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The Northwestern Wildcats and coach Pat Fitzgerald unveil their new defense on Friday when they host the Michigan State Spartans in the teams' season opener at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. The Wildcats defense had been under the direction of coordinator Mike Hankwitz since the 2008 season, but the 73-year Hankwitz retired after last season and was replaced by Jim O'Neil. The 42-year-old O'Neil spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach with the Raiders and also was the defensive coordinator for the Browns (2014-15) and 49ers (2016). He takes over a unit that finished fifth in the country in points allowed per game (15.9) last season. 

Kickoff is 9 p.m. ET. The Wildcats are 3.5-point favorites in the latest Northwestern vs. Michigan State odds from Caesars Sportsbook, while the over-under for total points scored is 45.5. Before finalizing any Michigan State vs. Northwestern picks or college football predictions, you need to see what the SportsLine Projection Model has to say.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every FBS game 10,000 times. Over the past five-plus years, the proprietary computer model has generated a stunning profit of more than $3,600 for $100 players on its top-rated college football picks against the spread. It also enters Week 1 of the 2021 season on a 57-37 run on all top-rated college football picks. Anyone who has followed it has seen huge returns.

Now the model has dialed in on Northwestern vs. Michigan State. You can head to SportsLine to see the model's Northwestern vs. Michigan State pick. Now, here are the college football odds and betting trends for Michigan State vs. Northwestern:  

  • Northwestern vs. Michigan State spread: Wildcats -3.5
  • Northwestern vs. Michigan State over-under: 45.5 points 
  • Northwestern vs. Michigan State money line: Wildcats -170, Spartans +145
  • NU: Brandon Joseph made six interceptions in 2020, which was tied for the most in the FBS 
  • MSU: The Spartans led the Big Ten in red zone offense last season (.917)
Featured Game | Northwestern Wildcats vs. Michigan State Spartans

Why Northwestern can cover

Northwestern has the head coaching edge. Fitzgerald enters his 16th season as coach of the Wildcats and is 106-81 in Evanston. He is coming off a season in which he earned the 2020 Dodd Trophy as national coach of the year. Meanwhile Mel Tucker is just in his third season as a head coach -- and second at Michigan State -- and has a 7-12 career record.

In addition, Northwestern has a playmaker on the back end in safety Brandon Joseph. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound sophomore is a big, long and fast defensive back who tackles with an attitude. Last season he made six interceptions -- no player in the country had more -- and he enters the 2021 season on the AP preseason All-America first-team defense. 

Why Michigan State can cover

Michigan State returns an experienced team. The Spartans lose only one starter on offense (quarterback Rocky Lombardi) and just four on defense from last year. By comparison Northwestern brings back just four starters on each side of the ball.

In addition, Michigan State has a proven receiving threat in Jayden Reed. A 6-foot senior from Naperville, Ill., Reed led the team last season in receptions (33) and finished second in receiving yards (407) and touchdown catches (three). This season Reed will become the first Spartans player since All-America receiver Charles Rogers in 2001-02 to wear the coveted No. 1 jersey, a number usually reserved for standout Michigan State receivers.

How to make Northwestern vs. Michigan State picks

SportsLine's model is leaning under on the point total, projecting the teams to combine for 36 points. The model also says one side of the spread hits in nearly 60 percent of simulations. You can only get that pick at SportsLine

So who wins Michigan State vs. Northwestern? And which side is covering nearly 60 percent of the time? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the Northwestern vs. Michigan State spread to jump on, all from the advanced model that is on a 57-37 run on top-rated picks, and find out.