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The lowdown on the Michigan-Michigan State showdown

Bet on it: Top-10 clash has piqued the interest of gamblers, too

Kenneth Walker
Kenneth Walker III #9 of the Michigan State Spartans is tripped up by Noah Pierre #21 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the second half at Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — For the fifth time, both No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 Michigan State will sport single-digit rankings when they play football Saturday in East Lansing.

The Wolverines won in such a previous meeting, at Michigan State, in 1964, and the Spartans triumphed in Ann Arbor in 1956, 1957 and 1961. Those four victors, though, weren’t national-title factors—an issue we’ll address.

Michigan (7-0) is favored by 4½ points, the total 50½. BetMGM data analyst John Ewing reported Wednesday that this has been the most heavily bet of the week’s 53 games, with much attention on Michigan State (7-0).

Before the Spartans’ upset victory as 22-point underdogs last season, according to WagerTalk handicapper Ralph Michaels, 45 of the previous 50 games in the series were won by the team with the most rushing yards.

Michigan has averaged 203 yards on the ground in its last three games, Michigan State 184.

“With the added pressure of both teams being undefeated, expect conservative play-calling,” says the Cleveland-based Michaels. “Nine of the past 12 in the series have gone Under. Expect another one here. Under.”

Long Island handicapper Tom Barton takes Michigan, averaging an 11th-best 37.7 points. Michigan State is in the bottom third of the country allowing opponents an average of 423 yards.

“While the Spartans are a good story, I’m more impressed with the fact that the Wolverines have trailed only once all season,” says Barton, a regular on the nationally syndicated SportsGarten radio network.

“And Michigan has won tough road games. I don’t love that Sparty secondary. We know Michigan will run the ball, but if the Wolverines find success in the air they might win this going away.”

Of much more significance, can Saturday’s victor defeat Ohio State, which hosts Michigan State on Nov. 20 and visits Ann Arbor on Nov. 27, win a Big Ten title game and eke into the national-playoff picture?

Yes, says Barton, who believes Ohio State is vulnerable against run-heavy teams that control the clock. “But I wouldn’t bet against the Buckeyes.”

At Vegas sportsbooks, the Wolverines are 40-1 to win the national championship, the Spartans 100-1. Ohio State is about +700.

Until Michigan or Michigan State breaks through that scarlet-and-gray barrier, their rivalry will continue being a sometimes-cute parochial affair.

SUMMER WINDFALLS

The call arrived late last Saturday night. San Diego State, the alma mater, had beaten Air Force to remain undefeated. The pal asked, What was your windfall on those Aztecs?

Nope, I said. I’d never jinx the lads like that.

However, that outcome did pay off, courtesy of Kenny White’s College Football Power Ratings magazine.

The second-generation Vegas bookmaker’s third edition arrived in late June and was packed with player and team ratings, the projected scores of every game and a squad’s probable victory range.

Two weeks later, Station Casinos released its regular-season win totals. I compared those numbers with Kenny’s projections to earmark, and bet on, the largest discrepancies.

Stations had the Aztecs at 6½ victories. White had them going 12-0, with a total

near 9 by factoring in win probabilities. Add those, divide by two.

Taking Over at -120 (risk $120 to gain $100, for example) represented an immense four-win value cushion.

That is the wager I won Saturday, when the Aztecs improved to 7-0.

Washington State (Under 6½, -155), Northwestern (Under 6½, -120), BYU (Over 6½, -140), Army (Under 7½, -110) and Michigan State (Over 4½, -125) were the other midsummer value plays.

At 7-0, the Spartans have already cashed, too. BYU is 6-2, and it’s favored Saturday at home against Virginia and will likely thrash Idaho State, also in Provo, next Saturday.

Northwestern, at 3-4, can go an unlikely 3-2 the rest of the way and I still win. Army (4-3) will pay dividends if it flops against Liberty, and Air Force or Navy.

Should Washington State (4-4) have difficulty, as expected, at Arizona State and Oregon, that ducat pays, too. Plus, White pegged 0-7 UNLV to go winless. I nabbed Under 1½ at Even.

A possible 7-0 bounty from some midsummer homework.

Grazie, Mr. White.

PHI BETA BETTA

The tickets were from 2019, so it’s understandable why the writer hesitated cashing them a couple of months ago.

Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of the Westgate SuperBook, had made some wagers at a South Point affiliate, likely Rampart Casino, and forgotten them.

As 2019 became the mayhem of 2020, that’s understandable, too. Kornegay found them. When he hit the snag, he gave them to oddsman Vinny Magliulo, who works with South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews.

That trio has more than a century in the bookmaking business.

Magliulo gave the tickets to Andrews, who would text Kornegay — Jay, I have an envelope here for you. Kornegay responded, ‘Give it to your ticket writers.’

A “not insignificant” amount, says Andrews. Tips are split among all writers.

Kornegay opted for discretion, only telling me that writers at every sportsbook have difficult gigs and deserve occasional unexpected gifts.

“I’m sure it’ll be one of the better tips they’ll get all year,” says Andrews. “We pay any tickets. If you have them and we can verify them, you’ll get paid.”

He could not recall a similar scenario.

“A class move. Jay did a helluva thing. We’re competitors, out there fighting tooth and nail for every customer we can get. But we’re also a pretty good fraternity.”