In the way it ought to be every year, the champions of the Big Ten conference, the Michigan State Spartans, go up against the champions of the Pac-12, the Stanford Cardinal, in the latest edition of the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day in Pasadena.
Stanford just won the Rose Bowl last year, its fourth straight bowl cover. Michigan State, meanwhile, is playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years. The Pac-12 entry has been installed as a four-point favorite for this Rose Bowl, which follows the recent trend that has seen the west-coast entry defeat the Big Ten representative in five of the last six meetings.
Point spread: Cardinal opened as 3.5-point favorites; the total was 41. (Line updates and matchup report)
Odds Shark computer prediction: 37.6-35.3 Spartans
Why the Spartans can cover the Rose Bowl spread
Michigan State started 3-0 this season, lost a tough game at Notre Dame and hasn't lost since, going 8-0 in conference play while holding five Big Ten opponents to six points or fewer. Michigan State then pulled off one of the great victories in program history, upsetting supposedly BCS Championship Game-bound Ohio State in the Big Ten title game 34-24.
Offensively the Spartans have averaged 182 yards per game on the ground and 203 YPG through the air. Defensively, they lead the nation both overall and vs. the run, giving up just 81 YPG on the ground. Michigan State relished the role of underdog in the Big Ten Championship Game, and they're probably doing the same heading into this Rose Bowl, too.
They are 9-1-1 ATS in their past 11 trips as underdogs, according to the Odds Shark NCAA football database.
Why the Cardinal can cover the Rose Bowl spread
Last year, Stanford lost two games, then won its last eight in a row, upsetting Oregon, winning the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Rose Bowl along the way. This year, the Cardinal lost two games, upset the Ducks again and won the conference championship game again (this time beating high-powered Arizona State in Tempe 38-14).
The Cardinal have averaged 211 yards per game rushing this season, 202 YPG passing, while defensively they rank in the top 15 in several key defensive categories. They're also now 16-2 SU, 10-7-1 ATS with sophomore Kevin Hogan starting at quarterback. They have covered the spread in four straight bowls.
This Rose Bowl is a great matchup for those who love old-time football. Both teams like to shove the ball down opponents' throats on offense and punch them in the mouth on defense. Don't expect a shootout, despite what the computer is predicting.
Not a whole lot separates these two teams on the field, but according to the Sagarin ratings, the Cardinal played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country this year, while the Spartans played the 56th-rated schedule.
Stanford beat Wisconsin in last year's Rose Bowl 20-14. Expect a similar result for this year's game. In what should be a real grinder, give the points and go with the Cardinal.
- Stanford is 4-0 ATS past four bowl games
- Michigan State is 14-1 SU past 15 games overall
- Spartans are 9-1-1 ATS past 11 games as underdogs