Race for the Roses 2013: Week 3

Robert Laberge

Two weeks into conference play, who has the inside track to Indianapolis?

With conference play having started, it's time once again to take a look at how the Big Ten division races are shaping up. (Normally, I try to start these the week conference play begins, but small sample size makes the numbers prone to extremely wild swings from week to week that early. Also, I'm lazy.) As always, projections are based on two variants of the Bradley-Terry method (both incorporating home-field advantage, one also adjusting for margin of victory). Sample size is still pretty small, so there may be some weird results. Full ratings lists and a detailed explanation of the method can be found here. Probability distributions for teams' records and bowl eligibility are calculated directly from the 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
Michigan (#18) 5.33 N/A 0.07% 1.06% 5.99% 17.62% 29.44% 28.23% 14.49% 3.09% 99.93% 27.10% 49.91%
Michigan State (#37) 5.19 N/A 0.07% 1.13% 6.82% 19.99% 31.37% 26.81% 11.74% 2.06% 98.80% 22.30% 44.09%
Nebraska (#43) 4.70 N/A 0.37% 3.41% 13.04% 26.39% 30.25% 19.41% 6.34% 0.79% 96.22% 12.59% 29.45%
Iowa (#48) 3.84 N/A 1.46% 10.11% 26.73% 33.93% 21.21% 5.99% 0.56% N/A 88.43% 2.36% 9.90%
Northwestern (#42) 3.50 0.65% 5.10% 16.36% 28.04% 27.91% 16.18% 5.08% 0.67% N/A 94.25% 2.49% 9.06%
Minnesota (#53) 2.81 1.66% 10.80% 27.09% 33.05% 20.50% 6.18% 0.72% N/A N/A 87.54% 0.28% 2.23%

With the West holding the 2nd through 7th best teams in the conference (according to the no-margin method), this looks to be a wild race. Michigan's rating is the highest due to being unbeaten, but a more difficult conference schedule - they face Ohio State, while MSU and Nebraska do not; three of their four remaining division games are on the road - brings them back to the pack. Northwestern also suffers from a tough schedule (having already played Ohio State, they also face Wisconsin and do not get the benefit of playing Purdue). Michigan and MSU are the favorites, with Nebraska still having a decent shot and Iowa and Northwestern still looking at 1 in 10 or 1 in 11 chances of at least sharing the title. There's a fair chance that the entire division ends up bowl-eligible, although Minnesota and Iowa are the most likely to sit out bowl season.

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 (#27) 5.68 N/A 1 in 52,800 0.16% 2.15% 11.45% 28.68% 34.60% 19.10% 3.86% 99.84% 39.82% 65.89%
Nebraska (#47) 4.83 N/A 0.14% 2.06% 10.57% 25.78% 32.60% 21.33% 6.73% 0.79% 97.80% 15.15% 34.42%
Michigan (#31) 4.31 N/A 0.59% 5.58% 19.29% 31.32% 27.01% 12.77% 3.13% 0.31% 99.41% 7.42% 20.45%
Iowa (#49) 4.14 N/A 0.41% 5.10% 20.73% 36.76% 28.73% 7.84% 0.43% N/A 94.49% 3.05% 13.06%
Northwestern (#36) 3.59 0.31% 3.49% 14.39% 28.77% 30.41% 17.19% 4.89% 0.55% N/A 96.20% 2.29% 9.31%
Minnesota (#63) 2.27 3.77% 19.44% 35.99% 29.05% 10.11% 1.55% 0.09% N/A N/A 76.79% 0.06% 0.68%

Here, Michigan's narrow escapes against Akron and UConn drag them down quite a bit; despite being unbeaten, they rank behind one-loss MSU because MSU's schedule to date grades out as slightly tougher and all four wins were by at least 12 points. Combined with the more difficult finishing stretch, Michigan drops all the way back to third in the projections, leaving MSU as the favorite (3-2 odds against winning outright, but 2-1 in favor of at least sharing the title). Here Iowa still has a very strong chance of making a bowl, but Minnesota's chances drop to about 3 in 4.

East Division

Basic Method

Division title odds are projected two different ways: with and without Penn State (the latter in parentheses), since the Nittany Lions are not eligible.

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 (#5) 6.60 N/A N/A 1 in 16,300 0.17% 1.90% 10.55% 30.12% 39.88% 17.38% Yes 81.04% (82.77%) 93.84% (94.50%)
Indiana (#59) 4.07 N/A 0.73% 6.96% 23.13% 34.58% 24.64% 8.52% 1.36% 0.08% 69.18% 2.68% (2.86%) 9.02% (9.33%)
Wisconsin (#69) 3.78 N/A 1.99% 11.73% 27.32% 32.03% 19.90% 6.24% 0.78% N/A 75.33% 1.12% (1.20%) 5.51% (5.65%)
Penn State (#63) 3.27 0.61% 5.80% 19.67% 31.86% 27.09% 12.15% 2.62% 0.20% N/A (73.92%) 0.76% (N/A) 3.45% (N/A)
Illinois (#70) 3.16 1.26% 8.10% 21.41% 30.20% 24.49% 11.42% 2.84% 0.29% N/A 69.33% 0.93% (0.99%) 3.91% (4.03%)
Purdue (#108) 1.76 12.19% 31.38% 32.53% 17.56% 5.33% 0.92% 0.08% 1 in 32,800 N/A 1.00% 0.05% (0.05%) 0.30% (0.33%)

The West may be a close race, but the East is anything but. Ohio State is a huge favorite to win outright, especially after having beaten Northwestern and Wisconsin to start the season. Considering Penn State's ineligibility, the Buckeyes are more likely to win the division outright than they are to lose a game before Indianapolis. Two of Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois will likely be bowl eligible. At the other end of the spectrum, Purdue's season appears to be a train wreck; they aren't favored in any game, although they can reasonably expect to win one of their three non-OSU home games (Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois) on average.

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 (#9) 7.21 N/A N/A 1 in 2.08M 1 in 23,400 0.14% 2.05% 14.51% 43.45% 39.85% Yes 89.19% (89.71%) 97.75% (97.88%)
Wisconsin (#32) 4.67 N/A 0.19% 2.44% 11.97% 28.31% 33.69% 19.25% 4.15% N/A 93.71% 1.03% (1.04%) 6.22% (6.25%)
Indiana (#40) 4.42 N/A 0.03% 1.46% 13.56% 40.39% 32.36% 10.65% 1.49% 0.07% 84.95% 0.88% (0.91%) 4.23% (4.28%)
Penn State (#57) 3.54 0.05% 2.04% 13.40% 32.75% 34.38% 14.92% 2.36% 0.09% N/A (84.51%) 0.13% (N/A) 0.95% (N/A)
Illinois (#68) 2.77 1.66% 11.75% 28.26% 32.24% 19.16% 5.96% 0.91% 0.05% N/A 58.33% 0.06% (0.07%) 0.61% (0.62%)
Purdue (#114) 0.56 54.54% 35.93% 8.55% 0.93% 0.05% 1 in 78,700 1 in 6.15M 1 in 1.25B N/A 1 in 77,000 <0.01% (<0.01%) <0.01% (<0.01%)

Here, the gaps between the really good (Ohio State), the really bad (Purdue), and the rest are significantly larger. Ohio State is nearly 90% to win the division outright and 40% to run the table, while Purdue is looking at only a 5 in 11 chance of even managing one conference win; their best chance is a whopping 22% at home against Illinois the week before Thanksgiving.

This Week's Games

Game of the Week: Northwestern at Wisconsin

Following a come-from-ahead loss to Ohio State, Northwestern is in danger of falling into an 0-2 hole in conference. That may be too big a hole to dig out of, although at least both losses would be cross-division. Wisconsin also needs a win to keep a realistic chance of catching Ohio State after having lost to them two weeks ago. The basic method gives Wisconsin a slight edge (53%) due to home-field advantage; margin-aware thinks even more highly of the Badgers, favoring them at 73% (6.5 points).

Blowout of the Week: Nebraska at Purdue

Purdue is ... how to put this nicely? Not good. Apart from a close game against Notre Dame (which seems to happen even when the game is an apparent mismatch), it's been three blowout losses and a narrow escape against Indiana State. This should be another ugly one. (In fact, this space is probably going to be reserved for Purdue's game every week.) Home field makes this one a little closer, but Nebraska is still a 68% favorite according to the basic method and 88% (12.5 points) by margin-aware.

Contrasting Styles: Indiana at Michigan State

One team likes defensive slugfests, field position battles, and grinding out a win with physical dominance; the other likes shootouts and up-tempo offense. With home field, both methods tip strongly toward MSU: 74% for the basic method, 78% (8 points) margin-aware.

Put Away the Footgun: Michigan at Penn State

This one seems likely to be decided by which Devin Gardner shows up. If Bad Gardner makes an appearance and Michigan turns the ball over as much as they did against Akron and UConn, Penn State is good enough to capitalize; if not, Penn State probably can't keep up. No-margin likes Michigan at 61%, but margin-aware favors Penn State at 57% (1.5 points).

Sirs Not-Appearing-In-This-Week:

Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio State are all off this week.

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