Oct. 5 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — No. 25 Michigan State (3-1) at No. 4 Ohio State (5-0)

(J.K. Dobbins photo courtesy Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Oct. 5, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

Operating near-flawlessly on both sides of the ball, fourth-ranked Ohio State has the opportunity to start removing obstacles to winning the East Division of the Big Ten on Saturday night when it faces No. 25 Michigan State.

The Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten East) made a national statement with their 48-7 dismantling of Nebraska on the road last Saturday. Justin Fields threw three touchdown passes while J.K. Dobbins ran for 177 yards as Ohio State was one of four teams — along with Alabama, defending College Football Playoff champion Clemson, and Georgia — to receive first-place votes in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Ryan Day’s team has outscored opponents by a whopping 262-43 in its five wins and given up only 22 points in the last four. The Buckeyes are riding a 16-game home winning streak into this game, outscoring rivals 811-273 since a 31-16 defeat to Oklahoma at The Horseshoe on Sept. 9, 2017.

Michigan State (4-1, 2-0 East) remained in the AP Top 25 for a second straight week, but just barely after fighting past Indiana 40-31 at home last Saturday. Matt Coghlin kicked a go-ahead 21-yard field goal with five seconds remaining as the Spartans allowed nearly as many points as they did in the first four games (44).

Brian Lewerke threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns and added another 78 rushing yards for Michigan State, and Darrell Stewart had his third 100-yard receiving game of the season with five catches for 116 yards and two of those scores.

The Spartans have lost three consecutive games to the Buckeyes and failed to score a touchdown in the last two while losing by a combined 74-9. Michigan State is 3-5 in its last eight visits to Columbus, but two of those wins have come over Top 5 Buckeyes squads — including a 17-14 victory over then-No. 2 Ohio State in 2015.

Spartans know road to Big Ten title goes through Columbus

The Spartans have won the Big Ten three times since Mark Dantonio’s arrival in 2007, which included the 2015 run that included ending Iowa’s College Football Playoff hopes in the conference title game. Ohio State has won six titles in that span, leaving Dantonio and the Spartans facing the realities of knowing this game is practically a must-win to reach Indianapolis, site of this year’s championship game.

“At the end of the day, if you want to be Big Ten champions or the East Division champions, that goes through Columbus, Ohio,” Dantonio told the Detroit News. “We know that. We expect that. And that’s been the norm here pretty much for some time now.”

Lewerke has three games of three touchdown passes after not throwing for more than two in any game last season. He leads the Big Ten in passing yards (1,325) and joined Drew Stanton as the only Spartans quarterbacks to throw for at least 6,000 yards and rush for 1,000.

Like most of his teammates, Lewerke is seeking some personal redemption for Michigan State’s 48-3 hammering by Ohio State in Columbus two years ago when he was picked off twice and finished 18 of 36 for 131 yards.

“We think about it all the time,” said Stewart, whose 556 receiving yards rank fourth nationally, to the Detroit Free Press. “It wasn’t our best game. That definitely put a fire in the furnace, and it showed us we gotta just connect on all cylinders — from the offensive line all the way to the wide receivers to the quarterbacks and running backs.”

Stewart is also tied for sixth nationally with 35 catches, which leads the Big Ten.

The biggest challenge for the defense will be trying to slow down Justin Fields and the Ohio State passing game.

“We can’t give him step-up lanes. We know that,” LB Joe Bachie said. “If he steps up, he keeps his eyes down field, and he’s gonna make a great throw down field — he’s done it plenty of times this year. We gotta get pressure in his face.”

Spotlight shines brighter on Buckeyes after big win

What was supposed to be a measuring stick game for second-year Nebraska coach Scott Frost regarding the progress of his program turned into a showcase game for Buckeyes coach Ryan Day and his team.

Fields again impressed with his fourth game of three or more touchdowns on the season, and four of Ohio State’s five first-half touchdown drivers averaged better than 10 yards per play.

Despite Fields’ strong start — he has thrown for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 69.4 percent of his passes without an interception — Day knows the Spartans will present a challenge defensively as he continues to see Big Ten defenses for the first time.

“These are guys who have played in this system for a while and there are coaches who have coached in this system for a while, so it’s a tremendous challenge,” Day said of Michigan State during his weekly media availability before discussing Fields. “(We) do the best you can to teach him the style of defense and system of defense and give him a good clean game plan where he can play, and then he has to learn as time goes along the adjustments they’re making and anticipate what the defense is going to do the best you can.

“You have three practices really, and that’s the challenge of being a quarterback is being able to take a whole new style of defense and put a game plan on the field in one week. That’s going to be the challenge this week.”

Lost in Fields’ surprising efficiency has been the running of Dobbins and backup Master Teague. Dobbins is second nationally with 654 yards and averaging 7.1 yards per carry, while Teague has added 326 while getting plenty of snaps. Fields has contributed 222 rushing yards, and the trio have hit paydirt 15 times combined.

The Buckeyes are no slouches defensively as no opponent has gained more than 273 yards, and they limited Miami of Ohio and Nebraska to a combined 107 passing yards in the last two games. Ohio State ranks second nationally in total yards allowed per game (223.8), fourth in scoring defense (8.6 ppg), fifth in the country on defensive third down conversion rate (24.7), and fifth in the country in passing yards allowed per game (138.8).

Notable Trends

Ohio State is:

  • 7-0 ATS in its last seven games following a straight up win.
  • 7-0 ATS in its last seven games vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 6-0 ATS in its last six games following a straight up win by 20 or more points.

Michigan State is:

  • 2-8 ATS in its last 10 games following a straight up win.
  • 2-7 ATS in its last nine games.
  • 1-4 ATS in its last five Big Ten games.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Ohio State OVER 35 points (-110)

The Buckeyes being on a flat TD total given their strong offense feels like a better play than counting on the Spartans to get a third score with their over/under total of 15 points. Ohio State has scored 36 or more points in 18 of its last 29 conference games dating back to the 2015 season, including 11 of 14 at home.

****4-Star Picks****

OVER 49 points (-110)

Though the under has delivered in the last four overall meetings between the teams and the last four played at The Horseshoe, the over is the play here. Lewerke and Stewart are too good a combination to be held down for an entire game, and Ohio State’s offense should find some of the same creases Indiana did in rolling up close to 40 points. If the Spartans find the end zone twice in this contest, the over should hit.

This line moved above the seven touchdown mark getting loser to kickoff, but there is still confidence that the Buckeyes can do the heavy lifting to carry the number here.

OVER 26.5 points first half (-110)

This pick is counting on the Spartans to score at least seven points while the Buckeyes do the heavy lifting. Again, Ohio State has averaged 38.3 points in the first half at home and scored at least 28 first-half points in all five games.

***3-Star Picks***

Ohio State -20 (-115)

Giving nearly three touchdowns to a nationally ranked team is an aggressive play, but if there is one side that can do it with its quick-strike offense, it is the Buckeyes. Additionally, Michigan State’s defense looked very ordinary against an Indiana team Ohio State trashed by 41 on the road last month.

That does not bode well in facing a Buckeyes team that has picked apart every defense it has come across with a well-balanced offense averaging 535.6 yards and has a high-end playmaker at every skill position. The cover may not happen until late, but Ohio State should have enough to get the job done.

Ohio State -11 first half (-110)

The Buckeyes were a plus-48 in the first half of their two Big Ten games — both on the road — and have outscored opponents 115-8 in the first half of their three home games while not conceding a touchdown. Michigan State is a step up in class defensively, but it looks like Ohio State has too much firepower to be kept down in its conference home opener.

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