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OTB staff predictions: No. 11 Michigan State at Rutgers

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Our contributors make their picks.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers (3-2) hosts No. 11 Michigan State (5-0) on Saturday at high noon at SHI Stadium for the first homecoming game on the banks in two years. The Scarlet Knights are around a touchdown underdog and are looking for their first ranked win in 12 years. Our contributors got together to make their picks.

Dave White: Chopped on the Food Network is one of the channel’s more famous shows. In the reality series, four chefs compete in a contest. They make three different dishes, an appetizer, a dinner, and a dessert and they are judged by those meals. There is a time limit they have to make the meals in. There have been so many seasons of this show that it never seems to end. Fifty seasons of Chopped is a lot of chopping. The host, Ted Allen, claims that the unaired pilot was a lot more elaborate than what we see when we watch the show. I got a lot of this information from Wikipedia. Rutgers 31 Michigan State 24

Art Stein: I must admit it. I lied last week when I predicted Ohio State would beat our Scarlet Knights 41-38. That was my heart talking and not my head. I had a sinking feeling for the better part of last week that Ohio State was going to give us a whooping and that is exactly what the Buckeyes did. This week both my head and my heart feel completely different. Having watched the Michigan State games against Miami, Nebraska, and Western Kentucky, the Spartans can be had. Will it be easy? Not by any stretch but Rutgers matches up far better with the Spartans than either with the Buckeyes or Wolverines. If Rutgers can hold Michigan State’s running game in relative check and not beat themselves, an upset is entirely possible. Rutgers 38 Michigan State 34

Andrew Cangiano: Before the season, I had circled the Scarlet Knights homecoming game against Michigan State as one of the three BIG 10 Wins I had predicted for Rutgers. Now, quite frankly, I’m not so sure. MSU head coach Mel Tucker has piloted the best turnaround in college football this season, as the Spartans role into Piscataway at 5-0 and ranked #11 nationally. Last year Rutgers upset MSU 38-27 in East Lansing in the first game of the shortened season, as the Scarlet Knights defense forced 7 Spartan turnovers.

This, however, is a completely different Michigan State team, particularly on offense. Tucker has remade this team with lots of transfers (sound familiar, Rutgers fans?) The sophomore quarterback has thrown for 11 touchdowns and just 1 interception (with zero fumbles) and averages nearly 250 yards passing per game. Running back Kenneth Walker III leads the nation in rushing and yards per game, while receiver Jayden Reed averages 23 yards per reception and has five touchdowns. It doesn’t look like a great matchup for the Scarlet Knights defense, which has struggled to force turnovers of late and was torched by the Buckeyes last week.

While I feel confident Rutgers can move the ball against the Spartans, MSU’s defense this season has had a “bend, don’t break” mentality and has held their opponents to just over 20 points per game. Considering the fact that Rutgers will be without Bo Melton, their best offensive weapon, the Scarlet Knights will need other guys to step up. Isiah Pacheco will need to have a big afternoon running the football. Aron Cruikshank (whose 75-yard touchdown against the Buckeyes was one of the few highlights last week) will need to make plays on offense and in the return game.

Forget all of the controversy over which team owns the phrase “Keep Chopping” (it's Rutgers, by the way), the Scarlet Knights need to put on a much better performance in front of their home fans than in their 52-13 shellacking against Ohio State a week ago. Coach Schiano will have the team ready to play on homecoming, but alas it won’t be enough. Rutgers will get some more wins this season, but Saturday won’t be one of them. Michigan State 35 Rutgers 24

David Anderson: I’ve watched hours of each team’s film and every point has a logical counterpoint, so it will come down to who can execute better, which sounds cliche. Michigan State is undefeated but they lost to Rutgers last year, so which team will be more overconfident? Both teams rely on the inside run game and play-action off that in the passing game. Both teams will focus on turnovers and special teams. Rutgers is at home, but they have played better on the road the last two years for whatever reason. Rutgers has struggled to score, but Michigan State surrenders a lot of yards and often, points.

I’m going to be optimistic and take Rutgers for two reasons. 1. The pressure is on Michigan State and 2. Rutgers has played tougher against MSU than expected across five different coaching staff. If Rutgers loses, it’s not the end of the world, but the 3-0 start will be long since forgotten. The toughest point in every season will be the first conference win (as has been true since RU joined the Big Ten, debatably since they joined the Big East), this year is no different. I’ve been saying “don’t put too much stock in one game” but if there is any game that is a true measuring stick, it’s this one. Rutgers 24 Michigan State 23

Fred Gaudios: Recency bias is a thing, no? Rutgers plays well against Michigan at the Big House and loses by a touchdown, and lots of people think they’ll shock (or at least play close against) Ohio State in Piscataway. Rutgers then throws up a clunker against Ohio State, and at least from what I’m seeing in the Twitter-verse and Reddit-verse, it’s “same old Rutgers” again (at the time of this writing on Thursday AM, 90%+ of the votes on the Reddit pregame thread are for MSU). I’m thinking all of this is an overreaction. It could be Rutgers isn’t as good as they were in the second half at Michigan, AND is better than they showed vs. Ohio State, AND can still play Michigan State tight. The case for optimism is Michigan State runs a very Michigan-like offense, the case for pessimism is Rutgers may be physically and mentally banged up after a blowout game where it seemed like the starters were left in for too long. Always fade my picks, but I’m thinking Rutgers loses a close one here. Michigan State 28 Rutgers 23

Patrick Mella: Whew, well that was a rough one last week huh? Losing to a juggernaut like OSU is nothing to be ashamed of. But the manner in which they played was troubling. Next up is Michigan State. A game, at the beginning of the season, was thought of as a winnable game. Rutgers faces off against an undefeated Michigan State team that is on the precipice of cracking the top ten. I think Schiano will have the team bounce back. But although they play much better this week, I think they are going to come up short. MSU has an incredibly efficient quarterback in Payton Thorne throwing for 11 touchdowns and just 1 interception. The Big Ten’s leading rusher is Kenneth Walker III with 680 yards, averaging 136 yards per game. A multifaceted scoring threat in wide receiver/punt returner Jayden Reed. There’s just too much to contain there, especially coming off the defensive effort we saw last week. So despite a valiant effort, Rutgers comes up short. Michigan State 31 Rutgers 13

B Vincent P – I am bullish and all in on RU for the outright win. This is their best chance to knock off a ranked opponent in 2021. The betting line is MSU -5, which indicates there is not enough action on the MSU side to cover a large spread. I see Rutgers coming out on top, the students section storming the field, fan redemption and RU R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Rutgers 31 MSU 24

Cara Sanfilippo- If we are using stock market terms like Vincent above, then if he is bullish, then I feel bearish right now. At the start of the season, I said we would win but right now I need to see Rutgers pull together a complete game, particularly on offense, and show they can win close games. I was in the stadium last week, and I still feel that loss of energy. I so hope I am wrong and regardless, I think it will be close but my usual optimism is not there today. Prove me wrong , Rutgers. I do believe in you. MSU 27 Rutgers 20

Greg Patuto- It is not 2020 anymore. That will be hard for Rutgers’ fans to swallow but the Spartans look like they are back. Mel Tucker has his feet under him and turned things around a bit quicker than expected. With that being said, Michigan State is not a big favorite over Rutgers this weekend — despite a 39-point loss for the Scarlet Knights a week ago.

There is a feeling that this will be an ugly game in one way or another. Offenses could put up some points while defenses have a chance to force some turnovers. Coming into the season, this was a winnable game for Rutgers but with how Big Ten play has started, Michigan State holds an advantage. It is hard to imagine seven turnovers from the Spartans in this one. Michigan State 31 Rutgers 17

Aaron Breitman: No way that we see seven turnovers this time, but I think we see a spirited, tight battle that will come down to the end of the game. One thing I think will help Rutgers is they’ve had several tough games already. Syracuse isn’t great, but they beat them on the road in the dome and are coming off back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State. They are not going to be intimidated by Michigan State and beating them last season, although they are much improved, is going to give them confidence.

I think Rutgers will be focused and the defense in particular will bounce back to form the way they had played all season before the OSU game. Limiting mistakes is key for both sides and Rutgers will take risks in this game. The Scarlet Knights lead the Big Ten with 18 fourth-down attempts, and MSU has struggled stopping teams in those situations. I think that is a factor, and I think whichever team has the ball last probably wins it. A dramatic build up to the game ends in even more dramatic fashion as Valentino Ambrosio kicks a 40-plus yard field goal to win it. Rutgers 24 Michigan State 23

It was an even split this week with five contributors picking Rutgers and five going with Michigan State. Are we too optimistic? Let us know your prediction in the comment section.