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Against All Odds, Week 14

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This is the way the season ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper... well, sort of.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The T.S. Elliott poem “The Hollow Men,” the final refrain is an ominous one. It goes, “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.” On Saturday in Spartan Stadium, the 2019 regular season also came to an end, and unfortunately there was more whimper than bang.

Now, MSU still did come away with the win, so all is not lost. The World, in fact, is not coming to an end. However, the win did have a certain Hollow feel to it. Maryland is not a good football team, yet MSU once again found themselves leaving points on the field and letting said bad team hang around. When you let a bad team hang around, you leave yourself open to one or two bad plays or bounces that can suddenly put you in a bad position.

In all honesty, the Rutgers game was no different. MSU dominated most of that game as well but found themselves up only 10-0 just before halftime. It is just that Rutgers is a REALLY bad football team and not just a bad one. That game turned out just fine. This one almost didn’t. I guess the paying customers at least got a little Bang for their buck, as it certainly was a tense and “exciting” finish. The unexpectedly dry (yet cold) crowd mostly stuck around, and they were “rewarded” with a clutch FG, a 4th down stop (for once), and a chance to sing the fight song one more time with the Seniors. I stayed until the bitter end, and I am glad that I did.

So, while the victory did feel Hollow for us fans, at least the Senior got to be sent off with somewhat of a Bang. Just like last week, a win is still 100x better than a loss. As a final reward, the team now gets to spend one more month together for one last hurrah. The younger players will get 16 very valuable chances to practice and the seniors will get one more chance to get this team over 500. It will be chance to change some of the whimper into at least a mild bang. A 7-6 final record will look a LOT better in the history books than a 6-7 one will.

So, the last remaining question is where will MSU wind up for the Holidays? To me, there are two clear options and one is a lot more likely than the other. With a 6-6 record, MSU most likely will slot into the Quick Lane Bowl in nearby Detroit against an ACC opponent with a similar record. Right now, that looks like either Boston College, North Carolina, Miami, or Florida State. I have to wonder if Boston College might be the most likely of those four, due simply to geographical considerations. It might be easier to sell the idea of a bowl in Detroit to a team from the Northeast than from the South. After all, Bowls are mostly about putting butts in seats, and MSU-Boston College in Detroit looks to me to be the combination that would sell the most tickets, like it or not.

As for the other option, I am hearing rumblings of MSU drawing the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City, possibly against Pitt. While a possible match-up with Coach Narduzzi has some appeal, I see it as unlikely. Assigning teams to bowls is a game of musical chair with a surprisingly complex set of rules. In short, the bottom three Big Ten teams are Indiana (8-4), MSU (6-6), and Illinois (6-6) and all thing being equal those 3 teams should slot into the Pinstripe, Redbox, and Quick Lane Bowls. The conference is not supposed to let a team a 6-6 team leapfrog an 8-4 team for a slot, so Indiana to the Pinstripe Bowl simply makes sense. Considering both IU and MSU were in the Redbox Bowl recently, Illinois is the only logical fit in Santa Clara. That leaves MSU in Detroit, where ticket sales should be strong. This seems like a no-brainer.

But, there is one scenario that would disrupt this plan, and that is if a Big Ten team (either Wisconsin or Penn State) winds up in the Cotton Bowl. This would essentially bump up all of the Big Ten teams below the NY6 up one bowl in the pecking order. Either Penn State or Wisconsin is likely bound for the Rose Bowl (I don’t see Minnesota making it) so the remaining team would need to finish at exactly the right position in the final Playoff Standings (9th or 10th) to be slotted to Dallas. The most likely scenario to accomplish this would be for LSU to beat Georgia, Oklahoma to beat Baylor, and Utah to beat Oregon. The trick is to get only 1 SEC team into the playoffs and then have Penn State / Wisconsin ranked behind Utah, Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma, yet in front of Baylor, Florida, and Auburn. It would also work if 2 SEC teams make the Playoffs and Florida is ranked ahead of Penn State / Wisconsin.

As I look at the probabilities, I estimate that there is about a 15% chance of this scenario, so I give it an 85% chance that MSU winds up in Detroit. But, we will see what happens.

Betting and Upset Recap:

When it comes to overall performance against the spread (ATS), my algorithm certainly closed the season with a Bang. In this final full week of play, my algorithm went 39-25 (61%) ATS, marking the 6th week in a row that it was at 55% or better. For the season, the numbers total 383-340 (53%) which is one of the better years that I have on record. As for the FPI, it Whimpered a bit as the season ended. Again. For the 6th straight week the FPI was under five hundred at 30-34 (47%) ATS. It closed the regular season at 342-381 (47%).

As for recommended bets, things did not go as well. Both the FPI and my algorithm failed to get any of the three recommended bets correct. That marks the only week of the year where the combined strategy went 0-fer. But, year-to-date, my algorithm closes the regular season at 49-35 (58%), the FPI finishes at 20-16 (56%) and the combined strategy wound up at 66-49 (57%). Based on my analysis of past year’s data, this is essentially right where I expected the numbers to be. The tabular record of my failure is shown below.

When it comes to upsets, the FPI was silent this week, and my algorithm got 2 of 3 (67%), as shown in the table below. Year-to-date, my algorithm closes the season at 31-35 (47%) while the FPI finished at 19-18 (51%). As expected, there were a total of 15 total upsets this week, the biggest of which (at least in the Power 5) was West Virginia over TCU and Northwestern over Illinois.

Finally, the chart below summarizes the overall results of final weekend of the regular season, summarizing the final point differentials as a function of the opening Vegas Line. As usual, a teams’ position on the chart gives an indication of how much they closed the season with a Bang or a Whimper based on the spread. The notable over-achievers this week among the Power 5 were Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas. Meanwhile, Penn State, MSU, Illinois, Wake Forest, Pitt, and Miami all fell into the under-achiever (and in some cases, the loser) category.

Well, that brings this final edition of Against All Odds of the regular season to a close. I won’t bother to end things with a bang or a whimper. I will instead leave you with a simple, “Go Green.”