For the first time since a 1964 battle in East Lansing, No. 6 Michigan (7-0) and No. 8 Michigan State (7-0) will face off Saturday as top-10 teams. It is a monumental game in a historic rivalry, though it’s unclear which — if either — team is worthy of the ranking it currently wears.
Neither team has played a ranked opponent yet. Both teams have struggled against the Big Ten’s worst. Both teams had losing records last season. The doubts attached to each roster are appropriate, given the similarities between the Wolverines and the Spartans.
Michigan is fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 253.3 yards per game. Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III leads all rushers in the nation, with 142.4 yards per game. Michigan State is giving up just 3.2 yards per carry and 19.5 points per game. Michigan is giving up just 3.5 yards per carry and 14.3 points per game.
The Spartans, though, have not been nearly as dominant as their record or ranking suggests. They have allowed more passing yards than all but four teams in the nation and nearly lost at home to Nebraska, which has the only above-average ground game they have faced all season. Michigan State’s 35 percent third-down conversion rate will finally have consequences Saturday against the first elite defense it has faced this year.
Jim Harbaugh carries a notorious 2-12 mark coaching Michigan against top-10 teams, but Michigan State doesn’t deserve the distinction. Barring a fumbled punt for a touchdown return as time expires, the Wolverines (-4.5) will win in East Lansing for the third straight time.
Cincinnati (-24.5) over TULANE
Don’t abandon the Bearcats after last week’s curious showing against Navy. Their terrorizing of the AAC will resume against one of the nation’s worst defenses.
Iowa (+3.5) over WISCONSIN
First to three points wins? In a matchup of two of the nation’s best defenses, take the offense that will have less ground to travel. Iowa, which leads the nation in turnover margin (+1.7), should thrive against a mistake-prone opponent averaging more turnovers than all but one team in the nation.
BAYLOR (-3) over Texas
In a matchup of dynamic ground games, Baylor — which is 4-0 at home, with wins over two ranked teams — is giving up just 3.6 yards per carry, its defense built to force Texas to the air. The Longhorns counter with the nation’s 105th-ranked run defense.
Miami (+9.5) over PITTSBURGH
The Panthers don’t know how to handle success yet. After a road win at Tennessee in September, Pittsburgh lost for the first time this season, at home to Western Michigan. After officially burying Clemson last week, the ACC contender could again struggle against a live dog, which is fresh off an upset of North Carolina State.
ILLINOIS (+1.5) over Rutgers
Let me know who wins. I’d rather be tied to a chair for a Michael Madsen “Reservoir Dogs” reenactment than sit through this bantamweight bout.
Florida (+14) over Georgia (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
Florida has been upset twice in the past three weeks, but it is still the team that was a two-point conversion away from taking Alabama to overtime. Carrying greater potential upside if Anthony Richardson gets more snaps, the Gators are the most talented team Georgia has faced this season — featuring numerous players who beat the Bulldogs last year — and are rested and ready to put up a fight after a loss and a week off.
Texas Tech (+19.5) over OKLAHOMA
The Red Raiders will be fine without Matt Wells, who was fired after leading the team to a 5-3 start. Wells will be fine, also. It should only be about three years until he’s leading an undefeated NFL team.
Colorado (+24.5) over OREGON
The Ducks — 2-6 against the spread — aren’t built for blowouts. Even in a home game last month against still-winless Arizona, Oregon led by single digits in the fourth quarter. The Ducks have only become less impressive and less healthy since then.
WAKE FOREST (-16.5) over Duke
The Blue Devils haven’t covered on the road in their past six tries. They are 0-3 on the road, losing to ACC opponents by an average of nearly 40 points. Now come the Demon Deacons — 7-0 for the first time since 1944 — averaging more than 43 points per game and ranking third in the nation with 2.5 takeaways per game. Duke’s 14 turnovers and 106th-ranked defense scream of disaster ahead.
AUBURN (-2) over Mississippi
This game would look different with Ole MIss quarterback Matt Corral fully healthy, but the Heisman Trophy contender’s shaky ankle erased his ability as a dual threat and held him to a season-low in passing yards last week. The Rebels can’t count on this week’s opponent laying down, as LSU did last week.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (+1.5) over Kentucky
Before visiting Georgia two weeks ago, the Wildcats had built a 6-0 record by playing one game outside of Lexington, squeaking by South Carolina with 16 points last month. Kentucky’s run-reliant offense will have a tougher time putting up points against a Bulldogs defense surrendering just 94 yards rushing per game.
Penn State (+18.5) over OHIO STATE
It’s dangerous to bet against the highest-scoring offense in the nation, but James Franklin has plenty of experience preparing against an explosive Buckeyes attack. Quarterback Sean Clifford is expected to be back at “100 percent” health, according to Franklin, who is 1-6 all time against Ohio State but has suffered just one loss by more than 13 points.
NOTRE DAME (-3.5) over North Carolina
The Fighting Irish will miss injured safety Kyle Hamilton, but they had no trouble quieting a superior version of Sam Howell without the All-American in last year’s win. Plus, Kyren Williams — who torched the Tar Heels for 124 yards and two touchdowns last season — is coming off his best game of the season and welcomes an opponent which has lost both of its road games this season.
Best bets: Baylor, Miami, Notre Dame
This season (Best bets): 51-67-2 (13-11)
2014-20 record: 904-866-15