Fading the two major Michigan teams in college football has been profitable for bettors over recent weeks.
The Michigan Wolverines (2-3) have failed to cover in their last three games, while the Michigan State Spartans (1-3) are just 1-3 against the spread. MSU’s only cover and outright win came as 22-point underdogs in its 27-24 victory over the rival Wolverines.
And this week, sports bettors are already fading both Michigan and MSU. The Wolverines opened as 4-point favorites for their noon matchup on Saturday against Penn State, but the spread has dropped to -2 for Michigan. Meanwhile, Michigan State debuted as 9-point underdogs for the contest with No. 11 Northwestern, but the Wildcats (5-0) have risen to 13½-point favorites.
Given the recent performances of Michigan and MSU, it comes as no surprise to see the betting lines move away from each of them.
Michigan barely escapes Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights had a chance to bury the 12-point favorite Wolverines. Michigan’s Quinn Nordin missed a 35-yard field goal on the team’s opening drive of overtime, giving Rutgers an opportunity to win outright with a field goal of its own. But Valentino Ambrosio’s 45-yard field goal sailed wide and the game continued.
Once Ambrosio’s kick missed, a cutaway showed Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh jumping up and down in elation after seeing the wayward field goal attempt. And while it’s easy to understand his elation, it was a rather sad sight to see: Harbaugh celebrating a missed kick in overtime against Rutgers, the perennial worst team in the Big Ten since it entered the league in 2014 and who now has an 8-49 record in conference play since it joined the Big Ten. That’s how far Michigan football has fallen.
Forget covering the 12-point spread, early on, the Wolverines were in jeopardy of getting blown out. Rutgers jumped out to a 17-0 lead near the end of the first quarter. The stagnant Michigan offense forced the team to replace starting quarterback Joe Milton with Cade McNamara.
On McNamara’s first drive, he connected with Cornelius Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown pass. The rest of the game belonged to McNamara, who completed 27 of 36 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
Michigan earned the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run from Hassan Haskins during a fourth-down play in the third overtime. The Wolverines’ defense then stopped Rutgers on downs to secure the win.
McNamara appears to be the team’s likely starter against Penn State, despite Harbaugh did not name a starter during Monday’s media session. But Michigan cornerback Vincent Gray might have let it slip on who will be the Wolverines quarterback. Gray misinterpreted a question about Penn State’s quarterback situation during a Zoom meeting with the media. Gray thought the media was inquiring about Michigan’s starting quarterback, and detailed why he believes the team will stick with McNamara.
“From the looks of it, I think Cade is going to be starting at quarterback for us this Saturday,” Gray said. “Either way, they’re both very talented, and they both do a great job. “Either way, I feel like we’ll be fine, to be honest. But I think Cade, he’s got the wheels turning for the offense right now, and I think they’re going to let him keep going.”
Michigan isn’t even the Big Ten team who has had the biggest fall from grace this season. That distinction currently belongs to Penn State (0-5).
With the 41-21 loss to Iowa last Saturday, the Nittany Lions became the first team to ever start a season 0-5 after being ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. The 0-5 start is also the worst in school history, marking the first time a Penn State squad has ever lost its first five games.
Michigan State needs better starts
The Spartans had a bye last week because of positive COVID-19 cases within the Maryland football program. Maryland was forced to cancel the game, and MSU got a much-needed opportunity to reset after two disastrous weeks.
MSU’s main issues have been its slow starts and nonexistent offense. Against Iowa on Nov. 7, the Spartans trailed 35-0 at halftime. It wasn’t much better the next week, going down 24-0 at halftime to Indiana. MSU would fail to register a point in the loss to the Hoosiers, too.
There aren’t any redeeming things to say about the MSU offense. The Spartans are last in the Big Ten in points per game (15.3) and yards per game (323.8). Nationally, their scoring rate is the fifth-worst in the country, and the yards per game category puts them at 114 out of 127 in the nation.
MSU’s offensive struggles start at the quarterback position. In Rocky Lombardi’s last two games as a starter, he’s completed just 45% of his passes for 248 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions. He was replaced in the second quarter of the Indiana loss by Payton Thorne, who completed 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards and an interception.
And now MSU has to face a Northwestern defense allowing the fourth-fewest points per game in the country (12.6) and is fresh off a 17-7 win over previous No. 10 Wisconsin. It’s hard to imagine, but things could get worse for this MSU offense.