No.5 Michigan State and No.7 Oregon are two of the favorites to qualify for the College Football Playoff, but one of the teams could have trouble doing so after Saturday night. That’s when the Spartans and Ducks meet in East Lansing, Michigan, in the most anticipated matchup of Week 2 of the college football season.
Both teams looked good in their season opener, winning big last week. Michigan State wasn't in top form, but still earned a victory at Western Michigan, 37-24. Oregon hosted Eastern Washington, posting 61 points in their victory.
The Spartans are favorites, according to vegasinsider.com. Michigan State is giving Oregon 3.5 points at Las Vegas casinos, and the over/under is 65 points.
Almost exactly a year ago, Michigan State and Oregon met in a contest with similar importance. The roles were reversed in 2014, as the Ducks were the higher ranked team playing at home.
Marcus Mariota began his Heisman Trophy campaign by completing 17 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan State had a chance to pull off the upset, leading 27-18 midway through the third quarter, but some defensive breakdowns helped Oregon's offense score 28 unanswered points in a 46-27 romp.
The Spartans are looking for revenge, and last year’s game is evidence that they have a good chance to get it. The Ducks’ high-powered offense was held in check for much of last season’s contest, but Mariota made a few big plays to help Oregon take control. Michigan State won’t have to worry about Mariota, who instead will make his NFL regular-season debut this weekend.
Top Offense vs. Top Defense
Saturday’s game will pit one of college football’s best offenses against a defense that is near the top of the sport. No team scored more points than Oregon in their season opener, and Michigan State has ranked in the top eight in yards allowed in each of the last four seasons.
Even without Mariota, Oregon will be difficult to slow down in 2015. Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. completed 19 of his 25 pass attempts for two touchdowns and no interceptions last weekend, adding 14 rushes for 94 yards. The Ducks’ up-tempo attack will continue to wreak havoc on opponents’ defenses.
Under head coach Mark Dantonio, Michigan State has been a defensive stalwart. They’ve returned seven starters from last year’s unit, which ranked seventh in total yards allowed. Before Oregon went on their late offensive surge in the 2014 matchup between these two teams, the Ducks only amassed 213 yards in the first 40 minutes.
The favorites to win the Heisman Trophy play for Ohio State, but a few candidates with a realistic chance to become finalists will take the field in East Lansing. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and Oregon running back Royce Freeman will have a lot to do with the outcome of Saturday’s game.
Cook threw two key interceptions in Oregon last year, and he’ll have to take care of the ball in order for Michigan State to beat the Ducks. He came up big when the Spartans needed him to in last season’s Cotton Bowl, helping them score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. If the game is close late on Saturday, Cook gives Michigan State the edge over Oregon and the inexperienced Adams.
It wasn’t only Mariota that put up big numbers against the Spartans a year ago. Freeman ran for 89 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 attempts, and he’s one of the best running backs in college football. The sophomore totaled 180 rushing yards on 21 attempts last week, but he’ll have a challenge on Saturday. Michigan State limited Western Michigan to 18 yards on 23 carries, and ranking sixth in run defense last season.
Though the final score may not have indicated it, Michigan State showed that they can slow down Oregon’s offense last year, and they should do a better job on Saturday, since Mariota is gone and the game being held in East Lansing. The Spartans will likely try to slow down the pace and control the clock with their running game, helping them fend off another second-half surge from Oregon. It will be difficult for the Spartans to earn a convincing win, but Dantonio's defense should do just enough against the talent-rich Ducks offense.
Michigan State over Oregon, 37-33