Depending on your trusted online source for sports wagering or your favorite Las Vegas sports book, you may have noticed that the Michigan State Spartans are anywhere from a 4.5 to a 5.5 point underdog at Notre Dame this weekend. In case you were thinking about throwing down a few shekels on the game, let me provide one piece of advice:
You have a better chance of being elected President than Notre Dame has of covering that spread.
Generally speaking, Las Vegas bookmakers are rarely wrong and somehow always seem to find that perfect number to set the line at. They set it so equal amounts of action will come in on both teams and the casino is guaranteed to make money on the “vig” (the premium or commission received for taking bets).
In this case, however, I have a hard time believing that anyone who spends more than 30 seconds researching this game will ride Notre Dame for the following reasons:
1. Recent Matchup History
Michigan State and Notre Dame play close games. You may remember last year’s shootout being decided on the last play when the Spartans ran “Little Giants," a fake field goal trick play which resulted in the winning score. How about 2006, when Brady Quinn led the Irish back from 17 down with a furious fourth quarter rally and a 40-37 Notre Dame victory in East Lansing.
In fact, in the last 11 meetings between the two teams, nine have been decided by seven points or less. The two that were decided by eight or more points: both Michigan State victories (2007 and 2008).
Using those last 11 games as our historical sample, Michigan State is 7-4 overall and they have won three of the last four games against the Irish. Have no fear that this game is at Notre Dame Stadium, as the Spartans are 4-1 in their last five trips to South Bend. The Irish’s only victory at home over that span was a 33-30 win in 2009, and that was the result of a Kirk Cousins interception on the goal line with under a minute left to play in the game.
2. The 2011 Season to Date
Sure, Michigan State is 2-0 while Notre Dame sits at 0-2, but it goes beyond the records. Notre Dame’s loses came to two schools from BCS power conferences in South Florida and Michigan while the Spartans feasted on weaker opponents, Division I-AA Youngstown State and FAU.
However, Notre Dame has not taken their lumps against the likes of Oklahoma and Alabama. In fact, South Florida finished fifth in the Big East last year (which is about as impressive as finishing fifth in a Sack Race at the county fair), while Michigan has given up 30 points or more in nine or their last 11 games. And Notre Dame could not find a way to win either of those matchups.
The Irish have given up 58 points combined in their first two games. Michigan State, six points. The Spartans have out-rushed the Irish this season, and have more consistency at the most important position: QB.
Notre Dame’s QB carousel seems to have finally settled on Tommy Rees. While he has thrown for more yards (611) than Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins (405) through two games, Rees has been mistake prone. He has four interceptions and a fumble. Two of those picks and the fumble came in critical moments against Michigan last week, allowing the Wolverines to hang around before stealing the win.
Cousins, on the other hand, has been solid. He is completing 79 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
3. Recent History ATS and the Notre Dame Hype Machine
Bettors often look at team’s performance against the spread (ATS) to determine future outcomes. If they look at the matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan State, I would expect the money to pour in on the Spartans.
In the last two years, Michigan State is 5-3 on the road ATS. Meanwhile, in their last 13 games as a favorite, Notre Dame is 3-13 ATS. The Irish are also 1-8 ATS in their last nine September games. Michigan State is 10-3-1 ATS in their last 14 games against Notre Dame.
Furthermore, there may not be a team in all of sports (besides possibly the Dallas Cowboys) who get more undo hype and praise every year before falling short of expectations than the Fighting Irish. In the past six seasons, the Irish have been ranked in the Preseason Top 25 three times. Each of those years, they have finished the year either ranked lower than they were initially or unranked all together. The Irish began this season ranked 16. They are currently out of the Top 25 all together.
I expect a close game this weekend, but Michigan State’s running game and defensive front should be enough to not only cover the ridiculous five point spread, but get the Spartans yet another victory in South Bend, 31-24.