush defense is definitely an upgrade over the Hoosiers from last week, but it’s more of an “allow touchdowns in reasonably length drives” as opposed to a “regularly keep us out of the end zone” type matchup.
Robinson will obviously be the catalyst for Michigan. His rushing PAN is +9, over 3.5 points better than anyone else in the nation. Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw have both hovered right around zero, with Smith grading out higher due to a combination of the long run against Indiana and Shaw’s best performance coming against an FCS opponent.
Michigan will face a better rush defense than they have seen in the last month or so but Michigan St hasn’t shown anything yet to indicate they are good enough to slow Michigan’s run game down more than anyone else has. Look for at least a full touchdown worth of advantage from the Michigan rushing attack.
Pass Offense vs Michigan St
Michigan Off: +7, 4th, 2nd
Michigan St Def: –1 allowed, 46th, 4th
After struggling for the first month of the season, Michigan St’s pass defense was the difference in shutting down Wisconsin last week. Michigan’s pass game has continued to be very potent and last week at Indiana was the best game yet. Because Michigan’s passing success is built so much off the success of the running game, it’s not as clear as to how a good pass defense will be able to defend the Wolverine passing game.
Robinson has been +6 PAN on the season and is the 20th ranked passer in my ratings, which can reward for volume, which Michigan has very little of in the passing game. Robinson will be aided by a group of receivers who have been much more productive than last year. Hemingway and Roundtree are both averaging a solid +6 PAN per game and Odoms is at +3. Stonum is potentially a threat but has only been worth +2 against FBS competition.
Michigan St stepped up last week and did a great job limiting Wisconsin through the air. Although both Michigan and Wisconsin’s passing games are set up by strong ground games, the spread and shred is very different from old school Big Ten rushing. If Michigan St can replicate last week’s success this matchup could be a draw instead of the +6 for Michigan the numbers indicate.
Rush Defense vs Michigan St
Michigan Def: +1 allowed, 72nd, 7th
Michigan St Off: +3, 28th, 5th
This chart, with the exception the MSU-WMU game is a chart of averageness. Michigan hasn’t been gouged in the running game but they haven’t been closing the door on anyone either. Michigan St’s two-headed running attack came out big in Week 1 but has been relatively quiet since.
Michigan St’s +3 PAN is essentially split between Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker with both players contributing equally to the success. Bell had the big day against Western with a +7 showing but was shut down against Wisconsin by going –4 on the day. Baker has been much more consistent with all four games going between +1 and +3.
If you take out the beatdown Michigan St’s backs administered in Week 1, the Spartan ground game looks much more tameable. Michigan can not sleep on this matchup but is in better shape than I thought. Michigan should have a chance to reasonably contain the Spartan backs, shifting the challenge to the…
Pass Defense vs Michigan St
Michigan Def: –1 allowed, 42nd, 3rd
Michigan St Off: +2 allowed, 32nd, 6th
As I have stated previously, the high rating for Michigan’s pass defense against Indiana will not hold. I do agree with Brian that Indiana will probably still have the best pass offense in the Big Ten this year, but when you are compared to Akron and Western Kentucky in your performance, you should always come up looking good, even if you allow nearly 500 yards through the air.
Michigan’s pass defense is very difficult to assess right now. Indiana doesn’t have good comps to measure against. The BG performance mostly looks bad because of one fluke play where BG got away with a massive hold. ND and UConn both look like respectable performances in comparison with how other teams have defended them.
Michigan St has really stepped up their passing game in the last two FBS games, with a pair of +7’s against legitimate opponents. After two sub-zero PANs for Kirk Cousins to start the season, he has been +11 and +12 in his last two games (the difference between the team and his score is that sacks count against the team but not the player).
The receiving has been pretty balanced with three Spartans checking in at +4 on the season. BJ Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Mark Dell have carried most of the load this year. All three have a game-rated +9 or higher on the season.
If Kirk Cousins can keep up his recent success this where it starts to get scary for Michigan. The Spartan passing attack will not be as good we saw last week in Indiana but if Michigan does improve in the secondary, the results could be nearly as bad, especially if Michigan St can keep Michigan looking in the backfield on play action.
Special Teams vs Michigan St
Keshawn Martin. That’s the two big green bars on the graph. He has three big returns on the year, one going the distance against Wisconsin last week. Let’s not kick to him, although he has lost a fumble on a return this season. Michigan’s blue bars have gotten closer to zero, mostly because we have chosen to forgo special teams altogether. The Spartan kicking situation is a polar opposite to Michigan. Michigan’s kickers have cost the team 5 points vs an average kicker while Michigan St’s kicker has been 5 points better than the average kicker. If this game is decided by special teams it is very unlikely to be a Wolverine win.
Predictions Almost Certain to Cost You Money if Taken Seriously
At a neutral site, this matchup is pretty much a tossup. Luckily its in Ann Arbor. If Michigan can keep Keshawn Martin from breaking a long return and is at least even in turnovers I would feel really good about the chances.
Michigan 35 Michigan St 32
Elsewhere in the Big Ten:
Northwestern 27 Purdue 20 – Northwestern continues to be college football’s worst undefeated team
Ohio St 40 Indiana 21 – Chappell has a bunch of yards but also throws a couple picks while Ohio St runs all over Indiana
Penn St 13 Illinois 10 – Basically a repeat of every game Penn St has played this year
Wisconsin 31 Minnesota 24 – Going with my numbers. I think they are underrating Wisconsin but I still think they are overrated overall.
I guess I’ll pick the Bama game again since Game Day dissed Ann Arbor for them this week.
Alabama 24 South Carolina 20 – A virtual mirror of the Alabama/Arkansas game.