Bet Penn State +11 vs. Michigan State, Even With Connor Cook's Uncertain Status

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 10:38 PM UTC

Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015 10:38 PM UTC

Everything is on the line for Michigan State in its home finale on Saturday, while Penn State can ruin all of  Sparty's grand plans with an upset. MSU is an 11-point favorite on Bookmaker's college fotball odds with a total TBA because of Connor Cook.

Lions Looking For Signature Win
Penn State (7-4, 4-3) simply playing for perhaps a better bowl invitation as the Lions are going to finish fourth in the Big Ten East Division no matter what happens Saturday. It's  expected that Penn State will play Dec. 26 in the Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl or Jan. 2 in the Taxslayer Bowl. Hard to know how good this team is considering Penn State has yet to beat a ranked team or a winning Power 5 team. PSU's best win? Probably Sept. 26 at home against San Diego State and that's not saying much.

The Lions enter this on a two-game skid. They were beaten 28-16 in the home finale last week by No. 12 Michigan. The Nittany Lions had won their previous six home games this season and were seeking their first unbeaten home slate since 2008.

Despite having a likely first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback in Christian Hackenberg -- he's expected to declare after this season -- the offense has struggled most of the season. So has Hackenberg at times behind a shaky offensive line. In the loss to Michigan, Hackenberg was only 13-for-31 for 137 yards and a touchdown. That TD pass was his 46th, Matt McGloin (2009-12) for the school career record. Hackenberg solely owns school career records in passing attempts (1,182), completions (663), yardage (8,061), 200-yard passing games (20), 300-yard passing games (9) and total yardage (7,818). But I'd call his career a disappointment after so much promise shown as a freshman.

What Penn State can do is play defense. Penn State had not allowed more than 300 yards in total offense to its last 10 home opponents until Michigan had 343. The Nittany Lions have recorded multiple sacks in 11 consecutive games. Penn State is tied for first in the nation with 44 sacks. Senior Carl Nassib is first nationally with 15.5.

The Nittany Lions are 0-3 vs. ranked teams this season and are averaging less than 16 points per game in those three. PSU is 4-7 against the spread on college football odds and 4-7 O/U.


Sparty Can Win East, Eyeing Playoff
No one I could find gave Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) any chance of winning at Ohio State last week and especially once it was announced before the game that the senior Cook, a lock first-round pick in the 2016 draft, was scratched due to a shoulder injury suffered the week before. Cook did dress but apparently didn't have any velocity on his throws. He had insisted during the week leading into the game that he would play.

So Coach Mark Dantonio used both Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry against the Buckeyes, but it was the defense that was the star of the day in the 17-14 stunner. Sparty dominated the Ohio State offensive line and held the Buckeyes to five first downs and 132 total yards, the fewest ever by an Urban Meyer-coached team. Both OSU touchdowns were on short fields after Michigan State turnovers.

So now the question is whether Cook plays in his home finale. As of now, he's being called  game-time decision. Dantonio didn't rule out the possibility of using Cook along with O'Connor and Terry.

A Michigan State win clinches the East Division and a spot in the Big Ten title game opposite Iowa. Win that as well and Sparty should be in the College Football Playoff. If MSU loses to Penn State, the Ohio State-Michigan winner Saturday wins the East Division. Michigan State is 4-7 ATS on college football picks and 5-6 O/U.


Last Meeting
Michigan State closed last season in Happy Valley and won 34-10. R.J. Shelton returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown for Sparty, which would never trail. Jeremy Langford, now with the Chicago Bears, rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Cook was 13-for-25 for 180 yards with a touchdown and interception. The win essentially wrapped up a New Year's Six bowl game for MSU. Hackenberg was 21-for-45 for 195 yards with an interception. Penn State held MSU to 298 yards but the Nittany Lions had only 233. In 29 all-time meetings, the Nittany Lions and Spartans are 14-14-1 against each other. The Spartans have won the last two. Saturday marks Penn State's first visit to East Lansing since 2009.

College Football Picks: How is this not a letdown game for MSU even with so much at stake? I think Penn State covers at Bookmaker even if Cook does play -- almost surely if he doesn't -- and it should be a very low-scoring game (go 'under' regardless of total). The road team is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings. 

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