Maryland football plays Michigan State on Saturday.
This game seemed like a guaranteed loss before the season, but now it’s about 50-50. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ metric projects Maryland to win by six points, while Vegas has Michigan State by a few. No matter how you look at it, Maryland has more than just a shot to win this one. Against the same Spartans who made the College Football Playoff less than a year ago and were predicted by everyone — statistical models too, not just AP voters — to be a top-20 team this season as well.
While the Terps tote a two-game losing streak into this weekend, the Spartans are on a four-game landslide. At his press conference on Tuesday, DJ Durkin illustrated how good Michigan State’s been before this season. This is probably because there’s not a whole lot you can say MSU’s done well in 2016.
“It’s pretty clear and well-documented the success they’ve had there,” Durkin said. “I think their coaching staff’s done a tremendous job. They’re a well-coached team, a well-coached program, and their system’s been good for a long amount of time now. Everyone goes through moments in a season.”
This all may be true and good, but the reality is Michigan State just is not that good this season.
Wait, what happened?
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly is a superhuman force who knows more about college football than you and I probably ever will. Here’s what he wrote on Michigan State a little while ago:
Starting quarterback Tyler O’Connor has thrown five interceptions and taken 10 sacks and was benched in the fourth quarter against BYU. Junior Damion Terry completed 6 of 10 passes and led the Spartans to a late touchdown. Dantonio is acknowledging changes could soon come, but it goes far beyond one position.
The run game is awful — 85th in Rushing S&P+, 101st in rushing success rate, only 18 rushes of 10-plus yards (119th) — and the line has been a sieve. Not only are the Spartans allowing a ton of sacks (88th in Adj. Sack Rate), they’re also letting defenders through on handoffs (72nd in stuff rate) and getting no push in short-yardage situations (102nd in power success rate).
Last year, State got by despite injuries and shuffling on the line; All-Americans Jack Allen and Jack Conklin each missed two games, as did all-conference Brian Allen. But with Conklin and Allen gone, along with three-year starting guard Donavon Clark, the line has suffered a dramatic drop off. In my far-too-optimistic 2016 preview, I said, “Last year's shuffling could be this year's savior.” I was incorrect.
After Connelly wrote that, Michigan State went out and lost to Northwestern, 54-40. Northwestern is currently ranked 60th in S&P+, exactly one spot behind Maryland. Michigan State is No. 73 after starting the season in the top 10. Equating that to a Maryland win over Michigan State is obviously unwise, but it illustrates just how much of a chance the Terps have.
This is good, because Maryland realllly needs a win
We documented this on our podcast, but it’s worth noting here too. Michigan State is the easiest opponent Maryland will play until the season finale against Rutgers.
|Opp. S&P+ Rk
|23.2 - 30.5
|5.3 - 40.4
|16.0 - 38.6
|21.1 - 35.1
|34.5 - 15.3
The Terps need two more wins to get bowl-eligible, and it’s easy to see where these wins have to come from. Assuming the Rutgers game is a win because Rutgers is really and truly bad, Maryland still needs one more victory to get to that sweet, sweet bowl game. After Michigan State, the Terps have one more shot against a team that doesn’t totally outmatch them: Indiana. The Hoosiers are still pretty good, ranking No. 44 in S&P+. Beating them on the road is going to be harder than topping Michigan State at home.
After the trip to Indiana, Maryland has just a horrible, awful, no-good run of games. Michigan and Ohio State are complete death machines, and Nebraska is also on another level from the Terps, even if the Cornhuskers aren’t on the same plane as the Buckeyes or Wolverines.
Maryland will play Michigan State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night. Coaches and players are touting the night game as a big deal, and it is a big deal. It might be their last win for a while, and it’s one the Terps can get.