Like most MSU fans, I wasn't going to start conjuring up visions of grandeur until the team had gotten through the two opening games of the conference schedule. Well, they got through them--with flying colors. Meanwhile, several of MSU's future foes are looking less fearsome than they might have a few weeks ago. Suddenly, the second half of the schedule is looking quite propitious.
To get a sense of exactly how promising the rest of the slate is, I've run projected point spreads using the latest Sagarin ratings (now unbiased!). MSU currently sits at #18 in the overall Sagarin ratings, lagging a bit behind its #11 and #13 slots in the human polls. But that #18 mark sits near the midpoint of widely varying rankings in the two sets of numbers Sagarin merges to get to his overall ratings:
- MSU ranks #5 (note: not missing a digit) in the ELO_CHESS ratings. This system completely ignores margin of victory and is, therefore, the version submitted to the BCS people (who are paranoid about someone running up the score to impress voters since the system is based mostly on, you know, the opinions of voters). MSU is one of only eight teams with wins over two top-30 Sagarin teams, with the win over #37 Notre Dame to boot, so they do very well here. Because of the restrictions placed on the BCS computer rankings, they also do very well in the mock BCS rankings put together by ESPN, coming in at #9 (the first set of official BCS rankings come out next week).
- Conversely, MSU comes in at just #34 in the PREDICTOR ratings. Those ratings completely ignore binary win/loss results and are based instead purely on game-by-game point differentials. So squeaking by a good-but-not-great Notre Dame team at home isn't as impressive. And beating Florida Atlantic by only 13 points hurts.
In theory, the PREDICTOR ratings, as the name implies, are supposed to do a better job of predicting future results, although the merged ratings often seem more intuitive (example: the projected point spread based on the merged ratings is closer to the Vegas line of 7.0/7.5 for the Illinois game than the PREDICTOR-based spread is).
The projected point spreads for the remainder of MSU's schedule, based on both the overall (merged) and PREDICTOR Sagarin numbers are after the jump.
Positive numbers are good for MSU, meaning the team should be favored in five of its remaining six games. The Illinois game actually shakes out as the second toughest remaining game based on the PREDICTOR numbers. Illinois is currently five spots ahead of MSU in that column, with its only two losses having come against currently-undefeated teams in Ohio State and Missouri (and they hung with Missouri for a good portion of that game) and a 20-point Big Ten road win (which is impressive, regardless of how beleaguered Penn State looks at the moment) to its credit. Beware the Illini.
Despite Northwestern's home loss to Purdue on Saturday, I don't expect that to be any easy win. Buckets of special teams flubs don't rain down every week--and winning in Evanston never seems to be a simple proposition for MSU.
Getting in a win in Iowa City will, of course, be an uphill climb. Not so many Stanziballs flying around this year.
The home games against Minnesota and Purdue should be eminently winnable. And, while Penn State's offense is likely to improve some over the next month and a half, MSU should, barring a complete collapse, actually be at least even money to win going into the regular season-ending game in Happy Valley.
Eight wins is now nearly a lock. Nine wins is the baseline for acceptable results. Ten wins would do quite nicely. Eleven wins is a plausible outcome. And [deep breath] an undefeated regular season is within the realm of mathematical possibilities. The BCS beckons. It's a brave new world.