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Against All Odds, Week 9

Sometimes when it rains, it pours

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I am honestly not sure what to say about Saturday’s game. I am almost lost for words (though, not really). It just completely sucked. I was honestly hoping and expecting a sharp performance from the Spartans after a bye week.


What did we get instead? Well, we got busted overages, ill-timed penalties, poor execution, a fumbled punt, a blocked FG, interceptions, and a crazy new rash of injuries. Oh, and several thousands of us sat in a steady drizzle to witness it... at least for a while. Then, just when you thought that maybe Notre Dame would do the same thing to Michigan in the rain that Penn State did to MSU and you could at least sleep well from a tiny dose of rivalry schadenfreude...


And of course Josh Langford is out until (at least) January, and of course Kyle Arhens sprained his ankle, and of course the Hauser waiver was denied, and of course Illinois now looks like a legit threat. Of course...

Because sometimes when it rains, it pours.

Life is like that sometimes, and this weekend was one of those times. Now, I am the self-appointment Chief Optimism Officer of the MSU Internet, but this one was tough to process. A month ago, MSU was 4-1, and while seemed to not yet be a complete team, they showed promise. The signs were there that if MSU could just tighten a few screws, and if things broke just right, we could be headed towards a very satisfying and perhaps even a special season.

Things definitely have not broken right, and now MSU just looks broken. The promise that was shown a month ago seems shattered. One could point to a lot of areas for why this is happening, but I don’t think it is that complicated. MSU just isn’t quite talented enough, they are not executing cleanly enough, and they are flat out just not very lucky. It seems like only 10% of the 50-50 plays are going our way right now. When it rains, it pours.

And then, there is the schedule. I wrote a month ago or so that one of my main concerns was that MSU seemed to be playing their schedule in the opposite order of difficultly, which from a psychological stand-point seemed bad. We always must keep in mind that the sport that we love involves a group of 18-22 year old kids who are simply trying to play game. Things can snowball very easily once confidence is lost. Hopefully we are not quite there yet, but we sure seem close.

Of course, none of this matters now, but I think it is reasonable to question what would have happened if MSU could have played Penn State at home on October 5th instead of traveling to Columbus? What would have happened if MSU could have played Michigan in September? What would have happened if MSU drew Wisconsin the week after the Badgers played the Buckeyes and not the other way around? What would happen in MSU simply had Minnesota’s schedule? Things would look a hell of a lot different. Who says luck doesn’t matter? Either way, we are still all wet.

All that matters is the future. As for the future of the coaching staff, that is honestly not even worth talking about right now. Do you think that somehow Beekman is going to fire the whole staff, and instantly hire [insert your favorite unrealistic coach-of-the-moment-here]? Yeah... So don’t even worry about it. I have a feeling that the coaching situation is going to sort itself out, one way or another. Either Dantonio will retire or he will make significant changes in the off season, depending on the outcome of the next 4-5 games.

As for the future of the product on the field, MSU has another weird week off to try to peel themselves off the mat one more time. Can they do it? Can they salvage the season? If you think that there if nothing left to play for, just allow yourself to dream about an 8-4 finish with a win over Michigan and a shot at a 9th win in a Florida Bowl. Do you think that sounds impossible? You must be new to the game. Improbable? Sure. Based on what we have seen that seems reasonable. But, it’s not impossible. Have a little faith, Spartan fans. Eventually the rain will stop and the sun will shine again. It always does.

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:

As expected, MSU’s metrics fell gently like the rain in Spartan Stadium this week. In my power rankings, MSU has now slipped from 26 to 36, and the number of expected wins dropped from 7.34 to 6.82. The expected conference win total has been in a gentle but steady decline since Week 5. That still equates to a predicted record of 7-5, but the margin of error is smaller. In addition, my calculations say that MSU is mathematically eliminated from the Big Ten East race. I can tell from the look on your face that you’re shocked.

As for the updated lines, I have:

  • Illinois -9.1
  • Michigan +12.7
  • Rutgers -32.4
  • Maryland -18.2

The good news is that Rutgers and Maryland are both still really bad. They are the worst two teams on MSU’s schedule, based on my power rankings. But, Michigan is certainly looking better over the past 6 quarters. Recall that after Week 5, I had MSU as a double digit favorite in Ann Arbor. Those numbers were indicative of how the two teams were playing at the time. Unfortunately, the same is true now. The teams are going in opposite directions.

And, then there is Illinois. Also after Week 5, I had MSU as almost a 30-point favorite in this game, and now the line looks like it will be around -10. Considering the way the Illini have played in the last 2-3 weeks and the fact that they are going to pound Rutgers this weekend, that line might actually open closer to -6 or -7 for MSU. My collar suddenly feels tight.

As for the odds for each possible remaining record, the numbers now show:

  • 8-4: 12%
  • 7-5: 60%
  • 6-6: 26%
  • 5-7: 2%
  • 4-8: 1 in 4500

Once again, 7-5 is by far the most likely result. The odds of 6-6 are roughly twice as good as the odds of winning out, but the odds of missing a Bowl entirely are around 2%. I suppose it is what it is.

As for the rest of the Big Ten, in the East, it is for all intents and purposes officially a 2-team race between Ohio State and Penn State. The two teams will face-off in the 2nd to last weekend of the season, and there is a 99% chance right now that the winner of that game will win the East. I currently project Ohio State to be a 17-point favorite at home, hence the high odds for the Buckeyes.

In the West, despite the fact that Minnesota has a 2-game lead in the standings, I still give Wisconsin the best odds to win the Division (60%). The Badgers are still ranked #4 in my power rankings, but they still have to play Iowa and travel to both Nebraska (where weird things happen) and Minnesota. The Gophers also host Penn State in 2 weeks and must travel to Iowa. So, in general, the race in the West is not over by a long shot as both Minnesota (24%) and Iowa (16%) still have legit shots.

Betting and Upset Pick Review

Finally, some good news! Despite the soggy on-field performances we witnessed, my algorithm stayed warm and dry. Overall, it went 31-24 (56%) against the spread (ATS) bringing its totals to 231-224 (51%) year-to-date. The FPI was all wet this week though, going 23-32 (42%) which is still underwater for the year (218-237 or 48%).

As for the betting results, those were also strong, as shown below:

3 of my 4 picks hit ATS, while 2 of the 3 FPI picks hit. Overall the method got 5 out of 7. Nice. Year to date my algorithm is now 40-30 (57%), the FPI is 18-13 (58%) and combined “we” are 55-41 (57%). That is pretty much exactly where my historical data suggested these numbers would be.

In the area of upsets, if you thought there were a lot last week (17), this week topped that by three. The summary table is shown below:

The big upset was of course Kansas State taking out Oklahoma, but Kentucky’s win over Mizzou was big, as was Oklahoma’s win over Iowa State and Illinois’s win over Purdue. As for the picks, I got 3 of my 5 correct (although they were all practically pick’ems) and the FPI hit 4 of 5. Year-to-date,

my algorithm is 21-27 (44%) on upset picks, while the FPI is 15-14 (52%).

National Overview

Finally, as is my tradition, here is the over-all summary of the week’s action

The biggest over-achiever of the week looks to be UCF, with Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, Clemson, Utah, and Penn State (sniff) all posting stronger than expected wins. Meanwhile, USC, LSU, and Oregon were all a bit below the line.

That is all for now. MSU may be on a bye again, but I will still crunch the numbers for the rest of the country prior to the bulk of the action. Until next time, enjoy, and Go Green.