If you’re a fan of the offseason parlor game of using power ratings to infer potential point spreads months before those lines actually come out––as I very much am––we have our first flip of the season.
You didn’t even need a decent power rating system to have a good idea how the first four Nebraska (2-2) games would look on the line. The Huskers were going to be favorites at Illinois and against Fordham and Buffalo in Lincoln. The Huskers were not going to be favorites at top-five Oklahoma. And so it went.
But Michigan State (3-0) was sort of a mystery team in the Big Ten pecking order. New head coach Mel Tucker got a late start on a first season that, due to the pandemic, was one of the bigger challenges in the country. This season could’ve looked more like a traditional Year 1 and nobody would’ve objected. It was probably expected.
Instead, the Spartans opened the year by beating Northwestern and, on Saturday, they went down to Miami and beat the No. 24 Hurricanes 38-17.
In February, ESPN’s initial SP+ power ratings would’ve given you a Nebraska-Michigan State line of Huskers -7. Other metrics had it closer––FPI on its initial release had it Michigan State -1––but generally this was viewed as a tossup game, slightly favoring the Huskers. On the opening line at Circa Sports on Sunday, Michigan State was listed as a 3-point favorite. The opening game total started at 58.5 points.
College Football 🏈
Week 4 Opening Lines
Opening Limits: $3K Sides / $1K Totals pic.twitter.com/RyFWNZQUCW
— Circa Sports (@CircaSports) September 19, 2021
Nebraska heads toward Saturday’s night game in East Lansing off perhaps its best performance of the season, albeit in a loss. The Huskers’ defense held a potent Oklahoma offense to its fewest points since 2016. The offense is still still struggling mightily to run the ball with anyone not named Adrian Martinez and the offensive line play, shaky in the season-opening loss at Illinois, was even worse against the Sooners.
Through three games, Michigan State is averaging 39.3 points per game. It averaged 18 a year ago, but Tucker made some, so far at least, one key addition via the transfer portal. Former Wake Forest running back is averaging 8.6 yards per carry after three games, rushing for 493 total yards with five touchdowns.
The Spartans’ defense is only allowing 17 points per game entering Saturday.
Michigan State entered the rankings following the Miami win, landing at No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and No. 21 in the Coaches’ Poll.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.