LAS VEGAS — In the year of free agency in college football, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker dug deep into the transfer portal and signed 20 players. It turns out the biggest addition was a running back from Wake Forest, Kenneth Walker III.
Walker has been running wild, leading the nation with 142.4 rushing yards per game, but he’s unlikely to find wide-open spaces when the Spartans run into Michigan in a high-stakes Big Ten battle between 7-0 teams ranked in the Top 10.
The Wolverines rank No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 14.3 points per game. The Spartans are not as unyielding defensively, but they tighten up in the red zone and have allowed more than 21 points in only one game.
Michigan State leans on Walker yet can get more big plays from its passing attack, with Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed combining for 11 touchdown receptions. Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara has only five touchdown passes in a run-dominated offense carried by Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, who have combined for 20 rushing touchdowns.
In 2020, Tucker’s first year as coach, Michigan State was a 21-point underdog in a 27-24 win at Michigan. Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has payback plans, but the Spartans are on an 11-2 ATS run in this rivalry. Expect a tight game and beware of the home dog in East Lansing.
The pick: Michigan State + 4
Florida (+ 14.5) over Georgia: The fear factor in betting against the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs is high. Georgia has the nation’s top scoring defense (6.6 ppg), and running back Zamir White could have his way with a soft Florida defense.
Gators coach Dan Mullen has the better quarterback, especially if he starts dynamic playmaker Anthony Richardson. Mullen also gets great efforts from his team against elite SEC opponents. Florida beat Georgia 44-28 last year in Jacksonville, and the Gators hung tough in a 31-29 loss to Alabama in September.
UCLA (+ 6.5) over Utah: The Bruins blew a 14-0 lead in a 34-31 loss to Oregon last week that stalled the momentum coach Chip Kelly was seemingly building. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who left that game with an injury in the fourth quarter, is set to return.
There’s more good news for the Bruins, who are 3-0 on the road and play this one in Salt Lake City on Saturday night. UCLA averages 206 rushing yards, and the Utah defense allowed 260 rushing yards in last week’s loss at Oregon State.
Fresno State (+ 1) over San Diego State: Is this when the Aztecs’ undefeated run ends? The Bulldogs’ Jake Haener will be the best quarterback San Diego State has faced. Haener, who threw for 256 yards in a 34-32 victory over Nevada, has 22 touchdown passes for the season. It’s tempting to side with Fresno and its far superior offense.
Last week: 2-2
UCLA (L), Northwestern (L), Oregon State (W), New Mexico State-Hawaii Over (W)