Last week I was on an international business trip when suddenly, I had a problem. I opened up my laptop to a simple black screen. As any technically savvy person would do in this situation, I proceeded to either tap and then jam down the power button for various lengths of time in rapid succession, hoping to find the magic combination that would cause my computer to come back to life. I was not looking forward to having to conduct two full days of business meetings in a foreign country using a combination of pictionary and interpretative dance. Plus, I had no idea how I was going to complete my Week 8 preview blog post. It was a serious situation.
Fortunately, after several failed attempts to reboot the machine, at least two blue screens of death, two calls to the IT helpdesk, a couple of boots into safe mode, and some googling how to restore to previous save points, I was able to restore the machine to proper operating order. The business trip (and last week’s entry) was saved!
I think that the argument can also be made over the last two MSU football games, the Spartans have experienced a fair amount of catastrophic system failure, mostly on, but also in the slowly dwindling locker room. But last weekend gave the opportunity for the IT/coaching staff to try to also reboot this MSU team, by any means necessary.
If we think back to the summer time and are honest with ourselves about what we thought at that time, most prognosticators thought that starting off 5-0 was going to be tricky, because teams like Arizona State, Northwestern, and Indiana have all given good MSU teams at least some trouble in the past. The fact that MSU went 4-1 is disappointing, but it is not a shock. Looking next on the schedule, most people looked at Ohio State and Wisconsin on the road back-to-back and concluded that MSU would be lucky to win one of those two, and those two teams are better than we expected back in the summer.
During the summer, we looked at the entire schedule and we don’t think about how 4-3 might feel going into Week 9. This is really not a huge surprise, but many fans see this as a portent of the end times. The final part of this summer exercise was to look at the final part of the schedule as well, and that analysis suggested that this is where the hay could be made. Of three main Big Ten East competitor’s, Penn State is the one MSU gets at home this year, and it comes off a bye-week. Furthermore, MSU gets to rest again next week prior to the home stretch which includes 3 very winnable mages and a trip to Ann Arbor, and history shows that “good” MSU teams pretty much always beat UofM. As we counted wins back in the summer, even the more optimistic MSU fans expected 8 or 9 wins. I hate to break it to you, but MSU is basically right on track, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
This weekend Penn State is coming to town and the game has all the makings of one of the biggest games in the Mark Dantonio era. Based on my source, the game opened at PSU -6, which means MSU has a 33.5% chance to score the upset, based on the historical numbers. My algorithm is less optimistic, and has MSU at +11. It basically predicts a 28-17 loss for the Spartans. As for the FPI, it is more optimistic than my model, but less optimistic than Vegas. It has MSU at +7.2. As for the S&P+, it has MSU at +9. So, basically the computers all like the Nittany Lions to cover. For MSU, that is roughly the equivalent of the blue and white screen of death.
But, I am the eternal optimist, and if you want an optimistic take, I can provide one. When MSU went to Madison and got bombed, the Spartans were coming off a tough road loss in Columbus and was one of only two Power 5 teams that was playing their 7th FBS team in a row without a bye. Wisconsin was coming off a walk-over blow-out of Kent State and playing in their 5th home game in a row. The week after that, the Badgers suddenly looked like hot garbage in a loss in Champaign.
The lesson here is two-fold: 1) Teams can look drastically different from week-to-week and 2) the circumstances surrounding a given match-up can make a huge difference. In this case, MSU will be the team that is rested and playing at home. Penn State will be the team coming off two tough night grinders. I would also add that Penn State has not had much recent luck against MSU and James Franklin is one of the worst in-game coaches in the game. If I add all these factors together, I see a lot of reasons for hope.
When I was on my trip, I got my machine back up and running through a bit of ingenuity and persistence. Does MSU have the persistence to fix enough of their problems? Are the hardware and software still good? Will the bye-week Reboot really work? Your guess is as good as mine. When the machine turns back on, I am optimistic that it will be running more smoothly than it has in a while. But, I would be foolish not to admit that yet another blue screen of death is possible. If that does happen, the cries that MSU needs to simply buy a new machine and start over will get louder and louder.
National Overview and Metrics Predictions:
As always, I present the predicted point differentials from my model, followed by the same chart using ESPN’s FPI:
Based on these charts, I can recommend the follow bets for the week:
Based on this analysis, the best 2-team parlay would be Wyoming and Houston to cover, but once again, my track record on parlay picks has not been great so far this year. Also, the Houston-SMU is actually being played now as I type this, so this particular recommendation is of essentially no value anyway
As for highlighted upset picks, I my model and the FPI combined suggest the following 8 upsets:
Considering that 6 of these upsets are in games where the spread is under 3 points, none of these would be a real surprise. Certainly a win by Notre Dame would be enjoyable and upsets by UCLA, Stanford, and TCU would be interesting.
Finally, my weekly Monte Carlo simulation of the week’s action suggest that we will see 15 ± 3.1 upsets this week, which is even more than I predicted last week at this time.
Well, that is all for now. Sorry for being tardy. Until next time, Go State, Beat the Lions!