Before we officially ring in the New Year, we have a number of bowl games to look forward to on Monday. One of the more intriguing tilts of the day takes place in the middle of the afternoon. The 7-5 Michigan State Spartans will take on the 8-4 Oregon Ducks in the RedBox Bowl, which kicks off at 3 PM EST from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
It was a down year for both of these powerful programs, so that opens up questions about the product that we’ll see on the field. Will both squads come ready to play and end the year on a high note? Has a disappointing regular season sapped the energy from both teams? We’re going to lean to the side that suggests this game will be better than expected between two schools with something to prove.
Both teams finished in fourth place in their respective divisions, and struggles in conference play was the big catalyst in both cases. Despite their struggles, the strengths of the respective teams remain intact. Oregon has a pretty solid offense, while Michigan State can still bring it on defense. That sets the stage for an interesting matchup in which we get to see which of those two units is actually the stronger force.
Let’s take a look at this game in detail, starting with what the oddsmakers have to say.
Michigan State vs. Oregon, 3 PM EST, Mon. December 31, FOX
Michigan State vs. Oregon pick:
The Spartans opened up their season with a tougher than expected 38-31 victory over Utah State. That game proved to be a portender of what was to come in 2018. The team was ranked #11 entering the game, but they were never able to live up to those lofty expectations. The down year for Michigan State was further exemplified by double digit losses to both Michigan and Ohio State, two teams which it was expected to challenge in the Big Ten East.
Oregon opened up the year with a strong mark of 5-1, but they would struggle the rest of the way and go 3-3 over their final six. The team was able to take down nationally ranked conference rivals Cal and Washington in successive weeks, but that was bookended by losses to both Stanford and Washington State, two other familiar foes who entered the respective games as Top 25 squads.
While the Spartans came up short against the pair of big rivals they were gunning for at the start of the year, they did find success on the road versus fellow divisional foe Penn State. Michigan State took down a close 21-17 decision over the Nittany Lions, a team which entered the contest ranked #8 in the nation. Ultimately, it was the team’s middling 5-4 mark in conference play which was the biggest factor in a disappointing regular season.
We can say the same about Oregon, as all four of the Ducks losses came to conference rivals. Losses to nationally ranked teams such as Stanford and Washington weren’t all too shocking, but road losses to both Arizona and Utah were on the disappointing side. At least in the case of the Utes game, the loss came to a team that ultimately took down the Pac-12 South. However, Arizona was in the midst of a poor season which saw them wind up at 5-7.
As the numbers indicate, this is a meeting of two squads with vastly different strengths. The Spartans are strong on defense and anemic on offense, while the Ducks have a strong offense that’s tempered by the fact that the club can be exposed defensively. Miscellaneous stats are a wash across the board, and we are truly looking at a contest which will test the respective strengths of both teams.
These two teams had a home and home series in 2014 and 2015 and split the games. Recent bowl game history favors Michigan State, as they are 4-1 over their last five. Oregon is 2-3 over its last five and riding a three-game bowl losing streak.
In last year’s Holiday Bowl, Michigan State dominated Washington State for a 42-17 victory. Back in 2015, they faced off with Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, which also served as a College Football Playoff semifinal game. The Spartans were no match for the Crimson Tide, falling by a mark of 38-0.
Oregon fell 38-28 to Boise State in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl. The year before, it was a 47-41 defeat at the hands of TCU. It’s three-game bowl losing streak is rounded out by a 42-20 loss to Ohio State in the 2015 National Championship game. We have to go back to the semifinals of the same year to find the program’s last bowl win, a 59-20 victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
In last year’s RedBox Bowl, Purdue outlasted Arizona by a score of 38-35. Underdogs are on a 3-0 run in this bowl series. For this year’s tilt, Oregon is installed as 2.5-point favorite.
As the tight spread indicates, we should have a closely contested affair. However, there is a wrinkle to consider that could ultimately be the difference maker. It’s unclear if Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke will be able to give it a go, as he’s nursing a shoulder injury. That’s bad news for an offense which we can’t exactly classify as being prolific. The numbers point to Oregon regardless of Lewerke’s status, and we’ll be looking for the Ducks to win and cover.
We’ll take Oregon minus the points.