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Around the B1G: Football Week 3 Recap, Week 4 Preview

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Conference play starts early as we begin the first year of the Big Ten’s 9-game conference schedule.

Michigan State v Notre Dame Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Week 3 Results

Quality Wins

Michigan State 36, Notre Dame 28

The details of this one have been covered well enough on the rest of the site. I want to dig into the absolute affront to math committed by Brian Kelly.

Down 29 late in the third quarter, the Irish scored and lined up for the PAT. This is dumb enough - you need a two-point conversion sooner or later, and if you take it early you can possibly recover from a miss by going for it and making it twice - but it got worse. MSU jumped offside on the PAT, and instead of taking half the distance and using the opportunity to take the necessary two-point attempt from 1.5 yards out instead of 3, the Irish applied the penalty on the kickoff, kicked the PAT, and hit the kickoff four yards deep into the endzone for a touchback, getting no advantage from the penalty whatsoever.

Down 22 early in the fourth, the Irish again scored and lined up to kick. Taking the 15-yard after-the-play penalty on the kickoff is reasonable, but again, down 22 (prior to the TD) is an utterly stupid time to kick the PAT. Go for it now and, should you fail, you’re down 16, making it still possible (although hard) to come back with two scores. Wait and there’s no second chance if you fail. At least this time they didn’t boot the kickoff all the way through the endzone, but a pop-up kick came up far shorter than intended and MSU started at their own 21. Still down by 15 and with low risk in terms of field position from a failed attempt, this seems like an ideal time to try an onside kick, though it’s possible that the Irish thought MSU was ready for it and decided to try a different trick kick.

Down 15 with six minutes to go, once again Notre Dame scored and kicked the PAT, leaving themselves no time to deal with the situation if they managed to score a fourth time but failed the two-point conversion. If they attempted it here and failed, they would at least know that desperate measures were needed and might have attempted an onside kick immediately.

All of this ended up moot because MSU did not allow a fourth touchdown to complete the comeback, but at every turn Notre Dame chose the option that would leave them in worse shape if the eventually needed two-point conversion failed.

Nebraska 35, Oregon 32

Speaking of dumb two-point conversion strategy: Oregon had an advantage of 50+ yards of total offense (482-428) and forced the only turnover of the game, yet lost by 3. The Ducks went for two on all five of their touchdowns, succeeding the first time but failing four in a row later.

Since two-point conversions generally succeed less than 50% of the time (the usual national conversion rate is around 45% or slightly lower), going for two frequently will usually leave you behind the curve; the reason being aggressive on these (at least early in a high-scoring game or late while trailing) works as a strategy anyway is that you can quit once you’re ahead and force the opponent to take the risk to catch back up. The Ducks got ahead and decided to press their luck anyway; in doing so, they hit whammy after whammy. An 8-7 lead became 14-7 and then 20-7; after the Huskers scored three touchdowns (kicking on all three), Oregon’s last two two-point attempts made sense but were forced by the poor decision to go for it earlier. Failing on both of those left the Ducks up only 32-28, and a 34-yard touchdown run by Tommy Armstrong with 2:29 to go put Nebraska back on top.

Ohio State 45, Oklahoma 24

In a game that was delayed due to inclement weather, the Buckeyes ran rampant. Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel, and J.T. Barrett combined for 291 rushing yards on 6.1 per carry, and four of Noah Brown’s five catches went for touchdowns. After a little bit of a slow start to the scoring, things got wild late in the first quarter: Jerome Baker took an interception back 68 yards to put Ohio State up 14-0, but Joe Mixon returned the kickoff (almost) all the way to cut the lead back down to 7. Five of the remaining seven drives before halftime resulted in scores, leaving the Buckeyes up 35-17 before a quieter second half.

Respectable Wins

Michigan 45, Colorado 28

At the end of the first quarter, Colorado led 21-7 and had a first down in the red zone. They lost a yard on that series, missed the field goal, and (between bad punts and Jabrill Peppers getting big returns) Michigan started three possessions in the second quarter in Colorado territory en route to a 24-21 halftime lead. The Buffaloes got back in front on a 70-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter, but Peppers returned the ensuing kickoff past midfield, De’Veon Smith took it the rest of the way two plays later, and Michigan never looked back. Special teams has been an enormous factor for Michigan thus far; although they’ve been poor at kicking field goals, Peppers has been very dangerous on punt and kickoff returns (taking a punt back to the house late in this one) and the first touchdown came on a blocked punt.

Northwestern 24, Duke 13

The Wildcats are off the schneid, although it wasn’t the prettiest of games. Clayton Thorson threw for 320 yards, but needed 39 attempts to do it and completed fewer than half of them with two interceptions. With total yardage nearly even (Northwestern had a 406-396 edge) and turnovers even (2 each), the game came down to finishing drives. Neither team did that well in the first half, with Duke giving up a turnover on downs and an interception inside the NW 40 and Northwestern responding with an interception and missed field goal. For Duke, that continued into the second half with a fumble, turnover on downs, and a missed field goal; Northwestern’s trips into Duke territory in the second half all resulted in points.

Penn State 34, Temple 27

The Nittany Lions avenged last year’s ugly loss but left it close for a while. The teams traded big plays early, with Chris Godwin catching a 52-yard touchdown pass for Penn State followed immediately by a 67-yard pass for Temple (with the touchdown coming one play later). Penn State took a 21-10 lead into halftime and expanded it to 24-10 on their first possession of the second half, but turnovers set up two very short fields for the Owls to cut the lead back down to 27-24 with only eight minutes to go. Another quick-strike touchdown (this one from the legs of Saquon Barkley) padded the lead back out to 10, and Temple’s answering drive took too much time off the clock while stalling out for a field goal. The onside kick attempt failed, and after a three and out, a John Reid interception put a stop to Temple’s last hope. I’d be worried about ball security if I were Penn State, though; the Nittany Lions fumbled five times, recovering three of them.

Cupcake Wins

Wisconsin 23, Georgia State 17

Injuries have depleted the Badgers at running back, and now add a quarterback controversy to the mix: After an underwhelming first half which saw Wisconsin up just 6-0 at the break, Bart Houston was pulled in favor of Alex Hornibrook, who led the Badgers to 17 points in four possessions. The Panthers did not go quietly, though, taking a fourth-quarter lead at 17-13 after a Hornibrook pass was intercepted. Georgia State was able to move the ball through the air (Conner Manning was 20/29 for 269 yards and a touchdown, one sack for 15 yards), but the running game was completely stifled (23 carries for 48 yards after removing the sack).

Rutgers 37, New Mexico 28

The Scarlet Knights are beginning to make a habit of this: After trailing Howard 14-0 last week before ripping off 52 straight, they fell behind the Lobos 21-0 late in the first quarter before ending on a 37-7 run. A 75-yard touchdown pass from Chris Laviano to Jawuan Harris answered the third score almost immediately, and after two more touchdowns, a Janarion Grant punt return just before halftime put Rutgers in front for good. New Mexico would cut the deficit back to just three early in the fourth quarter, but two field goals and two defensive stops sealed the win.

Maryland 30, Central Florida 24 (2OT)

Central Florida actually outgained the Terps 455-373, but four turnovers, including a fumble on the Knights’ second overtime possession, made up for that. UCF got on the board first with a touchdown late in the first quarter, but a short field after a fumble set up a Lorenzo Harrison touchdown run to tie it, and Maryland took the lead with a field goal just before halftime. A failed UCF fake punt early in the third quarter gave the Terps a chance to extend the lead, but Maryland went three and out, then missed a 51-yard field goal to come up empty. The teams traded touchdowns late in the third, then UCF tied the game with a field goal with 12 minutes to go. Neither team could score again in regulation; after trading touchdowns in the first overtime, Kingsley Opara recovered the UCF fumble and Tyrrell Pigrome scored the game-winning touchdown for Maryland.

You Should Have Known Better Than to Schedule This

North Dakota State (FCS) 23, Iowa 21

The five-time defending FCS champions have now won six straight against FBS competition. The Bison took an early lead on a pick-six, but Iowa scored twice in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead into halftime. The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, then NDSU went on an epic 15-play drive consuming nearly nine minutes to get within 21-20 with 3:41 left and chose to go for two. The two-point conversion failed, but the Hawkeyes went three and out (losing 10 yards in the process) to give the Bison another chance, and a 37-yard field goal as time expired gave them the win.

Going for two when NDSU did was a substantial gamble, but not an unreasonable one. There was enough time left that even Kirk Ferentz wouldn’t be conservative enough to play for OT if tied, and enough time left that if the gamble failed you could get a defensive stop and have a chance to win anyway (as turned out to be the case).

All Hail Western Michigan, Illinois State Champions

Western Michigan 34, Illinois 10

After opening the season with a close win over Northwestern, the Broncos traveled to Champaign and dominated the Illini. WMU scored three straight touchdowns late in the first quarter and early in the second, aided by a very short field after an Illinois fumble to set up the third score, and Illinois never got closer than 14 points after that. Spending the whole day in catch-up mode meant that the Illini were very pass-heavy in this game, with only 12 rushing attempts to 45 pass attempts (including three sacks); Western Michigan was nearly the opposite, with only 18 passing attempts (five of which ended in sacks) to 49 rushes.

Week 4 Games

All times ET; projections are based on my margin-aware ratings. Right now, carryover from last season is a substantial portion of the ratings (half for teams who have played three games and almost 23 for those who have played only two).

Conference Games

Wisconsin at Michigan State (Noon, BTN)

Wisconsin has question marks all over the place on offense with three of the top four running backs listed as questionable and no starting quarterback named, according to ESPN’s team page (as of Tuesday evening). Given the absurd gauntlet they have to start conference play (at MSU and at Michigan before a bye, then Ohio State, at Iowa, and Nebraska), those questions couldn’t come at a worse time. Still, a team that defeated LSU is not to be dismissed lightly.

Odds: MSU 74% (projected margin: +7)

Iowa at Rutgers (Noon, ESPN2)

Rutgers has been blown out by a solid team and struggled with two that aren’t very good. Iowa has demolished two not-very-good teams and had a close loss against one that is quite good. Expect the Hawkeyes’ defense to slow down Rutgers enough to take this one comfortably. The ratings, however, are punishing them quite severely for the loss to North Dakota State; I don’t track individual FCS teams separately (128 teams in FBS is enough work, and I’d probably have to do some tweaks to the system to make it possible to track FCS and FBS together given the limited crossover between the two divisions), so the system treats it the same as any generic FCS loss. You should probably bump Iowa’s projections up a bit for that.

Odds: Iowa 65% (+4)

Penn State at Michigan (3:30, ABC)

The Nittany Lions have struggled a bit both running the ball and stopping the run this year, which is not good when you’re facing a Harbaugh team. It’s hard to put too much stock into Michigan’s stats so far this year given the competition level (two awful teams and one “reply hazy, ask again later”), but I don’t see Penn State going into the Big House and getting a win.

Odds: Michigan 85% (+12)

Nebraska at Northwestern (7:30, BTN)

Northwestern may have won 10 games last year, but Nebraska has looked much more impressive this year with two blowout wins and a close escape against Oregon. The Huskers look ready to challenge for the West Division - and with Wisconsin’s horrid scheduling luck, they might well be the favorites.

Odds: Nebraska 58% (+2)

Non-Conference Games

Colorado State at Minnesota (Noon, ESPNU)

The Rams bounced back from a blowout loss to Colorado in the opener by beating UT-San Antonio and FCS Northern Colorado. Minnesota didn’t exactly impress in their opener but looked better in Week 2’s rout of FCS Indiana State.

Odds: Minnesota 79% (+9)

Nevada at Purdue (Noon, ESPN News)

This week’s Pillow Fight features a Wolf Pack team that barely escaped FCS Cal Poly in the opener before getting blown out by Notre Dame and beating Buffalo. The Boilers have looked like an actual football team this year, though not a particularly good one.

Odds: Purdue 53% (+1)

Wake Forest at Indiana (3:30, BTN)

Last year, this was the easily resistable force (Wake’s offense) against the easily moved object (Indiana’s defense). Indiana has actually shown signs of having a defense this year, though.

Odds: Indiana 77% (+8.5)

Out of Action

Ohio State, Maryland, and Illinois all have byes this week.

Conference Projections

Projected records are based on game-by-game odds (bowl odds assume a 6-6 record is the cutoff). Division title chances (outright or shared) are based on 100,000 season simulations; tiebreakers are not considered.

East Division

Team Avg wins 0-9 1-8 2-7 3-6 4-5 5-4 6-3 7-2 8-1 9-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Ohio State 7.75 1 in 946M 1 in 7.77M 1 in 163k 0.02% 0.21% 1.76% 8.82% 25.66% 39.34% 24.19% >99.99% 55.27% 78.17%
Michigan 6.34 1 in 1.62M 1 in 28,200 0.07% 0.79% 4.76% 16.45% 31.78% 31.33% 13.19% 1.62% 99.92% 7.78% 21.68%
Michigan State 6.34 1 in 380k 0.01% 0.16% 1.31% 6.10% 17.03% 28.79% 28.53% 14.96% 3.10% 99.61% 10.29% 25.33%
Penn State 4.52 0.07% 0.96% 5.29% 15.67% 27.07% 27.81% 16.66% 5.51% 0.89% 0.05% 78.01% 0.69% 3.00%
Indiana 4.35 0.06% 1.07% 6.27% 18.09% 29.07% 26.99% 14.16% 3.84% 0.44% 0.01% 88.48% 0.33% 1.91%
Maryland 3.58 0.24% 3.25% 14.96% 30.10% 29.70% 15.96% 4.87% 0.84% 0.07% 1 in 38,400 81.55% 0.10% 0.56%
Rutgers 2.62 2.66% 15.17% 29.99% 29.52% 16.32% 5.26% 0.97% 0.10% 1 in 23,600 1 in 1.77M 22.66% 0.01% 0.06%

Ohio State, being the #2 ranked team in the country by a wide margin over #3 in the margin-aware ratings, is a big favorite. MSU comes out even with Michigan (to within rounding) on expected wins despite Michigan being ranked higher thanks to a favorable schedule for MSU (Michigan, OSU, and Wisconsin all at home with Northwestern and Illinois as the other crossovers; Michigan also gets Wisconsin at home and plays Illinois, but their third crossover is Iowa and they have to play MSU and OSU on the road); having home field for the key division games also gives MSU better odds of winning the division. There’s a steep drop-off after the top three, though all except Rutgers still have good odds of reaching a bowl game.

West Division

Team Avg wins 0-9 1-8 2-7 3-6 4-5 5-4 6-3 7-2 8-1 9-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Iowa 5.38 0.01% 0.24% 1.74% 6.98% 17.07% 26.44% 25.96% 15.60% 5.22% 0.74% 91.03% 23.87% 44.02%
Nebraska 5.35 1 in 67,800 0.06% 0.81% 5.30% 17.55% 30.66% 28.64% 13.80% 2.99% 0.18% 99.12% 19.52% 39.98%
Wisconsin 5.12 1 in 21,100 0.14% 1.55% 7.90% 21.18% 31.00% 24.91% 10.77% 2.34% 0.20% 98.30% 15.56% 34.06%
Minnesota 4.43 0.06% 0.95% 5.69% 17.11% 28.48% 27.25% 15.03% 4.65% 0.74% 0.05% 89.66% 6.50% 18.00%
Northwestern 3.55 0.41% 4.22% 15.72% 28.61% 28.57% 16.29% 5.23% 0.88% 0.07% 1 in 67,200 22.47% 1.80% 6.74%
Illinois 2.03 6.61% 26.67% 35.03% 22.16% 7.75% 1.58% 0.19% 0.01% 1 in 224k 1 in 16.3M 1.78% 0.04% 0.39%
Purdue 1.64 15.46% 33.18% 30.22% 15.32% 4.76% 0.94% 0.12% 1 in 11,000 1 in 258k 1 in 14.3M 3.58% 0.04% 0.27%

CHAOS. GLORIOUS CHAOS. It’s been a running joke that Wisconsin’s had some sort of deal with the devil when it comes to getting favorable schedules in conference, but if so their end of the deal is finally coming due; they have to face all of the East’s Big Three, right in a row. Nebraska plays only Ohio State and Iowa plays only Michigan; Minnesota plays none of the three. The result is a division race that looks wide open. (Again, keep in mind that Iowa’s projections are being held down a bit unfairly by the NDSU game; they should probably have a slightly bigger lead.)