In my previous post reviewing the results of last week, I used the analogy that MSU is currently on a plane circling the airport. The problem is that no one is sure where MSU is going to land. As I think about the week to come, I think I know where MSU is landing this week. I call it:
“Now or Never” Land.
If MSU is going to salvage this season, it needs to start now, or it is never going to happen. Lose this week, and it will be hard to consider the season any level of success. Sure, beating Michigan and finishing 7-5 would feel better than losing and finishing (at best) 6-6, but the turn-around needs to start NOW. Otherwise, we are in danger of this becoming one of those Forgotten Years.
MSU and Illinois are definitely teams that are moving in opposite directions. MSU has taken three ugly and painful losses over 5 weeks and somehow found a way to lose both bye weeks as well. The team is both physically and emotionally beaten down. Do they still have the Power and Passion to continue? In contrast, Illinois is on a 3-game winning streak, including a win over a Wisconsin team than blanked MSU. They are 5-4 while MSU is 4-4. Sure, two of those wins were against Purdue and Rutgers, but winning is winning and losing ugly is losing ugly.
Also, if I just consider the performance of each team over their past 3-4 games, Illinois grades out in my power rankings to be roughly a Top 20 team, while MSU grades out more like a Top 60 team. If that doesn’t scare you a little, well, it probably should. But, does just the performance over the past 4 games really define who a team is, or are we simply seeing a statistical fluctuation? It is probably both, honestly. The key question is which version of this analysis is closer to reality.
If I go through my standard analysis, which includes the full season of data, MSU projects to be 10 points better than Illinois in Spartan Stadium. As such, I project a 31-21 win for the Spartans. Wouldn’t that be nice? The S&P+ projection is about the same. The FPI actually likes MSU by 16. Based on the opening spread of -11, MSU has a 78% chance to win. Interestingly, the line has moved in MSU’s direction through the week, as the FPI perhaps suggests that it should. As much as I like to dog the FPI, it does do a great job of projecting what the spread will be.
But, if I look at the intangibles, I am a bit nervous. Illinois played several games without their starting QB, former Michigan Savior, Branden Peters. It stands to reason that Illinois is a little better than their season averaged data would suggest. As for MSU, they will be taking the field with their best LB and best WR. That’s bad. It stands to reason that MSU is a little worse than the season average might suggest. I do not expect MSU to cover the spread this week, for these reasons.
That said, since I am Dr. Optimism, and I have yet another analogy for you. For the last 3 games, MSU has been trying to dead-light some pretty huge weights. They started with the heaviest weight in the gym, and looked OK trying it for a while. The next week, they tried a slightly lighter weight, but due to fatigue, they couldn’t move it at all. They then had a rest day and tried a similar weight, but also failed miserably. Now, after another rest day, MSU will try to lift a much lighter weight. It is possible that by contrast, the new weight will seem so light by comparison to the past weeks that it will almost seem easy, even with some fatigue. But, there is also the chance that MSU is still so fatigued that almost any weight is too much. We won’t know until Saturday.
One thing is for sure, and that is the MSU coaches and players are burning the Midnight Oil trying to figure all of this out. Sometimes you’re taken to the wall. Sometimes you’re shaken to the core. But, you don’t give in. I still believe in this team.
As is my tradition, here are my projected point differentials for the week compared to the opening Vegas line. Following that is the same figure using the FPI.
Based on this data, I only have three recommend bets for the week, all from my algorithm. That table is shown below. The only one involving two Power Five teams is for Ohio State to cover the 42-point spread vs. Maryland (I have them winning by 60). I would use that pick along with FAU to cover vs. FIU as the parlay of the week.
As for upset picks, I have five total, most of which again come from my algorithm. The most notable picks are Tennessee to upset Kentucky and Arizona State to upset USC. My boldest pick of the week was Kent State to upset Toledo, which didn’t happen (Toledo beat Kent 35-33 on Tuesday night). But, Kent at least covered, so I have that going for me. The full table is shown below.
Finally, my Monte Carlo simulation of the week’s action suggests that we will see 12.1 ± 2.8 upsets total, which is similar to last week and a pretty low number.
That is all for now, until next time, enjoy, and Go State, Beat the Illini!