Michigan State Spartans vs. Northwestern Wildcats – College Football (September 3, 2021)

By Dan Vasta in College Football
| September 1, 2021 2:18 pm PDT

The Big Ten is featuring five conference matchups on the opening weekend. The increase in ratings and intrigue from the fanbases should be higher than ever as 2021 gets underway.

Northwestern is coming off a West Division crown and a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship.

While they fell short against Ohio State, the Wildcats under Pat Fitzgerald have proved the naysayers wrong every year. Northwestern has become a Top 25 program, and they will look to continue their winning ways.

Michigan State will enter its second season with Mel Tucker at the helm. They had a disappointing 2-5 season and will look to get back to the postseason despite being projected to finish near the bottom this season.

Ready to bet on this game? Read on for my Michigan State vs. Northwestern prediction and top betting pick for September 3rd, 2021.

Michigan State vs. Northwestern Odds

Michigan State (+3)-103
Northwestern (-3)-117
Michigan State to Win+135
Northwestern to Win-155
Over 53-110
Under 53-110

Northwestern pulls in as the mild favorite at BetOnline and other NCAA football sportsbooks.

Michigan State has knocked off Northwestern the past two meetings for the first time since the 2011-12 seasons.

Northwestern will enter its 16th season with Pat Fitzgerald as their head coach. The Wildcats were 8-1 against the spread last year. Everybody was fading them, and they shut the haters up by finishing in the final AP Top 10 after their Citrus Bowl victory over Auburn, 35-19.

Fitzgerald is only 22-33-1 at home as the favorite, but he has posted five Big Ten winning seasons in the last six years.

Michigan State has had three consecutive losing seasons against the spread at a combined 11-21-1 record. They are also 1-4-1 the past two seasons as a road underdog. 

These two met last season, and the Wildcats were upset as two touchdown favorites (-13) in a game that prevented them from appearing in the New Year’s Six.

To see if they’re a good bet to crack the New Year’s 6 bowl games in 2021, check out this post.

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Why Michigan State Wins

The Spartans have capable wide receivers that could give the Northwestern secondary some issues. The Wildcats bring back the second fewest amount of production from last season.

The secondary has been productive in previous years, and they lost all their best players other than all-world safety Brandon Joseph.

The speed of Jalen Nailor, Jayden Reed, and Ricky White could expose the inexperience of Northwestern.

Nailor and Reed were the two most consistent players on the entire roster last season.

The duo combined for nearly 1,000 yards and seven scores to go along with 59 receptions.

Quarterback Anthony Russo needs to take care of the ball and let the game come to him. The former Temple Owl has capable running backs in Elijah Collins and Connor Heyward. Sparty lacks the explosive run game, but they will move the chains and stay in this game.

The defense isn’t dominant in the trenches, but pass-rusher Jacub Panasiuk can pin his ears back and harass the Northwestern offense. The Wildcats will have issues on offense, and the Spartans have enough talent to pull this upset off.

Why Northwestern Wins

Pat Fitzgerald against Mel Tucker could be a mismatch on the opening weekend. The overall rosters could be on par, but Fitz is one of the top 10 coaches in college football.

Fitzgerald is a Northwestern legend as a two-time Butkus Award winner given to the top linebacker in the country. The success he has achieved on the sidelines is more impressive.

Former Clemson signal-caller Hunter Johnson is the starter for the season opener.

This offensive as a whole should have field position throughout the game due to their stellar defense.

Fitzgerald won’t be asking too much from Johnson, but he could become an excellent game-manager in the first four games of the season before it starts to get challenging.

Michigan State is not overly talented in their front seven, giving the running backs opportunities to pave the way for Johnson.

Northwestern went 4-0 at home last year. They will need a fast start to the season to ensure they get to their sixth bowl in the past seven seasons. This opener is the perfect matchup to win ugly by dominating on defense and getting by on offense.

Michigan State vs. Northwestern Prediction

The Spartans were one of the worst teams in the Big Ten last season. Take a look at these dreadful rankings that may not drastically change in time for the 2021 season.

  • Total Offense: No. 109 (330.3 YPG)
  • Rushing Offense: No. 122 (91.4 YPG)
  • Scoring Offense: No. 116 (18.0 PPG)

The Wildcats will be licking their chops on defense thanks to safety Brandon Joseph.

The ability to play disciplined football by being opportunistic always finds a way to win at the end of the day. Northwestern isn’t going to fall off the map and have a season similar to 2019.

The Wildcats may not win pretty, but they surely will pull off this Big Ten opener.

Michigan State vs. Northwestern Pick

The Wildcats and Sparty could turn into an absolute snooze fest on ESPN. Points will be challenging to come by, and defenses will dominate.

We could see a similar ball game to last season when turnovers and field position decided the outcome.

I believe the under is a strong play as offenses tend to take time to get into a rhythm until late September or even early October. The point spread is accurate, and I would take a pass.

The under and money line favoring the ‘Cats is the pick, but be prepared to sweat both out.

  • Under 53



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