Oregon has the edges on offense while Michigan State has the stronger defense in a battle of teams with contrasting styles in the newly sponsored 2018 Redbox Bowl. The Spartans also have the superior special teams and played a stronger schedule, but the Ducks are playing closer to home with more fans likely in attendance.
High preseason expectations never materialized for Michigan State and their experienced core. The Spartans did suffer numerous injuries and the offense was impacted losing a running back and wide receiver for a period of time, and QB Brian Lewerke has been limited since mid-October. The early season expectations resulted in some inflated point spread and the Spartans struggled against the number going 4-8 ATS overall bookended by a 1-4 ATS start and 0-3 ATS finish when they scored just 6, 6 and 14 points to close the season including the season finale over Rutgers 14-10 as a 24-point favorite. Lewerke did not play the final two games due to a shoulder injury, and backup QB Rocky Lombardi struggled. But coach Mark Dantonio announced Friday that Lewerke is recovered and ready to start the 2018 Redbox Bowl.
So can the Spartans regroup for their bowl game and have their superior strength on defense slow top QB Justin Herbert and the Ducks attack? Herbert announced this week that he’s returning to Oregon to play his senior season instead of moving to the NFL early where he was a projected top-5 first round pick. While he faces a tough challenge ahead against a strong Spartans pass defense, note that MSU will play without cornerback Justin Layne, who is skipping the bowl game in preparation for the NFL draft. The Spartans gave up just 138.8 passing yards in their final four games after sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott returned from a preseason knee surgery to start opposite Layne. Scott will rip up his redshirt and play his fifth game this season.
2018 Redbox Bowl
Michigan State Spartans (7-5) vs. Oregon Ducks (8-4)
Monday, December 31st – Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA 3:00pm ET (ESPN)
Betting Line: Oregon -2.5 (48)
Michigan State allows a nation-low 81.3 rushing yards per game, and 311.5 yards per game overall while Oregon’s defense allows 408.5 yards per game versus FBS opponents. But in the Spartans two games against top quality quarterbacks, they allowed 277 passing yards (3 INTs) against Purdue in a 23-13 victory and 227 passing yards versus Ohio State in a 26-6 defeat. Both those games were at home in East Lansing.
Digging a little deeper and you see Oregon scored and moved the ball on the road against three quality defenses, scoring 25 points at Utah in defeat, 20 at Washington State in defeat and 28 points on offense at Cal in the Ducks 42-28 win. Herbert was solid in all three contests leading the offense to more than 400 yards against Utah and Cal and he did not throw an interception in any of those games.
The Michigan State defense and ATS info below will have many bettors looking towards the Spartans. But the suggestion is to look towards the Ducks and their future pro quarterback as the superior play to bet on.
ATS Notes: Oregon is 0-3 SU/ATS in bowl games since 2014 allowing 42 points per game. Pac-12 bowl teams are also 4-11 SU and 2-13 ATS the past two bowl seasons. Big Ten bowl teams coming off a win are 10-0 ATS against Pac-12 opponents since 2014. So why is Oregon taking 63% of the bets three days before the bowl game?
2018 Redbox Bowl Pick – Oregon Ducks -2.5
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.