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Against All Odds, Week Six: Kaboom!

Michigan State went into Piscataway this weekend and put up video game numbers on Rutgers thanks to Payton The Mad Bomber” Thorne and Speedy Nailor. Against all odds, MSU is now 6-0 and hungry for more.

Michigan State v Rutgers
Payton “the mad bomber” Thorne
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

I was a bit nervous about Michigan State University’s Joust against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights this week. My computer saw just a one-point margin of victory for MSU. This game looked like a tossup to me. Fortunately, the Spartans had other plans and were able to exact a bit of Yars’ Revenge on Rutgers for last year’s season-opening loss

It has been pretty apparent for several weeks now that Michigan State has an improved offense. But, I don’t think anyone was really prepared for the explosiveness the Spartans showed this weekend. Led by Payton “The Mad Bomber” Thorne, the Spartans put up video-game-like numbers on Rutgers’ defense. His favorite target, Jalen “Speedy” Nailor, blew up the Scarlet Knights’ secondary on multiple occasions.

Just for good measure, Kenneth Walker III exploded for the longest play from scrimmage in Spartan history (94 yards) to put the game away as a part of another Super Breakout performance. I am not sure if we have seen an offense this potent in East Lansing since the 8-bit graphics days when Kirk Gibson was on the sidelines. Spartan fans are justified if they are going a bit Berzerk.

Amazingly, the Spartans didn’t even play that well in several areas. Special teams and clock management were very “John L. Smith-esque.” Head coach Mel Tucker, from his seat in Missile Command, will certainly have a lot of film to point to this week to keep the pressure on his team to continue to improve.

Either way, MSU is sitting at 6-0 and bowl eligible with just one very manageable game left before a nicely timed mid-season bye. If the Spartans can shore up all phases of the game at high of a ceiling do the Spartans have?

The backend of the schedule is full of Pitfalls. Right now, Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State are all ranked in the top-10...but so are the Spartans. Michigan State gets two of those three teams at home (Michigan and Penn State).

The Spartans put on a show in Piscataway, New Jersey this weekend. Now, they might just be poised to blow up the entire Big Ten East race. I have a feeling that this weekend was not the final salvo that we will see from MSU this year. The rest of the conference better be ready for Combat.


Week Six Results

As is my weekly tradition, Figure 1 below shows the results of all 51 FBS games in Week Six.

Figure 1: Results of Week Six showing the actual point differentials relative to the opening spread.

The overachievers for the week were Ohio State, Cincinnati, Baylor, Kentucky, Colorado State, Houston, TCU, Wisconsin, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. No one managed to “underachieve” (i.e. fall outside of the dotted lines) yet still win.

Table 1 below summarizes the upsets in Week Six in comparison to the computer picks this week.

Table 1: Upsets based on the opening Vegas line compared to the upset projections from Week Six

Based on the opening spread, there were only 11 total upsets, which was a couple less than expected, but well within expectations. The two biggest upsets on the board were Florida State (+18) over North Carolina, and Texas A&M (+15) over Alabama. Most of the other upsets were in the Group of Five, but Oregon State, Louisville and USC also all caught the upset Centipede this week.

The computers’ picks got blown up this week. My algorithm went 1-4, only getting the Boise State over BYU pick correct, while ESPN’s FPI only picked Virginia correctly to go 1-5 for the week. Both systems are struggling to get over 30 percent this year on upset picks, which is about 15 percentage points below their historical performances.

Table 2 below summarizes the computers’ picks against the opening spreads for Week Six.

Table 2: Results of the highlighted picks versus the spread in Week Six

In contrast to the upset picks, my algorithm had a very strong week, going 9-4 (almost 70 percent) against the opening line, which brings the year-to-date (YTD) performance up to 60 percent. The FPI, however, did not do as well.

My curated FPI picks were just 4-6 (40 percent) which brings the YTD performance down close to .500. The combined performance for the year is also just over 50 percent.

Oddly, when I consider all 51 games, my computer’s performance ATS was rather poor. Overall, I was just 21-30 (41 percent) which also happened to match the performance by the FPI. Year-to-date, both metrics are now underwater. My computer is 143-174 (45 percent) while the FPI is only slightly better at 152-165 (48 percent).

Updated Big Ten Odds and Expected Wins

Table 3 below gives the updated season odds for the Big Ten conference following Week Six, based on my most recent full-season simulation.

Table 3: Updated Big Ten rankings, expected wins, strengths of schedule and season odds.

In perhaps the biggest game of the entire weekend, the Iowa Hawkeyes stormed back late to knock off Penn State in Iowa City to stay undefeated. Ironically, this result did not significantly change Iowa’s odds to win the Big Ten West, which stayed constant at just under 90 percent. Iowa actually dropped slightly in my power rankings from No. 2 to No. 4.

The reason is that my computer actually had Iowa winning that game by seven points. As such, the Hawkeyes slightly underachieved and the computer concluded that Iowa is actually slightly worse than it previously thought, while Penn State is actually slightly better. This may seem counterintuitive, but this is how it works, once I Dig Dug more into the data.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten West, my computer was impressed with Wisconsin’s shutout win over Illinois in Champaign in the Bret Bielema Classic. The Badgers grade out with the second toughest schedule overall to-date and now have the second-highest odds in the West at just under six percent. I will also note that despite Nebraska losing another heartbreaker to Michigan, the Huskers still did better than expectations.

My computer now has both Wisconsin and Nebraska ranked in the top-15, suggesting that those two teams might be better than their records indicate. Note that Iowa still has to play both of those teams on the road. There may be a Tempest brewing in the Big Ten West race after all.

In the Big Ten East, my computer is still very high on Michigan (45 percent odds to win the division), but Penn State (33 percent), Michigan State (13 percent) and Ohio State (nine percent) all made up ground and are all currently ranked in my top-10.

Beginning on Oct. 30, those four top teams of the Big Ten East will all start to play each other in a six-game round robin Battle Zone that will decide the fate of the East.

The updated Big Ten win distribution matrix is shown below in Table 4.

Table 4: Updated Big Ten win distribution matrix after Week Six

The Spartans’ expected win total got another boost following the Rutgers beatdown this week. It is now up to a value of 9.48 wins. In other words, Michigan State has a 50-50 chance at double-digit wins, which would give the Spartans a very nice bowl bid indeed, and possibly one in the New Year’s Six.

An 11-1 record for MSU now has odds of 17 percent and the odds of running the table are up over five percent. That is simply incredible based on where we were just two months ago.

A closer look at Michigan State’s remaining schedule

Figure 2 below gives my updated projections for the Las Vegas lines and win probabilities for all of the games remaining on Michigan State’s schedule. These numbers are generated based on the results of the full season Monte Carlo simulation.

Figure 2: Updates projections for the Vegas line and win probabilities for MSU’s remaining schedule

Up next for Michigan State is next Saturday’s game at Indiana. As we can see, my computer shows MSU as a comfortable two-touchdown favorite. However, the actual line opened on Sunday afternoon with the Spartans only favored by three.

As for the remaining games, I now project MSU to be a favorite at Purdue and versus Maryland. My projected line for the home games against Michigan and Penn State is close to a touchdown, while my projected line for the game at Ohio State is closer to a field goal.

Some of you out there may have 2600 reasons why these numbers look off, but I think that they make sense based on the actual on-field results. Keep in mind that Michigan State has beaten five of its six opponents by at least 17 points, including three road wins over Power Five teams.

I have seen nothing so far to convince me that Indiana or Maryland is significantly better than Northwestern, Miami or Western Kentucky. Furthermore, Purdue is likely on par with Rutgers. Therefore, all of those lines make sense to me.

As for the lines for the Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State games, I know that it looks weird that Michigan State would be a bigger underdog at home versus the Nitanny Lions and Wolverines than on the road in Columbus.

But, Ohio State did not look very good against Oregon or Tulsa. Those results still matter. Yes, Ohio State has looked much better over the last three weeks. I fully expect that line will be higher than any other line on MSU’s remaining schedule. But...if you were to put Iowa jerseys on those Ohio State players and tell me the result of each game...I would think that the line in Figure 2 looks about right.

National Overview

Finally, let’s take a quick look around the country at the rest of the action. Once again, the updated conference odds can be viewed by clicking on the hyperlink attached to each conference name.

The most impactful result of the entire weekend was Texas A&M’s upset win over Alabama in SEC action. Now, there are four teams in the SEC West with a single conference loss, and the race all of a sudden has gotten interesting. Alabama has already beaten one of those four teams (Ole Miss) but it must face the other two on the road (Mississippi State and Auburn).

My computer still gives the Crimson Tide the edge in division odds (45 percent), but Auburn (18 percent), Ole Miss (16 percent), Mississippi State (nine percent) and even Arkansas (7.5 percent) are all within shouting distance.

In the SEC East, Georgia has now officially ascended to the No. 1 spot in the AP and Coaches polls (and in my power rankings). The Bulldogs odds to win the East remain very high (93 percent) with 6-0 Kentucky (five percent) as the only team that seems to have even a remote shot to leap Frogger Georgia and steal the division crown.

With only three Big 12 games on the slate this week, there was not much movement in the overall conference race. That said, Oklahoma’s come-from-behind win over Texas in the Red River Raid showdown helped its case, or at least prevented disaster.

Despite the win, the Sooners’ odds to play in the Big 12 Championship game dipped slightly to 47 percent and thus Oklahoma State (51 percent) captured the top spot. Iowa State’s odds ticked up slightly to 41 percent, while Baylor’s 25-point win over West Virginia goosed its odds up to 36 percent.

The ACC continues to be an Adventure. Wake Forest avoided a bad upset at Syracuse in overtime and continues to have the best odds to win the Atlantic Division at 68 percent. Pittsburgh maintained the best odds in the Coastal Division (63 percent) by just staying home and playing video games this weekend.

Elsewhere, Florida State upset North Carolina, and Virginia edged Louisville to stay afloat in the Coastal race. Virginia Tech was not so fortunate versus Notre Dame, but I still give the Hokies the second best Coastal Division odds at 28 percent.

Out west in Pac Man-12 action, Oregon State started the week at the top of my Pac-12 North leaderboard, but, alas, the Beavers lost to Washington State, which allowed Oregon (35 percent) and Washington (26 percent) to climb back to the top of my standings.

In the Pac-12 South, Arizona State (54 percent) handled Stanford this week to stay at the top of the odds table while Utah made a big jump up to 37 percent and second place after upsetting USC.

My computer’s playoff leaderboard has Georgia in the top spot with over a 90 percent chance to earn one of the top four spots. Michigan (47 percent) and Iowa (47 percent) are essentially tied for second, while I project Notre Dame (34 percent) with the fourth best odds. Rounding out the top-10 are Wake Forest, Penn State, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Pitt and Oklahoma. Michigan State is in 11th place at 12.2 percent odds.

In notable Group of Five action, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina both won big and covered. Those two teams have the top two spots in my Group of Five leaderboard locked down with 66 percent and 10 percent odds, respectively, to capture a New Years’ Six slot.

In other American Athletic Conference action, Houston covered easily against Tulane and seem to be the biggest potential threat to Cincinnati. Those two teams do not meet in the regular season, but are now favored to meet in the AAC Championship game.

In the Mountain West, Boise State had an upset win over BYU and are once again favored to win the Mountain Division (33 percent) while San Diego State (44 percent) made a move in the West race in the eyes of my computer.

In the MAC, the biggest story was Western Michigan’s surprising blowout loss to Ball State. As a result, I now have Rocky Lombardi’s Northern Illinois (43 percent) favored to win the MAC West, and Miami of Ohio (53 percent) favored in the East, despite its loss to Eastern Michigan this weekend.

In Conference USA, Marshall (45 percent) is still likely to face UAB (44 percent) in the conference final. Finally, in Sun Belt action, Coastal Carolina’s two biggest challengers, Appalachian State and Louisiana both had byes this week.

Against all odds, I have made it to the end. Until next time, enjoy and Go State, beat the Hoosiers!