As we look back on MSU’s excruciating loss to Arizona State last weekend, everyone has an opinion on what went wrong and who is to blame. Was it the play-calling? the coaching? the execution? the refs? the added pressure of Dantonio breaking the record? the injuries? just bad luck? Well, I would argue that MSU’s misfortune was actually a combination of all those things. Sometimes more than one thing can be true at the same time.
At the end of the day, what everyone wants to know is if this team is actually going to wind up being good or not. Is the offense ever going to show any more of the firepower that they did against Western Michigan, or was that just a fluke? Are we going to have to sit through another season like 2018 or, God forbid, 2016? The optimists have an opinion. The pessimists have an opinion, and there is only one thing that they both agree with:
They both think that they are “realists.”
In my mind, the best tie-breaker in times like these are to look to cold, unemotional numbers to see what story they tell. Based on my analysis, the scale is still tipping to the side of the optimists. MSU’s metrics are mostly solid, especially compared to last year. Even against Arizona State, MSU won in ever category that mattered, except the score. MSU is still doing just fine in the various computer rankings.
For this weekend’s contest with the Northwestern Wildcats, MSU opened as a 6.5-point favorite, based on my source. That corresponds to a 68% chance that MSU wins this game, Dantonio breaks the record, and MSU and gets back on track. Conversely, there is also a 32% chance that the MSU comes back home as a 0.500 team, and the pessimists have another log on their collective fire.
As the week has progressed, the line keeps moving in MSU’s favor. That is consistent with both my algorithm (which has MSU as -11.4) and the FPI (which has MSU as -10.8). So, the cold numbers suggest MSU wins and even covers. My precise score prediction is that MSU wins a (surprise!) low scoring game: 24-13. This would also fall slightly below the current over/under of 39 points. So, when it comes to betting on MSU this week (which I remind you all is a TERRIBLE idea), the machines like MSU to cover and suggest to take the under.
In order to put this projection in context, here is my standard weekly preview graph for Week 4, based on my algoritms projections relative to the opening spread:
In addition, here is the same plot using data from ESPN’s FPI:
As mentioned above, both my metric and the FPI like MSU by double digits, and my math likes the under, but neither signal is strong enough for my “official” bad betting recommendation. What I do recommend is found in the list below, which corresponds to the games plotted outside of the dotted lines in either of the two plots above.
- Wisconsin (-2.5) to cover vs. Michigan
- Clemson (-41.0) to cover vs. Charlotte
- Kent State (-9.5) to cover vs. Bowling Green
- LSU (-21.0) to cover vs. Vanderbilt
- USC (+4.0) to cover vs. Utah
- Arizona State (-7.0) to cover vs. Colorado
- Florida (-14.5) to cover vs. Tennessee
- Rutgers (+6.5) to cover vs. Boston College
- Western Michigan (+4.5) to cover vs. Syracuse
- UTEP (+13.0) to cover vs. Nevada
In my case, I have 6 games where I like the favorite to cover, including taking Wisconsin to cover over Michigan, and Arizona State to cover against Colorado. That sure sounds nice. In contrast, the FPI data to me suggests 4 games where the underdog covers, including USC over Utah and Western Michigan over Syracuse. If all of these predictions come true, it is going to be a pretty great weekend for MSU.
Starting this week, I have ordered these predictions from “most likely” to “least likely,” based on the combined magnitude of the difference between my/the FPI prediction and the spread. As is clear from my figure, the Michigan / Wisconsin game is the clear outlier. My model likes Wisconsin to win by over 25 points. If you are looking for a 2-game parley, my analysis suggests adding Clemson to cover the 41-point spread vs. Charlotte. But that is an awful big number...
As for upsets, the picks for the week are shown below:
Combined, my model and the FPI like a total of 10 upsets this week, most notably Western Michigan over Syracuse (FPI), Auburn over Texas A&M (mine), and USC over Utah (FPI). My weekly simulation of the week’s games suggests that we will see 11.6 ± 2.8 upsets, which is the largest predicted number so far this year.
That is all for now. Come back after the games to see how I did. Hopefully, we will all be in a more celebratory mood by then. Until then, enjoy, and Go Green.