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The Road Ahead

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While the world sure seems like a better place for MSU football fans than it did last week at this time, our record is still on the wrong side of .500.  At 2-3, the team needs to go 4-3 down the stretch to be technically eligible for a bowl game.  That becomes 5-2 if the goal is to ensure the team goes bowling, regardless of the number of other bowl-eligible teams in the conference.

Projecting points spreads for the remaining 7 games using the current Sagarin ratings yields this table of plausible-looking numbers (and, yes, it's officially Jeff Sagarin Week here at TOC):

@Illinois +6.5 +10.7
Northwestern +11.7 +14.1
Iowa -8.2 -2.2
@Minnesota -2.3 +1.8
Western Mich +16.6 +21.5
@Purdue +5.4 +3.1
Penn State -3.3 -1.1

The first column of numbers uses the standard Sagarin ratings--which are melded from the ELO-CHESS ratings (looks only at wins/losses, adjusted for SOS; ignores margin of victory/loss) and the PREDICTOR ratings (looks at only at margin of victory/loss, adjusted for strength of schedule; ignores binary win/loss result).  MSU comes out a little better in the PREDICTOR-only-based point spreads in the second column of numbers, due to the close losses to CMU and Notre Dame.

From a binary standpoint, the projections show a 4-3 or 5-2 record down the stretch.  But, outside of the home games against Northwestern and Western Michigan, the spreads are all basically within a touchdown either way.  That's a function of (1) playing 2 of the 3 Big Ten teams on our schedule who have clearly performed worse than us to date on the road and (2) playing the two Big Ten teams on our schedule that have clearly outperformed us at home.

One can easily come up with two pretty divergent-put-conceivable extremes in terms of MSU's final regular season record:

  • Beat Northwestern and Western at home, get upset by Illinois and Purdue on the road, and lose the three games we're underdogs in: 4-8.
  • Win all the games we're favored in, win the coin-flip game with Minnesota, and upset either Iowa or Penn State at home: 8-4.

I'd say getting to 7-5 and going to a winnable, non-Pizza!Pizza! bowl game should be the goal.  But, if I had to put money on the regular-season-wins roulette wheel, I'd have to go with Black 6.