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Against All Odds: Week 10 (Plowed)

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If you thought that MSU turned the corner after beating Michigan, you may have counted your chickens before they hatched.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

First quarter: Boffo Brown, Dark Horse Brewing Company, Marshall, Michigan

How’s everyone doing today? It looks like a beautiful day for football in Iowa City today. Personally, I am feeling good about the game today. If MSU can bring even a fraction of the energy and focus that it showed in Ann Arbor last weekend, I believe that the Spartans can make some hay against the Hawkeyes.

Wow. OK, that was not a good start for the defense. That looked an awful lot like the first drive in the Rutgers game two weeks ago. I hope that they can shake that off.... Man, that first drive had some promise. It looked like receiver broke off the route there. It stinks for Rocky Lombardi on the pick, but that is basically an arm-punt on third down. No big deal. The defense just needs to get a stop.

The defense did not get a stop. Iowa looks pretty sharp so far. MSU needs to respond here and try to capture some momentum... Three-and-out. Crap. Wait! MSU forces a three-and-out! Nice. OK, Spartans, let’s try to string some positive plays together here.

Second quarter: Strawberry M-43, Old Nation Brewing Company, Williamston, Michigan

Well, we got one first down there, but a third down incompletion kills the drive. Nuts. OK, the defense needs to rise up here. Come on, did Iowa just get a first down on a deflected pass? It is really not looking like our day today so far... DEFENSE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!? 21-0? Come on, State, you guys are better than this... aren’t you?

INTERCEPTION?!? DAMN IT... The defense held them to a field goal attempt. That’s right, baby! And he misses! This has to be the turning point, State. LET’S GO!... Three-and-out (sigh...). Wait, the defense forced a three-and-out! OK, OK...

THERE’S THE OFFENSE. Nice 50-yard bomb to Speedy Nailor. BOOM! Let’s cut into this lead by halftime...Crap. Fourth-down-and-five at the Iowa 31-yard-line. That’s a long field goal attempt...I would go for it there... Nope, OK, let’s kick...SON OF A....!!!!

Let’s just trade punts now...awesome. Wow, that’s an ugly line drive...WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Punt return for a touchdown. 28-0. Well, this can’t get much worse. UNLESS OF COURSE YOU THROW A PICK SIX. Ugh...What’s left in the fridge?

Third quarter: Warlock Imperial Stout, Southern Tier Brewery, Lakewood, New York

OK, second half, down 35 points on the road. WE CAN STILL DO THIS. The comeback starts here and now, baby! Another 50-yard bomb to Nailor! That’s what I am talking about! JET SWEEP TO THE PUNTER FOR A TOUCHDOWN! Hell, yeah! OH, IT’S ON IN IOWA CITY, BABY!

Come on D, three-and-out, boys! OR.... allow a 71-yard run play on the next platy! AHHHHHHH!

Wait, is Michigan down 31-14 to Indiana? BAHAHAHAHA!

I wonder what’s the record for three-and-outs by an MSU game in a single game? OMG, Why is Rocky still playing!?!?! Hey. why wasn’t Tom Izzo and Jud Heathcote on that graphic? Stupid ESPN...

Fourth quarter: Woodford Reverse (three fingers) Versailles, Kentucky

I hope that at this point Iowa just milks the clock. Get it? Milk? Because it’s Iowa. And there are a lot of farms there. HA! Hey, is that Dan Orlovsky? Didn’t he used to play for the Lions? Why is he so obsessed with Jeff Smoker? Is he 14 years old? He sounds 14. Are they talking about the Grateful Dead? What’s happening? What channel is the Michigan game on?

Michael Penix, Jr. That sounds like... I don’t feel so good...

Week 10 Results and Betting Review

Where was I? Oh, yes. Let’s take a look at the overview of all of the action in Week 10 by comparing the final results of each game to the opening spread, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Results from Week 10 comparing the final score differential to the opening Vegas line

The favored teams that lived high on the hog and overachieved this week include Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Iowa (sigh), Western Michigan, North Carolina, Minnesota, Toledo, Tulane, and Cincinnati. As for the favored teams that underachieved, yet still won, that would include Memphis and Ohio State.

Table 1 below summarizes the upsets that occurred relative to the opening Vegas line and shows the performance of my computer algorithm and the performance of ESPN’s FPI.

Table 1: Summary of the upsets from Week 10 including the performance of the computer models

Overall I count 11 total upsets, which is a bit lower than the prediction of 14 based on my weekly simulation. That said, a large number of games were cancelled, especially in Conference USA, which naturally throws off the calculations.

For the third week in a row, the Big Ten featured the biggest upset of the week as Maryland went into College Station and not only upset Penn State, but did it by 16 points. In addition, Liberty’s upset of Virginia Tech and San Jose State’s upset of San Diego State were also both double-digit upsets.

The computers both had a solid week of upset prognostication. Once the cancelled games were removed, my algorithm got four-of-seven picks correct (57 percent) while the FPI got four-of-five (80 percent). Year-to-date, my spreadsheet is 11-12 for upsets (48 percent) while the FPI is 11-4 (73 percent) since I started tracking the results three weeks ago.

Table 2 below summarizes the computers’ performance relative to my recommended bets.

Table 2: Recommended bet results for Week 10

Both computer systems struggled a bit more in this regard this week, so I hope that no one out there bet the farm using my Bad Betting Advice. The FPI went three-for-eight (38 percent) this week while my algorithm did slightly better at three-for-seven (43 percent) once the cancelled games were taken off the board. Together, the combined strategy was six-for-13 (46 percent).

Year-to-date, my computer is only 5-8 (39 percent) on recommended bets while the FPI is doing better at 11-10 (52 percent). The combined strategy 16-16 (50 percent) after three weeks.

Despite the lackluster performance in recommended bets, the overall performance against the spread (ATS) was actually quite strong for both algorithms. My computer went 27-21 (56 percent) while the FPI was even better at 28-20 (58%). Year-to-date, this brings the tally for my model to 84-78 (52 percent) and 86-76 (53 percent) for the FPI.

Updated Expected Wins and Season Odds

The roller-coaster ride that is MSU football in 2020 (or perhaps that is 2020 in general) continued once again in Iowa City. Bizarrely, MSU is three-for-three in being involved in “outlier games” this year where the final result was more than 14-points off from the opening Vegas line. Last week, MSU was on the positive side of that equation. Weeks One and Three? Not so much.

At this point, I don’t think we know the real identity of this MSU team. While it seems increasing obvious that Michigan simply is not very good, MSU’s performance against Michigan was still very impressive. MSU experienced a lot of problem in the trenches against Rutgers and those chickens came home to roost in Iowa City. The team clearly has potential. But, losing to Rutgers and getting mowed down by Iowa is a major concern. I think that the remainder of MSU’s season will have some bright spots, but the enthusiasm that MSU fans felt last weekend has now been almost completely wiped away.

So, where does this leave us? Spartan fans can debate what went wrong and what this loss means until the cows come home. As for me, I rely on the numbers to take my emotions completely out of the equation. Table 3 below gives the updated expected wins totals and odds for MSU and the rest of the Big Ten.

Table 3: Updated Big Ten expected win totals and odds following Week 10

First of all, I would like to give a shout-out to anyone out there who predicted that after three weeks Indiana would be in first place in the East with Maryland alone in second place and with Northwestern and Purdue leading in the West. Great job!

As for MSU, the Spartans have dropped down to No. 82 in my power rankings and the expected win total has dropped to 2.01. Amusingly, I still get a very small number of simulations where MSU wins the Big Ten East and even the Big Ten overall, but the odds are less than 0.2 percent. I would officially set those odds as slightly better than “when pigs fly.” Perhaps my computer has been smoking something that it found in the back corner of one of those fields in Iowa.

As for the Big Ten race, the results from the third week of conference play started to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Buckeyes are still the obvious favorite both in the East (79 percent) and overall (42 percent). But, Indiana’s odds took a pretty big uptick with the win over Michigan. The dark horse Hoosiers’ odds are up to 18 percent in the East and they have risen to No. 19 in my power rankings.

Out West, Northwestern has risen to No. 9 in my power rankings and has overtaken Wisconsin for the spot at the top of the pecking order in the Big Ten West at 63 percent. That seems a bit high to me, but right now my best guess is that Wisconsin is going to either be ineligible or non-competitive once they are able to take the field again, so the Wildcats seem like a good bet.

Table 4 below shows the updated win distribution matrix for the Big Ten.

Table 4: Updated win distribution matrix for the Big Ten following Week 10

The good news for MSU is that it is still more likely than not that the Spartans will taste victory at least one more time this year. But, the odds of MSU going winless from here on out are close to 40 percent. As for a more positive outcomes, the odds of a 3-5 or better record now stand at 28 percent and the odds to find a way to 0.500 are a shade over nine percent.

What’s Next for MSU

As I have done for the previous two weeks, the expected win distribution matrix for MSU can be deconstructed by looking at the odds for MSU to win each of the remaining seven scheduled games. The simulation provides these odds, which can then by used to back out a projected spread. Here are the updated projections following the loss in Iowa City

  • Indiana at MSU (+10.5, 23 percent). Last week this game looked like it might be pretty winnable (and it still might be), but this is likely the best Indiana squad in a generation who will be coming to town next week with swagger and momentum. But, can the Hoosiers handle success? Will that actually matter if MSU does tighten some screws? Those are the major storylines for next week. The actual line seems to have opened at +9 and seems to be moving in MSU’s direction. This suggests that Vegas has a bit more faith in MSU than their performance so far has shown #respekt?
  • MSU (+6.5, 33 percent) at Maryland. This is the projection that clearly shifted the most since last week, as MSU flipped from a projected almost 10-point favorite to a touchdown dog. While this contest is still likely the most winnable game on MSU’s schedule, it won’t be easy.
  • Northwestern at MSU (+16, 13 percent). The Wildcats have been a bit of a nemesis for MSU, especially in East Lansing for a while now. This projection suggests that this trend will continue. That said, I think that Northwestern might still be fools gold this year. My gut tells me that MSU’s odds are better here than they might look.
  • Ohio State at MSU (+18.5, 10 percent). MSU’s odds actually went up just slightly in this projection, for what it’s worth, which is not much. This game is obviously going to be a tough row to hoe.
  • MSU (+11, 22 percent) at Penn State. As of right now, the season finale at Penn State projects to be similar in difficulty to this weeks game versus Indiana. I still am not sure what happened to the Nittany Lions this weekend, but if Maryland can go there and win, so can MSU.

All together, the picture is pretty bleak again, with MSU projecting as basically at least a touchdown underdog in all five remaining games. That said, none of the projected odds are longer than the odds that MSU faced going into the game at Michigan just 10 days ago. As I said above, the raw numbers suggest that MSU will not just go winless for the rest of 2020.

If I take all of this information together, I believe that it tells us the same thing that our eyes and Coach Tucker are telling us. MSU right now is a team with potential that still has a lot of work to do. The Spartans flashed against Michigan, but have been severely inconsistent. Part of that is the roster, part of it is coaching, and maybe a lot of it is COVID. The rest of the season has all the signs of a pretty wild hayride. I recommend to hold on tight and just try to have fun.

Playoff Landscape

Here is a look at my updated Playoff projections, following the action of Week 10.

Table 5: Playoff odds following Week 10 based on my simulation

Notre Dame’s overtime win over Clemson as well as Florida’s win over Georgia clearly made the biggest impact on the odds. I now project Alabama to have the best playoff odds overall (65%) with Oregon, Ohio State, Notre Dame rounding out the top four.

This list does come with a shovel full of salt, however. The odds for the teams that have already played several games will likely hold steady. Teams such as Wisconsin and the entire Pac-12, however, are boosted by the fact that the computers still don’t know how good they really are and have little data to go on.

Finally, here is an updated snapshot of my projected leaderboard for the champion of the Group of Five. Cincinnati has tightened the grip on first place.

Table 6: Current Group of Five leaderboard for the New Year’s Six Bowl berth

That is all for today. Chins up, Spartan fans. Nobody said that this year was going to be easy. This is far from our first rodeo. Go Green.