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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Michigan State Spartans Preview and Prediction

Paul Chryst

Paul Chryst

It seems Wisconsin and Michigan State always makes for an entertaining Big Ten contest whenever the two take the same field. The two programs have sure had their share of recent history since the Big Ten expanded to 12 teams, lumping the two in opposite divisions and then swapping places in the realigned division format once the Big Ten expanded to 14. Regardless of division placement, the Badgers and Spartans bring the heat when the stakes are high. The same will be true this Saturday afternoon when the two ranked opponents square off at Spartan Stadium for an early kickoff.

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Wisconsin took a while to wake up last week, but a game against Michigan State should prevent them Badgers from hitting the snooze button Saturday.

Wisconsin at Michigan State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: Michigan State -6

Three Things to Watch

1. Wisconsin looks to shake off sluggish performance
You would think a team that started the season with a hard-fought victory over LSU and a blowout win over Akron would be hitting its stride in Week 3, but the Badgers looked like they were sleep-walking their way through a game last weekend against Georgia State. The Badgers’ offense was nowhere to be found against the Panthers and was held to a pair of field goals in the first half by the visiting Sun Belt squad. It was nothing too inspiring. Wisconsin even dug a hole in the second half and trailed 17-13 before coming up with some key plays to avoid a complete meltdown.

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The Badgers cannot afford to be so sloppy against Michigan State on the road. The Spartans are showing they will not make it easy for you if you miss on taking advantage of any opportunities you may have against them.

2. Where is the pressure from Michigan State’s defensive line?
When they needed big plays to be made against Notre Dame, the Spartans came through up front. But the pressure from Michigan State’s defensive front has been oddly missing through the first three games of the season. Three games in, the Spartans have just three sacks, which is tied with Indiana for the second-fewest in the Big Ten (Purdue is at the bottom with one). Michigan State also is lacking in tackles for a loss with a mere 10.0 through three games. For the sake of comparison, Michigan State had the second most TFL among Big Ten teams last season with 95.0, and was third in the Big Ten with 37.0 sacks.

Given Michigan State’s reputation, we can probably expect the Spartans will pick up the slack as the line continues to gel, but that may not come easily against Wisconsin.

3. Wisconsin has lost four straight games in East Lansing
The last time Wisconsin made the trip to Spartan Stadium and left with a win was in 2002. The Badgers have left with a loss in each of their four most recent trips to East Lansing, but only one of those games was a blowout loss. The last time Wisconsin made the trip resulted in Kirk Cousins unloading a Hail Mary for Michigan State win in the closing seconds, setting the stage for an epic rematch in the Big Ten Championship Game later that season.

The last time Wisconsin won at Michigan State, Barry Alvarez was the head coach, Brooks Bollinger was the quarterback and Anthony Davis was running the football. It’s been a while.

Final Analysis

Neither team has jumped out to a real great start to the season, but both Michigan State and Wisconsin have scored wins away from home against top 10 opponents. Wisconsin opened the year nearby in Green Bay to take down LSU and Michigan State is coming off a nice road win at Notre Dame. As a result, both teams have ascended in the rankings, but should we trust either one to be a true Big Ten (or College Football Playoff?) contender? That begins to be answered this week as Big Ten play opens up. Michigan State looks to have things running a little bit better each week and now that conference play is here should hit the ground running (with LJ Scott) against the Badgers. But Wisconsin’s defense is not to be overlooked. Of course, neither is Michigan State’s.

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Prediction: Michigan State 26, Wisconsin 20

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook