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Bad Betting Advice, Week Seven: Bucket Lists

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At the halfway point on the schedule, it is a good idea to stop and reflect on what Michigan State has accomplished and what there is left to do. Undefeated record? Check. Bowl eligibility? Check. Top-10 ranking? Check. What next? Mel Tucker wants his favorite Spittoon back.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday, I had a chance to attend Big Ten Basketball Media Days in Indianapolis, and I had the opportunity to ask Michigan State University basketball head coach Tom Izzo about any items that remained on his professional bucket list (Coach Izzo gave an entertaining and long-winded answer that concluded with a game against the Michigan Wolverines in the Upper Peninsula).

Coach Izzo also had a lot of complimentary things to say about Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker. It occurs to me that while Coach Izzo’s bucket list has most of the items already crossed off, the football team’s sophomore head man has a list with a lot more goals that he is eager to reach.

With the win last week at Rutgers, Coach Tucker was able to cross “bowl eligibility” off of his list, as the Spartans guaranteed themselves at least a .500 regular season record. This week at Indiana, ironically, the Spartans are trying to reclaim an actual bucket. Well, it’s not a bucket, per se, it is technically an Old Brass Spittoon, but you get the idea.

If Tucker can beat Indiana and reclaim the Spittoon, his Spartans will remain undefeated heading into the bye week. The week off gives the players and staff a chance to rest and to think about what other things they collectively might be able to cross off from their lists.

How about beating Michigan again and keeping Paul Bunyan in East Lansing for another year? Perhaps then beating Purdue and Maryland to secure a 10-win season? Dare we dream about beating the Buckeyes in Columbus? How about reclaiming the Land Grant Trophy from the Nittany Lions over Thanksgiving? A trip to Indianapolis? A College Football Playoff appearance?

I know, I am getting ahead of myself. But consider this: my calculations now suggest that the odds that the Spartans run the regular season table (5.2 percent) are identical to the odds that the Spartans were given to beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor last year, based on the opening spread of 23 points. Huh.

While I certainly don’t expect Coach Tucker to mark all of those things off from his list in 2021, he and the Spartans seem poised to achieve some of them. While a 12-0 record regular season record might be a stretch, a 10-2 record with at least one top-10 win is very realistic.

If the Spartans can get top-10 wins, a New Year’s Six Bowl is a real possibility. A trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl would be a great item to check off from the list, but I would also accept a Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl invitation. Who knows? Maybe MSU would be matched up with Notre Dame with a chance to reclaim the Megaphone as well. What can I say? I like trophies.

But, again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While it is great to make a list, it is still only possible to cross one item off at a time. The Hoosiers are the next opponent up, and Tuck is comin’ for the Spittoon. This week’s focus needs to solely be on Indiana.

Picks of the Week

As is my usual tradition, Figures 1 and 2 below give this week’s projected point spreads for each of the 51 games involving two FBS teams. Figure 1 shows the picks from my algorithm relative to the opening Las Vegas lines and Figure 2 shows the picks from ESPN’s FPI.

Figure 1: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on my algorithm to the opening Vegas Spreads for Week Seven
Figure 2: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on ESPN’s FPI to the opening Vegas Spreads in Week Seven.

Once again, the most interesting parts of these graphs are the area to the left of the vertical red line (the bucket of upset picks) and the areas outside of the dashed lines (the bucket of recommended picks against the spread (ATS).

Table 1 below summarizes the combined upset picks for the week.

Table 1: Upset picks for Week Seven

The computers have identified 11 total upsets for the week, the majority of which involve at least one Power Five team. If Oklahoma State, Utah or Pittsburgh were to pull an upset, it would certainly impact the races in the Big 12, Pac-12 South and the ACC Coastal Division.

My simulation of Week Seven suggests that a total of 13.9 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.1 upsets, are likely to occur, which is just slightly more than what was predicted last week.

Table 2 below shows my recommended picks against the opening Vegas Line for Week Seven.

Table 2: Picks against the opening spread for Week Seven. The picks are listed in order of confidence score.

The combined mathematics of the two computer systems suggest a total of 22 picks against the spread this week, which continues to be a much higher number than in previous years, especially for the FPI. Most notably this week, my computer likes the Spartans to cover in Bloomington.

Michigan State and Big Ten Overview

Prior to last week’s game at Rutgers, my computer had me convinced that it was going to be a nail-biter. As it turns out, the Spartans won going away. This week, I may have the opposite problem. My computer likes the Spartans to win going away, but the line in Vegas suggests a much more competitive game.

Simply put, I am not buying it from Vegas. Indiana captured some lightning in a bottle last year, but so far this year, IU has not been impressive. My computer’s power ranking have the Hoosiers at No. 83, and that does not even consider the health of Indiana’s star starting quarterback, Michael Penix, Jr. who I do not expect to play this weekend.

The mathematics of the spread gives Michigan State just a 58 percent chance to win on the road. In contrast, my computer puts those odds more in the neighborhood of 85 to 90 percent. Officially, my computer picks a score of Michigan State 35, Indiana 17. Hopefully the Spartans won’t make me feel like I need to wear a bucket on my head come Saturday afternoon for being so confident.

The history of the Old Brass Spittoon rivalry is also squarely in MSU’s favor. The Hoosiers have only 16 total wins in 67 attempts all time, and only three of those wins came this century. Moreover, the Spartans are 12-5 against the spread in games with Indiana dating back to 2001. I expect that trend to continue.

As for the rest of the Big Ten slate, the schedule and data is summarized below in Table 3. Note that for the MSU/Indiana score, I rounded my computer’s official output to a more reasonable football score.

Table 3: Summary of Big Ten action in Week Seven, including my algorithm’s projected scores. The teams shaded in green are projected to cover by my algorithm. The teams shaded red are projected to cover by the FPI.

Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all have byes this week, so finding other compelling Big Ten action this week is like scraping the bottom of the bucket.

Iowa (-11) and Wisconsin (-10) are both big favorites, which only leaves two games. The Rutgers/Northwestern game is a pick’em and also basically just a drop in the bucket relative to either division race, so that just leaves the contest between Nebraska (-3) and Minnesota.

At first glance, this is an odd spread, as the Gophers (3-2) have a better record and perhaps a better resume than Nebraska (3-4). But, the computers are seeing the same thing that Vegas is seeing here, and that is the fact that Nebraska lost three close games against top-10 ranked teams. As such Vegas and the computers all see a victory for the Cornhuskers. That said, the outcome is unlikely to impact the race in the Big Ten West.

Also of note is that the computers both pick the favorites to cover in all five games involving Big Ten teams this week.

Notable National Action

Finally, let’s take a look at the rest of the national action. Table 4 below gives the details for the games that I will have my eye on this weekend.

Table 4: Summary of other notable action in Week Seven, including my algorithm’s projected scores.

In ACC action, we should get some clarity in the Coastal Division race as Pittsburgh (+1.5) visits Virginia Tech. Vegas favors the home town Hokies, but the computers both like Pitt. In the Atlantic Division, Wake Forest has a bye, which makes North Carolina State’s (-2) trip to Boston College the biggest game on the schedule.

The Big 12 race is still wide open, which means that almost every game is at least somewhat consequential. Oklahoma State (+5) at Texas is the big game on the Great Plains this week, and the computers are split on who will win. Mine favors the Cowboys in an upset. I am also intrigued by Iowa State’s (-4) game at Kansas State, and it seems reasonable to also keep an eye on Oklahoma (-12), who is hosting TCU.

The schedule in the Pac-12 has some interesting matchups as well, the most notable of which is Arizona State (-2) at Utah. Those two teams grade out as the best schools in the South Division and the winner is likely to take a commanding lead in the division race. This will be especially true if Washington (+1) scores a home upset win over UCLA. Oregon is still the favorite in the North Division and the Ducks are expected to handle the California Bears (+14).

The SEC West race was upended a bit last when Alabama kicked the bucket against the Aggies of Texas A&M. Now the Tide have to travel to Starkville to face Mississippi State (-21) in an attempt to get back on track. The computers both pick Alabama to win but the other MSU to cover. The divisional turmoil means that Auburn’s tip to Arkansas (-3) is a score to watch out for as well.

In the SEC East, Kentucky might be the only team left that could prevent Georgia from winning the division. The Wildcats (+24.5) are big underdogs in Athens, and the computers both like the Bulldogs to cover. In addition, Florida (-3.5) at LSU and Ole Miss (-4) at Tennessee are both worth watching. The computers both like the Gators to cover and the Volunteers to win in an upset.

In Group of Five action, the biggest game on the slate already took place on Tuesday night, as Louisiana unexpectedly blew out Appalachian State. Coastal Carolina has a bye this week, while Cincinnati (-16) hosts UCF.

Finally, while the Mountain West is unlikely to produce the eventual Group of Five champion, there are still a handful of teams with one total loss or less. In the West Division, San Diego State is undefeated and looking to stay that way at San Jose State (+8). In the Mountain Division, Air Force is 5-1 and looking to make a move in the division race at Boise State (+5).

That is all the advice that I have for you this week. Until next time, Go State, beat the Hoosiers!