The Nebraska Cornhuskers will be trying to score a marquee win in their home finale when they play host to the Michigan State Spartans this weekend. The game will kick off at noon EST on Saturday, November 17, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Fans will be able to watch the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Spartans as 1.5-point favorites on the road with an over/under of 52.5 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
Obviously, Scott Frost’s first season back in Lincoln hasn’t gone how anybody wanted. After Frost led Central Florida to an undefeated season last year, the Cornhuskers lost their first six games of the season, quickly losing hope of even going to a bowl game much less competing in a wide-open Big Ten West division.
On the bright side, Nebraska has played better the second half of the season, winning three of their last four games to get to 3-7. They also made Ohio State sweat in a 5-point loss a couple weeks ago. With games against Michigan State and Iowa left on their schedule, the Cornhuskers would love to steal a win or two against one of the better teams in the Big Ten. Doing so would be a huge building block for Frost and Nebraska looking ahead to 2019.
The Spartans are also approaching the tail end of a somewhat disappointing season. Michigan State began the year thinking they could compete in the Big Ten East division and maybe become a contender in the College Football Playoff conversation. However, an inconsistent offense has struggled to provide adequate support for a strong defense, causing the Spartans to lose a few games along the way.
As it stands, Michigan State is a modest 6-4 and 4-3 in Big Ten play. However, a couple more wins late in the season can get the Spartans to a nice bowl game and give them a chance to reach nine wins on the season and maybe sneak back into the top-25.
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, these two teams have met five times, with the Cornhuskers winning three times. Of course, they haven’t met since 2015 when Nebraska squeaked out a 39-38 win.
With the line this small, this is a rather easy call for me. I have some obvious concerns about Michigan State, but I know that I can trust their defense, and that’s usually enough to win Big Ten games in November. Knowing that the Spartans won’t need to cover many points with their inconsistent offense makes it easy to lean toward the road favorites in this game.
To be fair, the Nebraska offense has made some obvious strides from the start of the season. True freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez has been phenomenal over the past month and is surely a perfect fit for Frost’s offense. But facing the Michigan State defense is a new kind of challenge for the Nebraska offense after putting 50-plus points on the scoreboard against Minnesota and Illinois. Even compared to the Ohio State defense, the MSU defense is on another level.
Regardless of the opponent, the Spartans are going to stop the run. To their credit, the Cornhuskers have had a lot of success running the ball this year behind Martinez and running back Devine Ozigbo. The Cornhuskers may even be good enough to eclipse the 100-yard mark on the ground, something few teams have done against MSU this year. But Nebraska is still going to fall well short of their season averaging of 226 rushing yards per game. Not being able to run the ball the way they usually do will throw the Nebraska offense out of rhythm and keep the Huskers to a reasonable point total.
On the other side of the ball, there continue to be problems with the Nebraska defense. The Cornhuskers are allowing close to 40 points per game against Big Ten opponents this year. The lowest point total they’ve given up this year against a conference opponent was 28 points, and that was against a Minnesota team that’s been erratic on offense all year.
That being said, I’m not expecting the Michigan State offense to run circles around the Cornhuskers. The Spartans haven’t even announced a starter at quarterback this week between Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi, who both had rough days last week against Ohio State. The Spartans are also averaging just 3.5 yards per carry running the ball this season. However, one could argue that the Northwestern offense is just as limited as Michigan State, and the Wildcats managed 34 points against Nebraska in an overtime win, so there’s hope for the Spartans.
Given how vulnerable the Cornhuskers are on defense, I’m expecting the MSU offense to be able to score a few points more than usual in this game. If the Spartans have a lead in the 4th quarter, I’m confident they will be able to hold onto it. With virtually no spread, I’m comfortable taking Michigan State as the road underdog to cover.