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Against All Odds, Week 7

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The most important thing to remember is that they all (only) count one.

Michigan State v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

I will admit it. I was pretty confident in this week’s game in Madison. I heard the discussion about how hard it was going to be to muster the same level of focus and physicality to be competitive on the road in back weeks against Top 10 teams. I just kind of blew that off.

I looked at Wisconsin’s competition so far, and I wasn’t impressed. I saw MSU beat up Northwestern back in Week 4 and then I saw that same Wildcat team hang with the Badgers. I figured MSU would be able to muster enough juice to limit Wisconsin’s running attack and then Coan would struggle to make plays. I even was foolish enough to think that MSU’s offense would look sharp and maybe even have some breaks go their way for a change.

In the immortal words of Luke Skywalker, “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.”

(Sigh)

So, instead of an emotional, program-validating upset win, we got a crap sandwich force-fed to us for 3 hours. It was truly painful to watch. The only thing I can really offer for solace are the words of another Spartan Jedi Master, Coach Perles, who said,

”They all count one.”

As painful as this weekend’s loss was, it still is only one game. It is not a whole season, and it is certainly not an entire coaching administration. It’s just one loss. Sure, 38-0 is bad, but ten years from now, the only thing people will remember is that it was a game MSU lost. Heck, just two years ago MSU got bombed worse in Columbus, yet finished 10-3 with several quality wins along the way. That season wound up feeling pretty good, and there is a chance that this one is going to feel OK in the end as well. The sting of that loss to OSU wore off quickly.

Another truism when it comes to sports is that you are usually not as good as your best win and you are also usually not as bad as your worst lost. Hopefully, and I think probably, the disaster in Madison is rock bottom for MSU this year. Playing two Top 5 to Top 10 physical teams on the road in back-to-back weeks is a tough draw. MSU has an ugly 4-3 record right now, but those three losses are all to ranked teams who are a combined 17-1. My calculations suggest that MSU, so far, has played the toughest schedule in the nation, and is one of only two Power 5 team to have played against 7 FBS teams without a bye so far this season (Nebraska is the other).

The metrics don’t look that bad either. Despite not even scoring a point this weekend, MSU is still ranked #19 in my power rankings and 22 in the FPI. Those aren’t bad numbers and those are honestly right about where the experts thought MSU would be. Furthermore, most MSU fans thought that MSU would likely finish around 8-4 or 9-3 due to our very tough schedule. As it turns out, MSU is still just about there, and the schedule is likely harder than we thought.

What this all says to me is that there is still a good team in there somewhere. The numbers bear that out, and I believe it to be true. But, that all said, it still feels like the season is on the brink. The psychological impact of taking those two losses back-to-back cannot be understated, especially after the cumulative disappointment of last year. Time is starting to run out on 2019 now, and the next one does not get much easier.

But, if you want reason for optimism, here it is. Another Spartan Great, Duffy Daughetry said that, “it isn’t always who you play, but where and when you play them.” Over the past two weeks, MSU has been on the losing side of that axiom. However, in two weeks, the tables might get turned. MSU gets to take next week off, and then they return home to face another highly rated team in Penn State. PSU, on the other hand will be coming off an emotional, tough win at Iowa, followed by a tough (we assume) home game against the Wolverines. While those two teams aren’t OSU or Wisconsin, that is not an easy 3-game slate.

Will MSU be able to get their heads and body’s right enough by then? Will Penn State be the team that comes in a quart low? Don’t be surprised if both of those things are true. While they all count just one, it is the next one that is always the most critical. MSU can’t change the past, but they can still turn this around and make it an enjoyable season. That is the One thing to focus on over the next two weeks.

Big Ten Metrics Update

After the events of the week, here are the updated odds and expected wins totals for the various Big Ten races:

MSU’s shut-out loss obviously depressed MSU’s numbers a bit, but the damage is not quite as bad as it could have been. MSU’s power ranking dropped from 10 to 19, and MSU’s odds to win the Big Ten East and Big Ten dropped from very small to extremely small. MSU’s expected win total dropped a bit from around 8 to 7.66.

As for the updated projected lines for MSU’s remaining games, I now have:

  • +7.3 vs Penn State
  • -26.8 vs. Illinois
  • +2.3 at Michigan
  • -40.6 at Rutgers
  • -23.6 vs. Maryland.

In other words, MSU has 3 quite easy games and 2 somewhat tough ones. Specifically, I now give MSU a 92% chance to win all three of the “easy” games based on these projected spreads. Based on my current power rankings, Illinois, Rutgers, and Maryland are the three weakest teams on MSU entire schedule. So, getting to at least 7-5 should be very doable.

For MSU to do better than that, they need to beat Penn State and/or Michigan, neither of who are better than Ohio State or Wisconsin. Even though Penn State is currently ranked number 4 in my power rankings, I still would have both OSU and Wisconsin as over a 10-point favorites over Penn State on a neutral field. That is how impressive those two teams have been so far this year.

Based on my current odds, there is a 40% chance MSU will lose both games, a 47% chance MSU splits, and a 13% chance MSU wins both. The FPI has the Michigan line right now about the same as the Penn State line, which brings the odds closer to equal that MSU drops both or splits. So, that is where we are right now.

As for the rest of the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s win coupled with Iowa’s loss to Penn State elevated the Badger’s odds up to 98% to win the West. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s odds slipped just a bit to 90%, likely because Penn State’s win over Iowa juiced their odds a little. At almost 10%, they appear to be the only team with a shot to prevent a Badger – Buckeye Final in Indy, which as of today, looks like a fair fight. I project the Buckeyes would only be a 1.5-point favorite on a neutral field.

I will finally note that in the expected win data, Minnesota has now edged ahead of Iowa for 2nd place in expected wins, despite having slightly lower odds in the West. I will also note that MSU is still holding a slight lead over Michigan in expected conference wins, but Michigan is now projected to be favored in 4 of their remaining 6 games, including Notre Dame and MSU.

Betting and Upset Pick Review

As for the predictive results this week, overall my model was slightly under water at 25-27 (48%) for the week against the spread, but that was at least better than the FPI, which went 22-30 (42%). Year-to-date, that brings my total to 173-166 (51%) while the FPI is lagging at 163-176 (48%).

The betting results, however, were much better. The summary table is shown below:

My picks went 7-4 (64%) for the week, while the FPI picks went 2-1 (67%). Ironically, I did not realize in my weekly preview that I actually recommended taking opposite sides of the UL Monroe / Texas State game. Whoops. (I was right, by the way while the FPI was wrong.) So, I need to throw that one out for the overall combined picks, which also wound up at 7-4 (64%). Year-to-date that brings the tallies to 32-24 (57%) for my model and 16-12 (57%), which is oddly exactly half. For the combined strategy, once I remove the overlapping data, the numbers are 45-34 (57%).

In the area of upsets, however, things did not go as well. The summary is shown below.

Of the seven total upset picks between my algorithm and the FPI, we only got one correct, which was my pick of Western Kentucky over Army. The numbers work out to 1-5 for me (17%) and 0-2 for the FPI. Year to date, I am now 15-21 (42%) for upset picks, while the FPI is 8-11 (42%), As for actual upsets, there were 11 total, which is slightly below the predicted number of 13.

But, what the upsets may have lacked in number, they made up for in impact. South Carolina’s (+24) OT upset of Georgia stands as one of the biggest upsets in a high-profile game in a while. Interestingly the line for BGSU’s (+23.5) upset over Toledo was almost as high, and the UNLV (+15) upset over Vandy was almost as big.

National Overview

As for the big picture, here is my weekly summary chart of the complete week’s results

The main over-achievers for the week include Utah, Oregon, Wisconsin (sniff), Navy, Minnesota, Washington, and Iowa State. As for the under-achiever, that is basically the list of teams that got upset, including Georgia, Toledo, Maryland, Vandy, Mississippi State, Wake Forest, and Memphis.

MSU might be taking the week off, but data never sleeps. I’ll be back soon with more bad betting advice for Week 8. Until then, enjoy, and Go Green.