Race for the Roses 2012: A Look at the Conference Schedule

In just over three months' time, two teams will be playing in Indianapolis for the right to represent the Big Ten in Pasadena. Let's take a look at the road ahead.

Obviously, with twelve teams and only eight games on the schedule, who you play can make a difference, but where you play each team can have just as big an impact on your chances. Home field matters most in the games against teams that are close to yours in strength; playing at home against someone like LSU might move an average team's chance of an upset from 1% to 3%, but in a battle between two average teams the difference between playing at home and on the road may be as much as 25-30% additional win probability.

With that in mind, here's an estimate of the favorability of each Big Ten team's schedule, as calculated by comparing their projected winning percentage against a home-and-away double round robin to their projected winning percentage against the actual schedule. I've used my ratings from last year (no-margin, margin-aware) for these calculations, since there's no data available for this year yet (obviously), so it's just a rough guide.

West Division

Iowa

Home games: Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue, Nebraska
Road games: Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana, Michigan
Round-robin win percentage: .4816 by the no-margin system, .4949 margin-aware
Projected win percentage against actual conference schedule: .5033 no-margin, .5386 margin-aware
Schedule favorability: +.0217 / +.0437

Both of the bottom-dwellers on the schedule, no Wisconsin, and three of the four mid-level games at home make this the most favorable schedule in the division - that +.0437 translates to just over 1/3 of a win better than a completely random schedule.

Michigan

Home games: Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa
Road games: Purdue, Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio State
Round-robin: .7529 / .7887
Against actual schedule: .7735 / .8249
Schedule favorability: +.0206 / +.0362

No Wisconsin or Penn State (not that the latter is probably as good a thing as this analysis says - Penn State probably won't be as good this year, and Ohio State will probably be better), and Michigan State at home. Road trips to Nebraska and OSU will be a bit tricky, though. Indiana is the other team off the schedule, which pushes things back toward neutral a bit.

Northwestern

Home games: Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois
Road games: Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State
Round-robin: .3935 / .3975
Against actual schedule: .4110 / .4342
Schedule favorability: +.0175 / +.0367

No Wisconsin or Ohio State. Three of the four mid-tier games are at home, which is helpful for their chances of continuing the bowl streak under Pat Fitzgerald.

Michigan State

Home games: Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern
Road games: Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota
Round-robin: .7164 / .7281
Against actual schedule: .7245 / .7208
Schedule favorability: +.0081 / -.0073

Road games against the other two of the top three are bad news, but having the other two road games against the worst of the conference is definitely a benefit; the four mid-tier games are all at home. This is about as neutral as a schedule can get.

Minnesota

Home games: Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State
Road games: Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska
Round-robin: .2443 / .1781
Against actual schedule: .1960 / .1366
Schedule favorability: -.0483 / -.0415

Ouch. All three of the top teams on the schedule and no Indiana. The home games against the Michigan schools are chances for big upsets, but their record would probably benefit from having more chances for smaller upsets at home instead.

Nebraska

Home games: Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota
Road games: Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa
Round-robin: .6236 / .6295
Against actual schedule: .5661 / .5414
Schedule favorability: -.0575 / -.0881

Double ouch. All three of the top teams on the schedule, no Indiana, and add Ohio State and Penn State on top of that. Given that Indiana and Minnesota are in different divisions, it's hard to imagine a nastier Big Ten schedule than this.

East Division

Illinois

Home games: Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue
Road games: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern
Round-robin: .4418 / .3933
Against actual schedule: .4802 / .4483
Schedule favorability: +.0384 / +.0550

No MSU or Nebraska, which helps. Three tough road games would hurt, you'd think, but it means the home games come against teams where that advantage means more. This is the most favorable schedule in the conference.

Wisconsin

Home games: Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan State, Ohio State
Road games: Nebraska, Purdue, Indiana, Penn State
Round-robin: .7153 / .8375
Against actual schedule: .7331 / .8608
Schedule favorability: +.0178 / +.0233

A fairly even home/road split down the schedule (one tough game, one moderately tough, one mid-level, one weak); the biggest advantage is avoiding Michigan while getting games against both Indiana and Minnesota. Not that it matters much with both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible.

Penn State

Home games: Northwestern, Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin
Road games: Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Nebraska
Round-robin: .6413 / .5821
Against actual schedule: .6658 / .5977
Schedule favorability: +.0245 / +.0156

No games against either Michigan school is a big advantage. On the other hand, no game against Minnesota hurts, and getting their most comparable opponents on the road hurts more. Flip the home/road split and this would be significantly more favorable; instead, it's about on par with Wisconsin's schedule.

Purdue

Home games: Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana
Road games: Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois
Round-robin: .4313 / .3636
Against actual schedule: .4429 / .3641
Schedule favorability: +.0116 / +.0005

Avoiding Michigan State and Nebraska helps, but that gets balanced out by having most of their toss-up games on the road. Another fairly neutral schedule.

Indiana

Home games: Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin
Road games: Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State, Purdue
Round-robin: .1179 / .1042
Against actual schedule: .1033 / .0721
Schedule favorability: -.0146 / -.0321

No Minnesota, and make them travel for all four of their most plausible upset chances? Now that's just cruel, Big Ten schedule-makers. If they couldn't pull off a win last year with those four at home, it's hard to like their chances this year. Two things keep this from being the least favorable schedule of all: no Michigan, and Indiana's expected record in a full round-robin is so bad that there's not much further down for it to go.

Ohio State

Home games: Nebraska, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan
Road games: Michigan State, Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin
Round-robin: .4399 / .5025
Against actual schedule: .4003 / .4606
Schedule favorability: -.0396 / -.0419

Drawing the toughest trio from the other division is never good news. They do get most of the mid-level games at home, though, which keeps this from being as painful as Nebraska's schedule.

As conference play begins, I'll be posting updates on everyone's chances to make it to Indy.

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