The Michigan State Spartans hope to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive when they visit the Northwestern Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 3:30 EST on Saturday, October 28 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

The Spartans enter the game as a slim 1-point favorite over Northwestern. The over/under for the game is 41 points. Click here to check out a full list of Week 9 betting odds and links to game previews.

Michigan State vs Northwestern Vegas Game Preview & Betting Odds

Michigan State is ranked no. 16 and still very much under the radar despite being 6-1 and 4-0 in Big Ten play. To be fair, all four of the team’s conference wins have come in one-possession games, and those four teams have won a combined four conference games, so MSU hasn’t exactly played a tough schedule.

Nevertheless, the Spartans are still alive in the Big Ten East division. With their only loss coming against Notre Dame, they can work their way into the College Football Playoff discussion if they can continue to win games behind a strong defense and a balanced offense.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, have gotten back on track with back-to-back wins against Maryland and Iowa. Northwestern was 2-4 not too long ago, but Pat Fitzgerald’s team has not allowed a couple losses to top-10 teams derail their entire season.

Barring a collapse late in the season, the Wildcats are on track to go to a decent bowl game and possibly finish second in the Big Ten West division. Of course, they wouldn’t mind a win over a top-25 team to give them a boost heading down the stretch.

Free College Football Against the Spread Pick: Northwestern +1

This game is essentially a PK, and so I’m going to side with the home team. As impressive as the Spartans have been this season at finding ways to win close games, it can’t go on forever. The Wildcats are more battle tested than the Spartans, facing both Penn State and Wisconsin. That’ll pay dividends in this game. I’ll lean toward Northwestern to win a close game.

Winning close games is wonderful, but considering Michigan State’s schedule inside the Big Ten, they should have been able to win more comfortably against a team like Minnesota or even Iowa or Indiana at home. Failing to put away those teams is a concern, especially since Northwestern is better than most of the teams MSU has played this season aside from Notre Dame.

Click on the link for more free NCAA football picks against the spread and total.

The biggest advantage Northwestern has in this game is their ability to slow down their opponents’ running game. In Big Ten play, Wisconsin is the only team to run for more than 100 yards against the Wildcats, and even the Badgers averaged less than three yards per carry in that game. Not even Penn State with Saquon Barkley eclipsed 100 rushing yards against Northwestern.

This is a huge concern for the Spartans. Michigan State needs to remain balanced offensively. That means a steady and reliable running game behind LJ Scott. If the Wildcats can slow down the MSU running game and force them into 3rd and long situations, it puts too much on the shoulders of quarterback Brian Lewerke. 

Despite a good touchdown-to-interception ratio, Lewerke has struggled to move the ball with his arm during Big Ten play. He’s averaging just over 150 yards passing per game against Big Ten opponents. That’s not going to be enough if Northwestern holds the Spartans under 100 yards on the ground.

Obviously, Michigan State’s defense will keep them in the game. But with Northwestern playing at home, I’ll take my chances on the Wildcats eventually creating a couple big plays on offense and squeaking past the Spartans in a close game.