Race for the Roses 2013: Week 6

Robert Laberge

The West Division's back-loaded schedule begins in earnest this week, while Ohio State looks to be cruising to Indy and trying to position themselves for the BCS title game.

Last week was supposed to be the last warm-up round before the West contenders started playing each other. Minnesota, however, didn't get the memo. What do the percentages say now? As always, ratings are here and division title percentages are based on 100,000 season simulations. In a week or two, I'll start considering tiebreakers for the division title races.

Last Week's Games

Michigan State 42, Illinois 3

That's more like it.

Minnesota 34, Nebraska 23

The Gophers delivered some major assistance to the other contenders in the West, running for 271 yards against the Huskers while turning a 10-0 first-quarter deficit into a 27-13 lead by late in the third quarter. The loss is serious trouble for Nebraska's title hopes; although they still control their own destiny, their margin for error is now minimal.

Iowa 17, Northwestern 10 (OT)

This was the game everyone thought MSU-Iowa would be. Kain Colter returned for Northwestern, throwing for 104 yards and running for 60, as the Wildcats came back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to force overtime but couldn't answer after Jake Rudock hit C.J. Fiedorowicz for a touchdown in the extra session.

Ohio State 63, Penn State 14

After a run of comeback wins for Ohio State, conventional wisdom was that they weren't winning impressively enough to have a real shot at the BCS title game, considering the number of unbeatens out there. So much for that complaint; they still probably can't catch Oregon, Alabama, or Florida State if those teams stay unbeaten for strength-of-schedule reasons, but this was a historic beatdown - Penn State hadn't given up 60 even once in the entire 20th century.

West Division


The Present Situation

Michigan State sits 1.5 games ahead of Nebraska and Michigan, with all three yet to play each other. Iowa and Minnesota are lurking a half game further back, and poor Northwestern went from ranked, hosting Gameday, and leading Ohio State to no longer a shoe-in to make any bowl.

If Michigan State sweeps Michigan and Nebraska, the division race will be all but over (if Minnesota also loses a game, it is officially over) with two weeks to go. A three-way split leaves MSU in good shape as well but with less margin for error; the "road team wins" version of the split is slightly more favorable since a Michigan loss to one of OSU, Northwestern, or Iowa looks more likely than a Nebraska loss to Penn State, Northwestern, or Iowa (in the event that MSU loses another game).

If MSU splits while one of the other two sweeps, the team that sweeps will have the tiebreaker edge but MSU would only need one loss from that team to take back control of the division. If MSU loses both, Indianapolis is probably out of reach as both Michigan and Nebraska would have to lose twice.

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
Michigan State (#18) 6.58 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1.53% 11.39% 31.53% 38.31% 17.23% Yes 67.52% 88.25%
Michigan (#24) 4.71 N/A N/A 1.50% 11.05% 29.23% 35.00% 19.27% 3.95% N/A Yes 5.37% 17.48%
Nebraska (#56) 4.30 N/A N/A 3.56% 18.86% 35.31% 29.57% 11.18% 1.52% N/A 96.44% 2.36% 10.43%
Iowa (#46) 4.28 N/A N/A 2.88% 17.81% 37.37% 32.19% 9.75% N/A N/A 97.12% 0.78% 6.19%
Minnesota (#36) 4.23 N/A N/A 3.07% 18.42% 38.50% 31.98% 8.04% N/A N/A Yes 1.03% 7.67%
Northwestern (#76) 1.46 15.86% 37.83% 32.56% 12.10% 1.65% N/A N/A N/A N/A 46.31% 0% <0.01%

MSU really couldn't be in a much more favorable position than they are right now - 1.5 games up on everyone, the two strongest remaining opponents both come to East Lansing and have much tougher remaining schedules. I was surprised to see Nebraska ranked as low as they are, but looking at their schedule to date, the reason for the silicon skepticism becomes clear: the best opponent they've beaten to date is Wyoming (although Illinois becomes their best win when adjusting for home field EDIT: never mind, that was a home game too). MSU's projected lead is nearly two full games over Michigan, with the three far west teams sitting on nearly identical projections another half game back. Northwestern's bowl chances have now dipped below 50%.

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
Michigan State (#16) 7.11 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.19% 3.15% 18.16% 42.90% 35.61% Yes 87.90% 97.28%
Iowa (#43) 4.35 N/A N/A 1.08% 15.90% 39.73% 33.86% 9.43% N/A N/A 98.92% 0.24% 2.70%
Michigan (#34) 4.33 N/A N/A 2.12% 17.85% 37.76% 30.78% 10.33% 1.15% N/A Yes 1.25% 5.74%
Nebraska (#59) 4.11 N/A N/A 4.34% 22.84% 38.66% 26.16% 7.34% 0.67% N/A 95.66% 0.77% 4.54%
Minnesota (#46) 3.72 N/A N/A 6.51% 34.38% 41.25% 16.36% 1.50% N/A N/A Yes 0.14% 1.41%
Northwestern (#64) 1.55 12.97% 36.65% 35.01% 13.55% 1.83% N/A N/A N/A N/A 50.39% 0% <0.01%

The projected lead here is even larger, with Iowa edging Michigan for second place due to a much less daunting finishing schedule (already played MSU and OSU) and Minnesota dropping about a half game back of the rest of the pack.

UPDATE: Conditional Title Probabilities

So, how does the Michigan game affect the division title probabilities? Here's a table that shows the division title probabilities (outright / shared) for each method with each outcome (Northwestern is ignored, as they're less than 0.01% to share the title even if MSU loses):

Team MSU wins, basic MSU wins, M-A Mich wins, basic Mich wins, M-A
Michigan State 83.33% / 96.90% 94.01% / 99.36% 40.08% / 72.93% 61.88% / 88.70%
Michigan 0.29% / 3.80% 0.04% / 1.00% 14.06% / 41.00% 6.50% / 26.09%
Nebraska 1.42% / 7.60% 0.38% / 3.22% 4.36% / 15.44% 2.04% / 9.58%
Iowa 0.28% / 3.56% 0.09% / 1.58% 1.74% / 10.88% 1.05% / 8.07%
Minnesota 0.62% / 5.93% 0.09% / 1.07% 1.80% / 10.85% 0.38% / 2.96%

Even with a loss on Saturday, Michigan State would remain the favorite (even a favorite to win outright by margin-aware), but things would get much more interesting down the stretch. An MSU win, however, would make the Spartans prohibitive favorites.

East Division

The Present Situation

Ohio State sits a game up on Wisconsin and holds the tiebreaker; Indiana (along with ineligible Penn State) is 2.5 games back but not in a completely hopeless situation; they have games against both teams ahead of them and would only need one additional OSU loss to grab the crown on a tiebreaker should they win out. Illinois and Purdue are bringing up the rear, unsurprisingly.

The Buckeyes will go to Indianapolis as long as they do not lose more than once. With a remaining schedule of Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, it's rather difficult to imagine them doing so - but stranger things have happened.

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 (#4) 7.23 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.06% 1.53% 13.58% 45.49% 39.34% Yes 89.77% (90.41%) 98.41% (98.47%)
Wisconsin (#44) 5.16 N/A N/A N/A 3.32% 20.42% 40.31% 29.07% 6.88% N/A 98.38% 1.46% (1.47%) 9.19% (9.22%)
Penn State (#54) 3.90 N/A 0.54% 6.57% 26.12% 39.78% 22.71% 4.28% N/A N/A (92.89%) 0.06% (N/A) 0.94% (N/A)
Indiana (#75) 3.26 N/A 2.36% 17.72% 40.35% 30.90% 8.11% 0.56% N/A N/A 39.57% 0.04% (0.04%) 0.51% (0.53%)
Illinois (#95) 1.69 11.00% 33.02% 35.55% 16.72% 3.46% 0.26% N/A N/A N/A 20.44% <0.01% (<0.01%) 0.01% (0.01%)
Purdue (#108) 1.18 23.75% 42.98% 25.71% 6.74% 0.79% 0.03% N/A N/A N/A 0.03% <0.01% (<0.01%) <0.01% (<0.01%)

Wisconsin's bye week sees them fall almost as much as Nebraska's did the week before. Illinois takes a tumble after losing at home, now looking at only a 1 in 5 chance of reaching a bowl. With three byes and the other three getting the sort of results everyone expected, there's not much change this week.

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 (#6) 7.59 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 183k 0.08% 2.94% 35.15% 61.83% Yes 86.52% (86.54%) 99.00% (99.00%)
Wisconsin (#13) 6.07 N/A N/A N/A 0.07% 2.20% 19.97% 46.28% 31.48% N/A 99.98% 1.00% (1.00%) 13.43% (13.43%)
Penn State (#61) 3.79 N/A 0.09% 3.74% 29.23% 51.44% 14.70% 0.81% N/A N/A (96.17%) <0.01% (N/A) 0.03% (N/A)
Indiana (#63) 3.51 N/A 0.15% 5.95% 41.19% 48.06% 4.56% 0.10% N/A N/A 52.72% <0.01% (<0.01%) 0.04% (0.04%)
Illinois (#92) 1.40 13.73% 42.75% 34.33% 8.39% 0.77% 0.02% N/A N/A N/A 9.18% <0.01% (<0.01%) <0.01% (<0.01%)
Purdue (#112) 0.48 57.37% 37.46% 4.93% 0.23% 1 in 23,200 1 in 3.86M N/A N/A N/A 1 in 3.86M <0.01% (<0.01%) <0.01% (<0.01%)

Wisconsin, as usual, rates much higher in this method, which chips away a bit at Ohio State's outright-champion percentage; on the other hand, OSU's chances of going 7-1 or better rise from 95% to 97%, so the improvement in Wisconsin's rating does not translate to much difference in their division odds.

This Week's Games

West Title Fight, Round 1: Michigan at Michigan State

A Michigan State win would practically eliminate Michigan from division contention, while a loss puts the title fully up for grabs. Both methods favor Michigan State: 64% no-margin, 82% (9.5 points) margin-aware.

The Other Game of the Week: Wisconsin at Iowa

Wisconsin is looking to remain in the running for a BCS at-large bid, as well as remaining in position to take advantage should Ohio State manage to slip up twice. Iowa, being at a tiebreaker disadvantage due to their loss to MSU earlier, needs some unlikely scenarios to reach Indianapolis themselves (the most likely probably being win out, Minnesota wins out, and MSU loses one more besides the Minnesota game) but will certainly have an impact on the race with upcoming games against Michigan and Nebraska. For this week, though, the stakes are a chance to wrap up bowl eligibility and keep alive their chance of a four-game trophy sweep (having already claimed the Cy-Hawk and Floyd of Rosedale). Thanks to the wide disparity in Wisconsin's rankings in the two methods, the computer declares this one a split decision, with the basic method favoring Iowa at 60% but margin-aware preferring Wisconsin at 59% (2 points).

Scoreboards Beware: Minnesota at Indiana

Minnesota loves to run; Indiana can't stop the run. On the other side, Indiana excels at discombobulating defenses with their frenetic pace. This is a game Indiana really needs if they are to achieve bowl eligibility; home wins against Purdue and Illinois are likely, but road trips to OSU and Wisconsin are very likely to end in losses. Minnesota looks to continue their recent run of strong play, although the title is likely out of reach with two in-division losses already. This one is another split decision: the basic method favors Minnesota at 58%, but margin-aware gives the edge to Indiana at 57% (2 points).

The QBs Are Back In Town: Northwestern at Nebraska

Taylor Martinez and Kain Colter both returned to action last week. Nebraska needs a win to keep pace in the division race, while Northwestern is just hoping to recover and earn a bowl bid. Nebraska is the favorite at 70% / 73% / 6.5 points (basic / margin-aware / projected margin).

The Hangover Game: Illinois at Penn State

Both teams got demolished last week, with a combined score of 105-17 in losses. Illinois needs to turn around their skid quickly if they are going to make a bowl, but the odds are against it this week; Penn State is a 78% / 88% / 12.5 point favorite.

Blowout of the Week: Ohio State at Purdue

Hm. A top 6 team facing one of the worst BCS-level teams. This will not end well. OSU is a massive favorite, although they fall slightly short of the 133-to-1 record MSU set against Purdue due to this being a road game. OSU is favored at 91% / 87-to-1 / 28.5 points.

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