Race for the Roses 2012: Week 1

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After a chaotic non-conference season, the Big Ten race looks wide open. We crunch some numbers in order to attempt to handicap the race to Indianapolis.

Non-conference play is (almost) done, and the Big Ten did itself no favors with ugly wins and uglier losses. But with no teams really distinguishing themselves and the traditional doormats getting off to good starts, this promises to be a wild conference race. As always, these projections are based on two variants of the Bradley-Terry method and the usual early-season small sample size caveats apply. Full ratings (and a fuller explanation of the method) are found here. Probabilities for each record and bowl eligibility are computed directly from individual game probabilities; division titles are estimated via 100,000 season simulations.

West Division

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Northwestern (#21)
5.23 1 in 10,600 0.19% 1.57% 7.09% 18.75% 29.60% 27.10% 13.11% 2.57% 99.80% 26.57% 48.24%
Minnesota (#22)
5.00 0.03% 0.43% 2.79% 9.91% 21.43% 28.86% 23.65% 10.79% 2.10% 99.54% 21.71% 41.78%
Michigan State (#27)
4.45 0.10% 1.23% 6.11% 16.58% 26.92% 26.87% 16.13% 5.33% 0.74% 92.56% 11.47% 26.58%
Nebraska (#49)
3.71 0.45% 3.89% 13.76% 26.00% 28.59% 18.69% 7.08% 1.43% 0.12% 81.90% 4.10% 12.34%
Michigan (#65)
3.30 1.00% 6.93% 19.54% 29.19% 25.39% 13.22% 4.03% 0.66% 0.04% 43.34% 2.32% 7.85%
Iowa (#78)
3.13 1.51% 8.93% 22.00% 29.41% 23.30% 11.18% 3.17% 0.48% 0.03% 38.15% 1.74% 6.21%

Hands up, everyone who predicted that Minnesota and Northwestern would be the favorites at this point. Yeah, that's nobody. But that's what going 4-0 will do for you when nobody else could, even if their schedules weren't that impressive in the process. Meanwhile, Iowa projects to finish last in the division and still has a 1 in 16 chance of sharing the division crown. (For comparison, Minnesota's projected chance of sharing the division title at this point last year was 1 in 2000.)

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Nebraska (#26)
4.91 0.01% 0.26% 2.21% 9.70% 23.70% 32.06% 23.01% 8.01% 1.04% 97.52% 21.79% 43.69%
Northwestern (#36)
4.81 0.02% 0.36% 2.88% 11.53% 25.04% 30.58% 20.97% 7.52% 1.10% 99.62% 20.18% 41.11%
Minnesota (#47)
4.23 0.16% 1.75% 7.91% 19.45% 28.45% 25.20% 13.09% 3.60% 0.39% 98.09% 10.27% 25.43%
Michigan State (#44)
4.10 0.19% 2.14% 9.32% 21.32% 28.65% 23.43% 11.49% 3.11% 0.36% 88.35% 9.68% 23.90%
Michigan (#59)
3.36 0.51% 4.93% 18.07% 31.60% 28.27% 13.08% 3.15% 0.37% 0.02% 44.89% 2.43% 9.02%
Iowa (#78)
2.67 3.24% 14.87% 28.21% 28.77% 17.24% 6.20% 1.31% 0.15% 1 in 14,300 24.91% 1.06% 4.27%

A similar spread here, but this time it's Nebraska who is co-favorite with Northwestern. The Huskers' big wins over the cupcakes and narrow loss to UCLA push them up the rankings here, while Minnesota's consistently close wins (other than New Hampshire) drop them down a bit.

East Division

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Ohio State (#18)
5.41 1 in 15,800 0.13% 1.17% 5.63% 16.14% 28.12% 28.98% 16.12% 3.71% (99.86%) 41.31% (0) 63.98% (0)
Wisconsin (#35)
4.34 0.16% 1.66% 7.34% 18.00% 27.01% 25.49% 14.80% 4.85% 0.69% 90.84% 13.57% (33.63%) 29.29% (54.58%)
Purdue (#61)
3.80 0.39% 3.43% 12.52% 24.78% 28.86% 20.09% 8.08% 1.70% 0.14% 74.54% 6.42% (18.77%) 16.99% (36.62%)
Indiana (#69)
3.35 1.09% 6.99% 18.87% 28.07% 25.24% 14.06% 4.73% 0.88% 0.07% 58.58% 3.92% (11.36%) 11.40% (25.40%)
Penn State (#74)
3.19 1.57% 8.82% 21.15% 28.38% 23.36% 12.11% 3.87% 0.70% 0.05% (40.08%) 3.16% (0) 9.69% (0)
Illinois (#76)
3.09 1.47% 9.01% 22.60% 30.10% 23.15% 10.51% 2.75% 0.38% 0.02% 36.82% 2.19% (7.57%) 7.51% (19.33%)

With two teams not eligible to go to a bowl or to Indianapolis, the division title projections are done two ways - with the ineligible teams included and without (the latter in parentheses). Ohio State would be a clear favorite if they were eligible; without them, Wisconsin's slightly tougher schedule to date (and being 3-1 instead of 2-1) gives them the edge over the two Indiana schools. Even so, there's no one nearly as far out of the race as Indiana last year. With the two ineligible teams out of the picture, Illinois is more than half as likely to share the division title as they are to qualify for a bowl game.

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Ohio State (#16)
5.77 1 in 88,900 0.04% 0.46% 3.01% 11.21% 24.76% 31.94% 22.19% 6.40% (99.96%) 45.23% (0) 68.60% (0)
Purdue (#32)
5.01 0.01% 0.24% 1.96% 8.68% 21.90% 31.61% 24.91% 9.45% 1.25% 96.45% 18.20% (56.09%) 37.87% (76.85%)
Penn State (#55)
3.69 0.42% 3.78% 13.77% 26.36% 28.92% 18.58% 6.79% 1.28% 0.10% (55.67%) 3.63% (0) 11.42% (0)
Indiana (#63)
3.38 0.70% 5.74% 18.31% 29.69% 26.83% 13.95% 4.10% 0.63% 0.04% 61.93% 2.15% (8.49%) 7.65% (20.83%)
Wisconsin (#57)
3.35 0.72% 5.97% 18.83% 29.95% 26.50% 13.50% 3.90% 0.59% 0.04% 74.48% 2.07% (8.06%) 7.41% (20.24%)
Illinois (#81)
2.72 2.62% 13.46% 27.93% 30.15% 18.26% 6.28% 1.19% 0.11% 1 in 25,100 25.84% 0.66% (3.53%) 2.97% (11.03%)

As with last year, Wisconsin is the poster child for the difference between the two methods, but in the opposite direction this time: whereas last year they blew away their early opponents, lost a couple of close games, and projected far better when those facts were taken into account, this year they would rather you didn't pay attention to the fact that they had a close shave with Northern Iowa and came even closer to losing against Utah State. Ohio State again looks like a serious favorite, but this time it's Purdue that takes up the slack when the Buckeyes are excluded. Keeping it close against Notre Dame and flattening both cupcakes helps.

This Week's Games

Game of the Week: Ohio State @ Michigan State

You all know about the Spartans' struggles with the passing game; Ohio State has had trouble giving up the occasional big play but has survived every game so far. Though the Buckeyes rate higher in both systems, home field levels the projection out: MSU is a 54% favorite in the basic system but margin-aware favors Ohio State by 1 point (53% chance of winning).

The Other Game of the Week: Wisconsin @ Nebraska

Wisconsin has struggled with their early schedule, and if Montee Ball can't play after his concussion last week they will probably have a hard time keeping up with a potent Huskers offense. That said, the Blackshirts didn't look all that imposing in giving up an absurd number of rushing yards to UCLA, and none of their other opponents have been legitimate tests. The basic system makes Nebraska a narrow favorite (56%), but margin-aware likes them quite a bit more: 83% probability of winning, 10-point favorites.

Rivalry Game of the Week: Minnesota @ Iowa

Minnesota can get within one game of bowl eligibility before the end of September, astonishingly. They've taken home Floyd of Rosedale the last two years despite being not very good, but this time out it would not be much of an upset, if at all. The basic method favors Minnesota at 62% to win, but margin-aware says it's practically a dead heat, with Iowa projected as a 50.2% favorite.

Pillow Fight of the Week: Penn State @ Illinois

Home field gives Illinois the edge here: 61% in the basic system, 54% (1 point) margin-aware.

I Can't Believe It's Not the Pillow Fight of the Week: Indiana @ Northwestern

Northwestern is a significant favorite here, though not quite enough to qualify for a Mismatch of the Week title (then again, there may not actually be any serious mismatches this year). The basic system puts Northwestern's chances of winning at 79%; margin-aware bumps that up to 81% (9-point favorites).

We Interrupt This Program To Present A Non-Conference Game: Marshall @ Purdue

Purdue is a 63% favorite under the basic method but 85% (11 points) in margin-aware.

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