So, I guess it’s Rivalry Week. Yeah!?!???? I work in Ann Arbor, and while this particular week is usually pretty stressful, it is at least something that I try to have fun with. This year? I am having a hard time getting into it. Real life has been pretty busy, and let’s be honest, the last 6 weeks or so of Spartan Sports has been pretty soul crushing. While I am sure that I will be really fired up on Saturday at noon when the ball finally gets kicked from the tee, right now… meh.
By the second paragraph on this post, I should be in full trash talk mode. I certainly could point out a lot of the annoying things about the Harvard of Washtenaw County. I could mention their arrogant, elitist attitude, despite the fact the I would categorize the whole lot of UofM grads that I have ever met as a whole to be generally only “slightly above average.” I could mention how their general behavior frighteningly resembles the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (trust me, Google it).
I could talk about their extremely childish behavior and how it manifests itself as sky-writing, spike planting, turf defacing, and (it’s rumored) locker room defacement. All the while, they try to paint themselves as aloof, above it all, and the “good guy”, like a modern day Eddie Haskell (also, Google it). Finally, I could expound on the echo chamber that they place themselves in. It is an echo chamber so strong that the narrative in all of SE Michigan often revolves not around reality, but around what Michigan fans desperately want to be true, whether it relates to recruiting, preseason rankings, or the culture on MSU’s campus. I could go on for pages…. But, why bother?
I think I know what it is. I think I have a case of what I call “The Michigan Indifference”.
Honestly, worrying about Michigan is exhausting. I would prefer just to ignore them. In their down years, they basically crawl back into their holes and trailer parks and stay quiet. It’s glorious. But, every February, just like freaking Groundhogs, they pop up and beat their chest and Simply. Never. Shut. Up.
In thinking about this week, maybe I have had a bit of an epiphany, and it is this:
Michigan doesn’t matter. They are literally irrelevant.
Do I still want to beat them? Sure! Of course, I do! But, I also wanted to beat Arizona State and Illinois. But even if we win, MSU likely will get to 7-5 instead of 6-6 and nothing really changes. Not really. Maybe MSU can get to the Pinstripe Bowl instead of the Quick Lane Bowl. Goodie.
As for Michigan, if they win I am sure that they will prance around like peacocks at the Potter Park Zoo. It will be like their Super Bowl, because (let’s face it) they are going to get whitewashed by Ohio State in a few weeks, and they know it. Their ceiling is 3rd place in the East and 9-3, just like it has been since 2004. Even with the Savior at the helm, the results are the same. Meanwhile, Minnesota is one big win away from becoming the 8th team not named Michigan to make it to Indianapolis.
If they are super lucky, Michigan will somehow back into the Cotton Bowl and get a chance to play Cincinnati or Memphis. If they aren’t so lucky, they will draw an SEC team somewhere in Florida. They will probably lose either way, because that it what they do. It’s my new favorite New Year’s tradition.
If you think about it, what has UofM accomplished over the past 15 years other than periodically (and rarely) beating MSU? They don’t beat OSU. They don’t win championships, and they rarely win Bowl games. I guess they sometimes beat Notre Dame. But, simply not losing to unranked teams is NOT an accomplishment. Yet, it is all that they have, which is why “3-9” is the only thing that they can use to trash-talk MSU fans… MSU’s 3-9 season was Michigan’s best season in the last 10. They think that MSU fans define our success based on beating UofM, when in reality, the opposite is true. Their ONLY source of happiness is the possibility of MSU having a down year (more on this later) so that they can beat us and feel that one fleeting spark of happiness in their otherwise unsatisfying lives.
It really is quite sad, when you think about it.
So, sorry Michigan. I am just not that into you that much anymore. We have smacked you around quite a bit over the past decade or so. It was fun. But, the joy I would feel in beating you has more to do with the thought that it will shut up your fan base for 3 months than anything else. I think that I need to move on, emotionally. It’s not me, it’s you. You guys are just a bunch of sad losers and I am just realizing that now. Sorry. You can crow all you want if you win, but I see your true self. I sort of pity you now more than anything. You just aren’t worth it anymore.
Actual Football Comments
That all said, there is a football game to be played and I have some thought on that as well. My data source had Michigan opening at +14, which corresponds to a 16% chance that MSU scores an upset. That is exactly 1 in 6. In other words, it’s Russian Roulette time for the Wolverines. Are you feeling lucky? My algorithm is not quite as optimistic, as it has UofM by close to 17 points. As for the FPI, it is basically almost dead on the Vegas prediction.
If you want my typical optimistic take on this (in contrast perhaps to my opening), here is the path that I see to an upset. As I stated in my recap of last week’s debacle, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that MSU is not as bad as the record suggests. Meanwhile, UofM is coming in cocky, even more so than usual, and off from a bye. Michigan’s last two wins were over an over-rated Notre Dame club and over Maryland, where the stats suggest that Michigan was not quite as dominant as the final score implied.
Is Michigan over-confident, a little rusty, and not quite as good as their numbers suggest? Michigan is good and trending up, but they are not a great team. Is MSU the wounded animal with nothing to lose? Maybe, and that is the first step towards an upset. But, to make this happen, MSU needs to be SHARP. That means no big mistakes, very few small ones, and an attention to detail.
There is honestly not much in MSU’s current body of work to suggest that this will happen, but this game has a tendency to bring out the best possible version of MSU. That version of MSU absolutely has a chance to win this game. But, do they still exist, or has the physical and emotional impact of the season just worn this team down too much? We shall see.
In addition, I think MSU finally needs a bit of luck to win this game. That could mean a tipped ball pick-6, a Michigan DB falling down, Shea Patterson continuing to fumble, or some close calls that actually go MSU’s way. All of those things would help, and it seems like the Football gods owe us one.
As for the historical perspective on this match-up, I came up with a new way this week to visualize the history of the MSU-UofM rivalry. In the follow chart, I plot UofM’s winning percentage as a function of MSU’s winning percent for every year back to 1950 (when MSU joined the Big Ten). The color of each symbol (blue or green) represents the game winner. As important trick here is that the winning percentage does not include the MSU-UofM game, so this plot truly compares the record of each team independent of the rivalry game.
I have also divided up the data into a few sections. The black solid line is the parity line. Below it are the years when MSU had the better win%. Above it are the years where UofM had the better win% (both correct for the rivalry game). I also added a dotted line to define a section of the data where UofM was between 0 and 20 percentage points better than MSU. Above that dotted is the area of data when UofM was more than 20 percentage points better.
Overall, the data is VERY clear. When MSU is better (outside of the UofM game), MSU almost always wins. Counting the parity line, MSU is 18-3 (86%) when we have the better non-rivalry record. In the intermediate zone (0-20% of a lead for UofM), the results are close. MSU is 7-11 (39%) in this area of the chart. Above that line, in the years where UofM is quite a bit better, then actually dominate to the tune of 22-5. (81%).
So, once again, UofM literally almost never beats good MSU teams over a span of 70 years. Unfortunately, MSU is not “good” team in 2019. I actually also marked the projected position of this year’s game, assuming the two teams win the remaining games in which they are favored. That mark is very close to the dotted line (where the odds drop) but it is also right on top of another data point, which just so happens to be the 2001, “Just a second” Smoker to Duckett game. That seems like some good karma to me, at least.
Historically, this game falls into a spot on the chart where MSU wins about 40% of the time, which is at least better than 1 in 6. This might simply be a graphical representation of the concept of “throwing out the record books when these two teams play.” So, is this a better number with which to think about this game? Perhaps it is.
But, I would also point out that if MSU were to have beaten both Arizona State and Illinois, as they should have, the data point for 2019 would shift to the right all the way to the black parity line. In this position, MSU’s historical odds would be over 80%. Of course, that didn’t happen, but it seems like that version of MSU may still exist. In fact, we are exactly two 4th down plays away for just that situation. How’s that for optimism?
So, while things may seem dire, I still think that hope exists that Saturday might just turn out OK. That is, of course, assuming that we still care.
As is my weekly tradition, the charts below summarize my algorithm’s projected point spread as well as the FPI’s projections as a function of the opening Vegas line
Based on these plots, similar to last week, I only have three recommended bets for the week, all of which come from my algorithm. These are summarized below:
As we can see, two of the three games involve Big Ten teams and the other game is a MAC contest that took place already. Fortunately for me, EMU did easily cover, so I am already 1 for 1. Note also that the Ohio State / Rutgers game is so far off scale that it does not appear in the plots above.
As for upsets, I only have a total of four predictions which are shown below:
The Auburn / Georgia upset would be the most significant of the bunch. That said, my Monte Carlo simulation of the week suggests that we will observe 12.2 ± 3.0 upsets. Hopefully, one of those will take place in Ann Arbor.
That is all for now. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State, Beat the Skunk-bears!