If there is one game you want to win every year, it is against your hated rival. For college football fans in Michigan, it does not get more heated than the annual Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy between Michigan and Michigan State. The Spartans currently have the trophy after upsetting the heavily favored Wolverines last season, but the stakes this season are a lot higher than just bragging rights.
For the first time since 1964, Michigan and Michigan State will enter the game ranked inside the top 10 and with undefeated records (7-0). A win will put the victor in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big Ten title game and a shot at making the College Football Playoff. So, yeah — the stakes are kind of big for this one.
If you are a fan of either team, it is easy to figure out who to place your bet on, but for those who are not, choosing one over the other is a challenge. Let’s take a look at how the 2021 college football season is going for both teams.
|Michigan Wolverines vs. Michigan State Spartans, Saturday 10/30 @ 12:00 pm ET||Best Michigan Odds||Best Michigan State Odds|
|BetRivers||-4.0 (108)||Spread||+4.5 (-110)||Caesars|
|FanDuel||Under 52.5 (-115)||Total||Over 51.5 (-109)||BetRivers|
The Wolverines’ secret to their success is not a secret at all — it’s their offensive line. With the big guys up front opening lanes, the run game averages 253.5 yards per game, good enough to rank fifth in the nation. Michigan also leads the nation in fewest tackles for a loss allowed, and the line has done a great job of keeping quarterback Cade McNamara upright. The team ranks second nationally and first in the Big Ten in sacks allowed.
With run-dominant offenses, teams need to be as close to mistake-free as possible. They cannot fall behind or fail to cash in on scoring opportunities. It also helps to have a strong defense — check and check for Michigan. The Wolverine offense has committed four turnovers through seven games — two interceptions and two fumbles all in the last three games. The Wolverines are also one of the least penalized teams (No. 21 in penalties per game) in the country. though they only rank seventh in the conference.
As for the defense, Michigan allows less than 300 total yards per game and does well against the run (No. 24) and pass (No. 20). Michigan is also stingy when it comes to points allowed. With 14.3 points per game scored against them, the Wolverines rank second in the country. While the unit has played well as a whole, however, the pass rush is mediocre. The Wolverines do not make many plays in the backfield, and they do not force many turnovers.
If the Wolverines can get the run game going, however, that may be the key to taking back the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Michigan State Spartans
The formula for the Spartans has been a lot like Michigan’s so far. With one of the best running backs in the country, Kenneth Walker, powering the rushing game, Michigan State is averaging a hair over 200 yards per game on the ground. While Michigan is somewhat dependent on the run, however, the Spartans have a decent passing game. Their 251.3 yards per game rank sixth in the Big Ten.
The offensive line has done a decent job of protecting QB Payton Thorne. The team ranks No. 26 in sacks allowed, but the group is not as good at keeping plays from happening in the backfield as Michigan. The Spartans rank No. 68 in tackles for loss allowed, which is sixth in the conference.
Where the two teams seem to differ the most is on the defensive side of the ball. Both are stingy when it comes to points allowed, where Michigan State’s 18.9 points rank seventh in the Big Ten. On the other hand, the Spartans give up over 400 yards a game, which ranks No. 89 in the country). While they are not bad against the run (121.0 yards per game), they are among the worst against the pass. At 285.4 pass yards allowed per game, Michigan State ranks No. 121 in the nation.
Like Michigan, the Spartans do an adequate job of protecting the ball, but Michigan State tends to commit quite a few penalties every week and ranks worst in the conference.
From an unbiased perspective, picking a winner in this game is not easy. Both are playing well and undefeated for a reason, but if you take a hard look at both teams, Michigan has played better against tougher competition. Yes, Michigan State has a win over a ranked team, but it was against a Miami team that was not as good as people thought it would be.
Michigan will be tempted to throw against Michigan State, but it will probably stick with what has been working — the run game. Look for this to be a low-scoring affair that sees Michigan win the game by a touchdown and taking home the Paul Bunyan Trophy at the end of the night.