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Parallel Universe College Football: The Rest of the Story

Back in the fall, I set up a simulation of the full and original college football season. While I paused that project in October, let’s see how it ended.

Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Back in the late summer, when it looked like there would be no Big Ten football and perhaps no college football at all, I decided to run a simulation of the full, original college football season as a fun experiment. As a first pass, this simulation provided good odds and statistics about how the original schedule would have played out. As a second pass, it provided a large number of potential snap shots of that aborted season.

As an exercise, I decided to select a single full season simulation result and I started “reporting” on that result back in the fall. The idea was that this single season result was actually playing out somewhere in a “parallel universe.” Once the real season started, I pressed the pause button on that project. Now that the actual college football season in this universe is complete, I thought that it would be fun to “complete the circle” and give a final summary of the results from my favorite parallel universe.

Regular Season Results

The results of the selected simulation had Michigan State’s original season playing out as follows:

  • Week 1: Northwestern 40 at MSU 46
  • Week 2: MSU 20 at BYU 44
  • Week 3: Toledo 8 at MSU 19
  • Week 4: Miami 11 at MSU 48
  • Week 5: MSU 6 at Iowa 47
  • Week 6: Michigan 14 at MSU 16
  • Week 7: Ohio State 25 at MSU 0
  • Week 8: MSU 42 at Indiana 22
  • Week 9: Minnesota 30 at MSU 7
  • Week 10: Bye
  • Week 11: MSU 16 at Penn State 41
  • Week 12:Rutgers 0 at MSU 14
  • Week 13: MSU 42 at Maryland 27

In this universe, Michigan State started the season 4-2 with good wins over Northwestern, Miami, and Michigan. The Spartans then hit a rough patch midseason, going only 1-3 from mid October to mid November. But, in this universe, the Green and White finished with two wins to bring the final record to 7-5 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten play.

The final Big Ten standings in this simulation are shown below

MSU finished in third place in the Big Ten East behind Penn State and Ohio State, while Michigan only went .500 overall. In the Big Ten West, it was Minnesota (and not Northwestern) who had the surprisingly good year that ended with a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I should mention that when I set up this experiment, I had the option of selecting any number of essentially an infinite number of full season results. In order to set up an interesting, fun, and reasonable result to “report” on, I did set three total constraints on the result:

  • MSU’s final record was fixed at 7-5 as “slightly optimistic” final result
  • MSU had to beat Michigan (because I have no interest in universes where Michigan wins — this just also happened to be the case in real life)
  • OSU had to beat Michigan (because it had to be realistic)

Once I set these constraints, I cycled through the possible outcomes until I hit on one that met all three constraints.

Postseason Results

In order to complete the picture, in Champions Week Ohio State beat Minnesota to win the Big Ten, and Auburn defeated Georgia in the SEC. Clemson also beat Virginia Tech, and Oregon avenged an earlier loss to Arizona State to claim the Pac-12 crown. The most competitive game was Oklahoma State’s win over Iowa State in the Big 12 Title game. Note that in this universe Alabama has a tough year and only finished 7-5 (probably the least realistic thing about this universe).

The Playoff Selection in the parallel universe was easy, as the Power Five had four undefeated champions who could fill the four slots in Ohio State, Clemson, Auburn, and Oklahoma State. Air Force also finished undefeated and was a shoe-in for the Group of Five’s slot in the New Year’s Six. On “Selection Sunday” the New Year’s Six Bowls were assigned as follows:

As for other Big Ten Bowls:

  • Citrus Bowl: Iowa (9-3) vs. Missouri (9-3)
  • Outback Bowl: Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Ole Miss (8-4)
  • Belk Bowl: Michigan State (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
  • Music City Bowl: Illinois (7-5) vs. Tennessee (7-5)
  • Pinstripe Bowl: Northwestern (7-5) vs. Virginia (6-6)
  • Cheez-It Bowl: Michigan (6-6) vs. Texas (6-6)

In the playoffs, Ohio State and Clemson both won in the Semifinal round, setting up the No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup that everyone wanted. Although Ohio State entered the game as an eight-point favorite, the Clemson Tigers prevailed and claimed the National Title in the parallel universe.

As for the rest of the New Year’s Six, Georgia easily handled Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, while Penn State defeated Florida State in Atlanta. In the Cotton Bowl, Oregon sunk Minnesota, and in the desert, Air Force upset LSU.

In Big Ten Bowl action, MSU drew Notre Dame in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. The Spartans opened as a four-point underdog, and MSU did lose by a score of 24-21 to finish the season in the parallel universe at 7-6. The rest of the Big Ten had a rather successful bowl season, however, as Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Northwestern all won. The Michigan Wolverines, however, were defeated by Texas in the Cheez-It Bowl to finish the season at 6-7. Typical.

Clearly, this simulation got some things right (like Ohio State and Clemson being good and Michigan struggling) and other things wrong (like Minnesota being good, Indiana being bad, and MSU finishing over .500)

While it is fun to run these season simulations, it is far better to be able to watch actual football being played, maybe in person with 75,000 other MSU fans. With any luck and if things go well, I hope that we can do that again in the fall of 2021.

That is all for now. Until next time, enjoy, and Go Green!