The playoff semifinals are set for Saturday, but that isn’t the end of bowl season. There are two full days of bowl games set for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. One of those games, the Redbox Bowl, features a fascinating clash of styles as the Michigan State Spartans battle the Oregon Ducks.
Spread: Oregon -2.5
Michigan State was, as usual, rock solid on defense this season, checking in at number two in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ metric. Sparty allowed just 18 points per game and rarely allowed opponents to consistently move the ball (34.7% success rate) or put up big plays (1.07 IsoPPP; 20th FBS). The linebacking trio of Joe Bachie, Andrew Dowell and Kenny Willekes combined for 38 tackles for loss this season, routinely wreaking havoc in opponents’ backfields.
The strong defense is the main reason Sparty got to 8-4 as the offense struggled to get going throughout the season. Quarterbacks Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi combined for 2,606 yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and the running game wasn’t much better. Sophomore running back Connor Heyward was the leading rusher with 520 yards on 114 carries. The offense overall struggled in basically every category.
Normally, a matchup with the Ducks would be just what the doctor ordered, but Oregon’s defense was better this season, shaving two points off their per game numbers allowing 27 per game this year. They were better in the advanced metrics too, checking in at 69th in S&P+, 61st in success rate (40.8%) and 71st in IsoPPP (1.18). Those numbers may not seem impressive, but after years of rough defenses, the Ducks are climbing back towards the top half of college football.
On offense, Oregon was just what you would expect rolling up 37.2 points per game, finishing 23rd in S&P+ and had three different running backs average more than five yards per carry. The Ducks were particularly good at finishing drives putting up 5.26 points per scoring opportunity this season. A huge boost came this week when junior quarterback Justin Herbert announced that he will be returning for his senior season, and he’s expected to be ready to play in this one despite a shoulder injury. Hebert completed a shade under 60 percent of his passes for over 2,800 yards with 28 touchdowns and only eight interceptions this season. Freshmen CJ Verdell and Travis Dye led the way in the rushing attack, and the Ducks got a solid contribution from senior Tony Brooks-James when healthy.
Overall, both teams struggled against the spread this season going 4-8 on the year. Oregon is the slight favorite in this game, but they struggled in that role this year going just 3-5. Michigan State wasn’t much better as an underdog, going 2-3 against the spread. In a game where offense is likely to be at a premium, I’ll take the team with the steadier of the two quarterbacks. Oregon -2.5; Under 48