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Parallel Universe College Football: Week Seven

Based on the original schedule, MSU should have faced Ohio State this week. It didn’t go well.

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

The real start to the Big Ten season is right around the corner, but what might have happened if the original schedule would have been played as scheduled? For the last six weeks, I have been “reporting” on such a universe as defined by a computer simulation that I performed this summer. Let’s check in to see what might have happened in Week Seven

Season Overview

It has not been a perfect season so far for the Spartans, but after six weeks MSU is sitting with a record of 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play. The Spartans earned victories over Northwestern, Toledo, Miami, and most recently, Michigan, but were defeated soundly in the two road games at BYU and at Iowa.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, as expected Ohio State (5-0 overall/2-0 in conference) and Penn State (4-1/2-0) look to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten East. Out West, Illinois entered the week 5-0 and in first place by themselves in conference play, albeit against suspect competition. In Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are off to a dismal 2-4 start and maybe insiders expect that this might be the last year that Jim Harbaugh roams the sidelines.

On the national scene, several notable teams have survived until Week Seven with unblemished records in the parallel universe including Clemson, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Auburn, Alabama, and LSU. In addition, Group of Five teams Air Force, Cincinnati, and Old Dominion also remain undefeated.

Ohio State at Michigan State (-31)

Last weekend was glorious in East Lansing as Mel Tucker and the Spartans defeated the rival Wolverines on a late field goal, but the celebration was short lived. Next up on the schedule was the Ohio State Buckeyes, and so far in the parallel universe, OSU looked close to unstoppable. The Buckeyes were beating teams by an average of 43 points, including the likes of Oregon and Iowa, and no team had yet been able to stay within three touchdowns.

To make matters worse, starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi went down with an “injury” late against the Wolverines and was listed as “doubtful” to return in Week Seven. Theo Day was announced as the starter on Saturday morning. All of these factors together resulted in MSU opening as more than a four-touchdown underdog at home.

As the noon kickoff approached the weather was cool and overcast, with a possible shower in the forecast. The Buckeyes won the toss and deferred to the second half and the Spartans received the opening kickoff.

MSU’s first play from scrimmage looked OK. Theo Day checked down to a swing pass to Elijah Collins out of the back field for a gain of four yards. But after that, things started to go off the rails. On MSU’s second play, Day mishandled the snap from center Matt Allen, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by the Buckeyes.

Sensing a drop of blood in the water, Ohio State struck immediately. The Buckeye opted for play-action on first down, and then connected on a flag route for a 31-yard touchdown on first-and-10. Only seconds into the game, MSU was down 7-0.

On the next MSU possession, the Spartans stayed on the ground for the most part and were able to drive to midfield. But, MSU was forced to punt after Day was forced to check down again to Collins out of the backfield on a third-and-seven resulting in a fourth-and-five.

The Buckeyes went on the attack almost immediately. OSU completed chunk play after chunk play and in just a few minutes, it was first-and-10 from the MSU 13-yard-line. However, on third down, Naquan Jones was able to deflect a pass at the line, which was then intercepted by Chase Kline.

The reprieve was short lived, however. MSU took over possession at the 14-yard-line, but could not advance the ball at all. Four plays later, the Spartans punted the ball back to the Buckeyes, who started at midfield. Once again, the Buckeyes were aggressive in the passing game, and this time after just five plays, the Buckeyes were in the end zone again and the score was the 14-0.

The next set of downs went just slightly better. MSU was able to pick up one first down. But, a first-and-10 holding penalty led to another punt which gave the Buckeyes excellent field position. A few plays later, OSU tacked on a field goal to increase the lead to 17-0 right before the end of the first quarter.

MSU seemed to settle down a bit in the second quarter, but wound up with little to show for it. The next Spartan drive was stalled due to another holding penalty, but then MSU was able to force the first OSU punt of the game. On the ensuing drive, Theo Day was able to drive into Buckeye territory, but then a third-down sack forced MSU to punt and try to pin Ohio State deep.

With the Buckeyes on their own 16-yard-line, OSU once again tried to be aggressive, and it almost cost them. Ohio State quarterback Justin Field misread the MSU secondary and threw a pick to Kalon Gervin. MSU took over at the Ohio State 35-yard-line, but failed to pick up a first down and were forced to attempt a Matt Coughlin field goal. This time, last week’s hero pushed the ball too far to the left and the score remained Ohio State 17, Michigan State 0 at the half.

The third quarter in East Lansing was mostly uneventful. MSU forced the Buckeyes to punt on their first possession, but the Spartans had to punt the ball right back four plays later. Ohio State then once again drove deep into MSU territory only to fumble the ball back to the Spartans on the 21-yard-line.

After another MSU three-and-out, the Buckeyes were on the move once again. This time, OSU made it all the way to the five-yard-line before an Ohio State receiver bobbled an almost sure touchdown pass into the arms of MSU safety Dom Long. The Spartans dodged yet another bullet, but the defense was starting to wear out.

The teams traded punts again, but early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State was finally able to get onto the scoreboard again, via a post route to a tight end from the 30-yard-line to make the score 24-0. On MSU’s next drive, the Spartans showed a bit of grit in driving into Ohio State territory, but the drive end at the 30-yard-line with a turnover on downs.

At this point a gentle drizzle began to fall and Ohio State seemed content to run out the clock. MSU would not threaten again, and the game ended in a shutout. Ohio State defeated Michigan State 24-0. Considering the fact that the Buckeyes committed four total turnovers, it certainly could have been a lot worse. The Spartan record now stands at 4-3.

Other Week Seven Big Ten Results

The results from the other Big Ten games in the parallel universe this week are summarized below in Table 1.

Table 1: Week five results for the Big Ten in the parallel universe

Week Seven was a good week for both the favorites and the home teams. Both Penn State and Ohio State moved to 3-0 in conference play thanks to wins over Iowa and MSU. Both teams now have a commanding two-game lead over the the rest of the Big Ten East. In the Big Ten West, Illinois extended the winning streak by beating Purdue. The Illini moved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play which is good enough for sole possession of first place.

In Minneapolis this weekend, the Gophers moved to 6-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play at the expense of the Wolverines, who fall to 2-5 and 0-4 in Big Ten play, good enough for last place in the East.

In the post game press conference, Coach Harbaugh had the look of a defeated man. He once again mumbled and stumbled through his statements, gave non-sequitur answers to every single question, and went off on a long diatribe about his suspicions that his players were eating chicken again. It was a thoroughly weird and uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.

Table 2 below shows the updated Big Ten standings from the parallel universe after the action of Week Seven.

Table 2: Big Ten standings after Week Seven in the parallel universe

Other Week Seven Power Five Results

Table 3 below summarizes the results from the rest of the Power Five in the parallel universe in Week Seven.

Table 3: Week seven results for the remainder of the Power Five in the parallel universe

There were no majors surprises in the ACC this week as Clemson rolled once again, as did Florida State (5-1) and Duke (6-1). In Big 12 play, the key result of the week was Iowa State’s dismantling of Oklahoma. This leaves Oklahoma State (who beat Kansas) in sole possession of first place, with a win over Iowa State in hand.

In the Pac-12, Oregon (5-1) breezed past Cal to stay undefeated in conference play and in sole possession of first place in the North Division. Stanford (4-2) edged Washington State and now appears to be the only thing standing between Oregon and another Pac-12 North title. Meanwhile, in the Pac-12 South, Arizona State (6-0) didn’t play, but had a great week as both UCLA and USC suffered upset losses. The Sun Devils now have a two-game lead in the loss column in the division race.

In the SEC, it was a wild week, as Florida and Georgia both opened as underdogs versus Ole Miss and Mizzou, but both teams won to stay in the East Division hunt. Meanwhile, Kentucky (6-1) easily retired the Commodores and find themselves with a half game lead in the SEC East.

In the West, both Alabama and LSU suffered shocking upset loses to Mississippi State and Arkansas, but Auburn (7-0) managed to hold back Texas A&M. As the dust settled, the Tigers are now alone in first place.

Week Seven Group of Five Results

Table 4 below summarizes the results from the Group of Five in the parallel universe this week.

Table 4: Week seven results for the Group of Five in the parallel universe

Coming into the week, the undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats had all the momentum as the top candidate for a spot in the New Year’s Six. But, a road trip to Tulsa did not go as planned, and as a result, the AAC now has three teams sitting at 5-1 (Memphis and Temple being the other two). The Memphis Tigers (at 3-0 in conference play) now appear to be the team to beat for the conference title.

In the Mountain West, Air Force (7-0) defeated the Warriors of Hawaii and now appear to have a clear path to the New Year’s Six if they can run the table. If the Falcons stumble, there might be a narrow window for Old Dominion (6-0) to crawl through as the Monarchs took out UTSA this week.

What’s Next For the Parallel Universe

When I first conceived of this project, in was in mid-August and it appeared that there would be no Big Ten football at all this fall. I wanted to give MSU and college football fans in general a taste of what a normal college football season might have looked like.

But, a lot of things have changed since I began my “coverage” of the events from the parallel universe. Fortunately, there actually will be Big Ten football starting next weekend. Therefore, it is time to pause this project in order to focus on the events in our universe.

One thing that I hate more than anything is an unfinished project. So, my plan for now is a check back in with the parallel universe a bit later in the season with a very brief update on how things are going. If for some reason, the Big Ten’s plan to hold a full season falls apart, it might make sense to pick this project back up in more depth. Time will tell.

So, for now, it is time to sign off. This has been a fun project, but I think that we can all agree that watching the Spartans is real life is far superior. Until next time and as always: Go Green.