Wisconsin throttles Michigan State

So this was a surprise for many. Sparty looked great last week whipping Notre Dame, but then got smacked at home by Wisconsin.

The Big Ten looks pretty tough this season with their impressive nonconference wins, and now we’ll see which teams will emerge. Michigan State seems to play well as underdogs, but then under-perform when they’re favorites.

For the Badgers, redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook took over as the starter and played very well.

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Michigan State vs. Notre Dame, 3:30PM ET, Saturday
There’s tremendous value in the Spartans on Saturday. Granted, their defense hasn’t been tested yet but they rank fifth nationally with an average of 126.7 passing yards against. Perhaps most importantly is that sophomore Connor Cook emerged last week from a crowded quarterback competition by throwing for four first-half touchdowns and 202 yards against Youngstown State. Running back Jeremy Langford has also scored four touchdowns on the season and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, so MSU should generate plenty of offense this weekend. The Spartans are 7-1 against the spread in their last eight trips to South Bend, while the road team is 11-2 against the number in the last 13 meetings between these two teams. Granted, Notre Dame is seeking its 10th consecutive win in South Bend but the Irish looked vulnerable on the road last week versus Purdue. This is a field goal game either way and if you like the Spartans, jump on them now. The line has already moved down to 4.5 after opening at 6.

Arizona State vs. Stanford, 7:00PM ET, Saturday
The Sun Devils are coming off of what many would deem as a “gift” win over Wisconsin after the officiating crew blew the end of last Saturday’s game. But ASU will gladly take the victory and will look towards Saturday, which coach Todd Graham says “is a great opportunity for us to take a step forward as a program.” Stanford won’t be easy to overcome. The Cardinal is 8-2 at home against ranked opponents since 2009 and boasts a defense that returned eight starters from a unit that statistically was the best in the Pac-12 last season. That said, the Sun Devils are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games overall and the coaching staff knows what a win over the Cardinal could do for the program. The line has already been bet down two full points in this one – you can expect ASU’s best effort.

Falcons vs. Dolphins, 4:05PM ET, Sunday
The Falcons have been absolutely ravaged by injuries in the early going. It was revealed following the team’s Week 1 loss to the Saints that Roddy White suffered a high-ankle sprain in preseason, and just this past week Steven Jackson (thigh), Sean Weatherspoon (foot), and Kroy Biermann (Achilles) all fell victim to serious injuries. Atlanta was already having issues running the ball so without Jackson in the starting lineup, the feat could become impossible. Losing Weatherspoon and Biermann also force DC Mike Nolan to play with inexperienced players at crucial spots defensively, and this was already a unit that struggles to generate pressure. On the other side, the Dolphins have been impressive while winning both of their games on the road. Ryan Tannehill has looked sharp in the early going and finally got on the same page as receiver Mike Wallace, who had a big game in Indy last week. With the public jumping on the underdog Falcons, the Dolphins are a value at under a field goal. Miami goes to 3-0.

Buccaneers vs. Patriots, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
The Bucs have been a mess both on and off the field thus far. They scored a combined 31 points in their first two games and there have been reports questioning Josh Freeman’s leadership and whether or not coach Greg Schiano is a fit. That said, in both of their games they squandered leads with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. While the unit has failed to close out games in the final minutes the past two weeks, the Bucs wouldn’t have been in either contest had it not been for Bill Sheridan’s defense. Tampa will play a New England team on Sunday that had issues moving the ball last week against Rex Ryan’s Jets. Tom Brady was visibly frustrated with his young receiving corps during the game and without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, there’s reason to believe that the Pats could continue to struggle offensively. New England opened as a 9.5-point favorite but the spread has already been bet down a full point. The Bucs have a ton of issues but their defense should give them a chance on Sunday.

After all the good, Michigan State’s bad puts it in a tough spot

Michigan State Spartans center John Stipek (R) is consoled by a teammate while sitting on the bench during the second half of the Capital One Bowl college football game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Orlando, Florida, January 1, 2011. REUTERS/Phelan M. Ebenhack (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Before the month of October started, Michigan State was staring at a brutal conference gauntlet of four straight games against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Somehow, the Spartans found a way to win those first three, pushing themselves near the top 10 of the BCS rankings and taking control of the Big Ten Legends Division.

But with today’s loss to Nebraska, the Spartans and their very respectable 3-1 record during the month, need help to get to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

It’s a cruel fate for a team that found different ways to win against three of the Big Ten’s top six teams, and somehow was able to get emotionally ready to play all three of them. Apparently four is too much to ask for, however, as the Spartans — especially offensively — looked listless in the loss.

Kirk Cousins was terrible, the run game was non-existent and the defense was tired from spending most of the game on the field after the offense yet again failed to do anything.

So now Nebraska is in the Legends driver’s seat, holding the head-to-head tie-breaker against MSU and having the luxury of its one conference loss (at Wisconsin) coming outside of the division. The road is not easy, however, as Nebraska finishes the season at home against Northwestern, at Michigan, at Penn State and at home against Iowa. With as erratic as the Nebraska offense is, any one of those games is losable.

Michigan State’s road wasn’t a guarantee, but it was much easier than Nebraska’s, they substitute Michigan and Penn State for Indiana and Minnesota, the conference’s two worst teams.

It’s amazing how quickly the euphoria from a miracle last-second win against an unbeaten, top 10 opponent can wear off in college football. But I suppose that’s part of the reason we all love it so much.

Michigan grounded in loss at Michigan State

These might have been hideous, and the game might have been, too, but Michigan State will take it.

The Spartans ended Michigan’s run at a perfect season today with a 28-14 win against “Big Brother.” That’s four straight, which pretty much makes big brother your older, fatter, kind of alcoholic brother that you can beat at sports.

Michigan’s offense was rendered impotent as the Spartans corralled Denard Robinson’s run game and forced him to pass, which, um, isn’t what Michigan wants to be doing. Robinson was 9-of-24 for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The interception was returned for a touchdown by Isaiah Lewis, effectively ending the game.

Perhaps more impressive, however, was Michigan State holding Robinson to under 50 yards rushing. The Spartans also hit him well after the whistle a couple of times, you know, just because. It worked, though, as Robinson was out of the game at the end of Michigan’s final drive, causing backup Devin Gardner — who Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges inexplicably used with relative frequency during the game — to come up with a fourth-and-22 play that is sure to reside at the top of ESPN’s Worst of the Worst for years to come. Seriously, Gardner ran for about 130 yards on the play, 125 of which were in the wrong direction or sideways.

It’s only loss No. 1 for Michigan, but it brings back memories of the Rich Rodriguez era. Michigan State out-schemed Michigan in the second half, destroying the “Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison won’t be out-coached” meme that Michigan fans were spreading. The Wolverines couldn’t tackle, which surely gave Michigan fans the shakes after watching that on repeat for the last three years.

I’m not saying Brady Hoke = Rich Rodriguez, but this should put the brakes on the Brady Hoke for Pope campaigns. Michigan is just now entering the tough part of its schedule, and should expect more of this as it goes on this season.

As for Michigan State, it’s not out of the woods yet. The Spartans have to play Wisconsin and Nebraska in the next two weeks, so the euphoria from this win could wear off quickly. But the Spartans are unbeaten in Big Ten play after games against Ohio State and Michigan, and control their own destiny when it comes to playing for the Big Ten championship.

But that’s all irrelevant right now, as “Little Brother” has officially grown up and is in control of the state of Michigan, which might be the most important thing to the residents of East Lansing.

Big Ten title will be decided today (and probably by some computers tomorrow)

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor  of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with fans after beating the University of Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Iowa City, Iowa. Ohio State won 20-17 over Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images).

After Friday’s games, today might be a little anti-climactic, but there’s still plenty to be determined on college football’s more traditional day.

The Big Ten title is still up for grabs, with three teams — Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State — all tied at the top with one loss. If all three win, the BCS standings will decide who goes to the Rose Bowl. That will likely be Wisconsin, which has that edge going into today. If Wisconsin loses and the other two win, the BCS will again decide who goes to the Rose Bowl, as Ohio State and Michigan State did not play each other. It’s a problem the Big Ten will have solved next year when there’s a title game (two title contenders not playing each other, that is. As the Big 12 showed us two years ago, the BCS can still decide a divisional race if all hell breaks loose).

If Wisconsin wins, however, and either Ohio State or Michigan State lose, it will be a lot more clear cut. The Spartans get the bid with an Ohio State loss as they have the head-to-head edge over Wisconsin. The Badgers get it if Michigan State loses, because they hold that same edge over Ohio State.

So those are your scenarios (sure, there’s the “all three lose” scenario, as well, where Iowa is back in the mix, but I don’t want to force that upon you before noon). Here’s how it will play out. Read the rest of this entry »

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