I don’t know about you, but how about the weather out there recently here in the beautiful state of Michigan? I mean it’s been just gorgeous. It’s been sunny with that cool, crisp feeling in the air that you only seem to find in the upper Midwest this time of year. The fall color this year has been amazing. A lot of the public schools have been on fall break, so it’s been a good time to go out and enjoy the weather with the family.
Some of our favorite college athletes also seem to be taking a bit of a fall break here in late October. The kids in Ann Arbor were off last week, and the Spartans are taking a much needed break from the gridiron this week. I imagine it is a good time for head coach Mel Tucker to take some time to enjoy everything that mid and southeast Michigan have to offer.
Perhaps Tucker will choose to just walk around the beautiful campus of Michigan State University. Maybe he will explore a local brewery, restaurant or a museum. Maybe he will take a long weekend with his family to Traverse City or the beautiful upper peninsula (I am sure Tom Izzo has some suggestions).
I mean, there is so much to do and so many places to enjoy that he could probably spend his whole career in East Lansing and not get bored. In Michigan, we actually get four seasons as well. I mean, in some places the weather outside basically fluctuates between a humid summer hellscape and a slightly less humid “winter” hellscape. Gross. Who would want to live in a place like that? Am I right?
Sure, there are places a bit farther south where football “just means more,” but that is mostly because football is really all that those places have going for them. It’s like a less educated, hotter version of Nebraska. Also, we all know some of those folks are a bit off. I mean, they have been know to poison trees and lob golf balls at opposing coaches. Who does that?
Now don’t get me wrong, a city like New Orleans is fun to visit. But all that French food soaked in butter? I would worry about cholesterol. A school like LSU might sound fun as well, but even if a coach wins a national title, he might find himself out of a job in a couple of years. Who needs that kind of stress? Plus, the closest thing the Tigers have to an in-state rival plays in the Sun Belt. What fun is that?
No, I think that Michigan State is the place to be. Coach Tucker certainly has things moving in the right direction, especially now that Alan Haller is the new athletic director. With plenty of high school talent within a four-or five-mile radius, there is no reason why a good head coach and staff can’t transform the Spartans into a consistent national contender.
In fact, with mortgage rates so low, if I were Coach Tucker, I would maybe think about refinancing while he has a little extra time this week. I know a couple of guys. I am sure that Dan or Mat would be more than happy to sit down with Tucker and discuss some numbers. I imagine that it would be a very productive conversation.
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 53 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.
As usual, Table 1 below summarizes the upset picks for the week, which correspond to the games which fall to the left of the vertical red lines above.
The computers together suggest a total of eight upset picks, including a couple of interesting ones such as Purdue over Wisconsin, Pittsburgh over Clemson, UCLA over Oregon and North Carolina State over Miami. I will note, however, that the line has already crossed over to favor the opening underdog in most of those contests except the Purdue/Wisconsin game.
For reference, a simulation of the week’s action suggests that we will see 13.6 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.0, which is the essentially equal to the preview two weeks.
As for picks against the opening spread this week, Table 2 below summarizes the games from Figure 1 and Figure 2 that fall outside of the dotted lines.
This week, the combined efforts of the machines suggest a total of 20 picks against the spread. I will note that my computer is having a particularly good year with these curated picks. Year-to-date, my algorithm is almost 65 percent against the opening spread.
On the other hand, the FPI picks have not been quite as good. In all honesty, the FPI’s picks this year have been more erratic than past years. The deviation between the FPI and the Vegas spread is larger than in past years, and the accuracy of the picks against the spread (based on my analysis of the FPI) is not as good.
My best guess is that ESPN made some tweaks to its formula this summer, and it seems to be affecting the accuracy of the predictions.
Big Ten Overview
With Michigan State enjoying a nice fall break this week, along with Iowa, Nebraska and Rutgers, that leaves five total games on the Big Ten slate this week, the details of which are summarized below in Table 3.
Three of the games are not expected to be competitive. Michigan (-19), Ohio State (-19) and Penn State (-17) are all close to 20-point favorites over Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois, respectively. As such, the race in the Big Ten East is not likely to see many changes this week.
However, the Ohio State at Indiana game is intriguing. As Michigan State found out last week, the Hoosiers’ defense is stout, and it will be interesting to see if they can slow down the Buckeyes. My computer currently has OSU (No. 10) ranked slightly ahead of MSU (No. 12) in the most updated power rankings, so it will be informative to make another direct comparison between a common opponent.
That said, one always has to wonder if the wheels are about to come off in Bloomington. My calculations suggest that Indiana (2-4) has played the toughest schedule to date of all FBS teams and its odds of just getting to a bowl game are slipping rapidly (now at just six percent). I think that the Hoosiers might be broken.
As for the other two conference games, they will certainly have an impact on the race in the Big Ten West. Minnesota (-4) hosts Maryland this weekend, and right now, I have the Gophers with the second best odds to win the West at 25 percent. (Idle Iowa is still first at 45 percent). The Vegas line here is smaller than the computers expected, which is curious. A home loss to the Terrapins would put a serious dent in Minnesota’s division dreams.
The game of the week is clearly Wisconsin at Purdue (+5). The Boilermakers stunned Iowa last week on the road and now have a chance to show that they are a legit contender at home against the Wisconsin, and the Badgers typically are the B1Ggest bully in the West Division.
The loser of this game is most likely out of the race. The lines opened with the Badgers favored, and it has stayed that way in the first few days of the week. The computers, however are both shouting, “Boiler Up!”
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.
Who could have predicted at the beginning of the year that in Week Eight, Clemson at Pittsburgh would be a game with major implications in the ACC race and that Pitt would be the team with better odds to win the conference?
Coach Pat Narduzzi —the former Michigan State defensive coordinator — has his Panthers on top of the ACC Coastal Division standings, and he is looking to solidify that position. The line opened with Clemson as a field goal favorite, but the line almost immediately shifted to Pitt, in agreement with the computers. If Clemson is going to climb back into the ACC race, it needs to make a move now.
In other ACC action, NC State will try to stay undefeated in conference play as well at Miami (FL). Similar to the story in Pittsburgh, the line opened with the Hurricanes as a narrow favorite, but the line has shifted in favor of the Wolf Pack, as the computers predicted.
In Big 12 action, my computer currently has Iowa State and Oklahoma State as the two best teams in the conference. As luck would have it, they are squaring off this weekend in Ames and the winner will have an inside track to one of the two slots in the Big 12 Championship game. Both Vegas and the computers like the Cyclones.
Oklahoma and Baylor are the other Big 12 teams to keep an eye on. The Sooners (-38) should have no trouble with Kansas, while the Bears are on fall break as well this weekend.
Pac-12 action features a pair of interesting North-South cross over games that both have major implications in both divisional races. My computer likes the state of Oregon in general in the North this year.
The Oregon Ducks (-3) have a tough test at UCLA this week, while the Oregon State Beavers (+4) host Utah. The Bruins and Utes also happen to be two of the top three teams in the South right now, along with Arizona State, who is also on fall break.
I will also note that this week Notre Dame (-5) hosts USC this week. The Fighting Irish are flying under the radar following a loss to Cincinnati in Week Five, but the Golden Domers are likely to be favored in all of their remaining games. I give Notre Dame about a one-in-three chance to win out and finish at 11-1.
If that happens, Notre Dame could make a compelling case as a College Football Playoff team, especially since the Irish do not have the added risk of a conference championship game to worry about. While I currently have the Irish ranked No. 15 overall, Notre Dame has the fifth best odds to make the playoffs, based on my calculations.
In the SEC, most of the East Division is also on fall break and Alabama (-27) is a huge favorite over Tennessee. Other than that, the only other game of note is LSU at Ole Miss (-12). People are talking that LSU is likely to interview Lane Kiffin at halftime and offer him a job on the spot. At least, I thought that I heard that somewhere...yeah, that sounds right.
In notable Group of Five action, all eyes are on Cincinnati who have ascended to No. 2 in the AP Poll this week. The Bearcats are unlikely to be tested at Navy (+24), but it makes sense to keep an eye on them. As for other potential roadblocks in the AAC, Houston (-14 versus East Carolina) and SMU (-13 versus Tulane) are the most likely contenders.
That said, if Cincinnati does falter, Coastal Carolina remains the most likely team to reap the benefit. The Chanticleers have their biggest test of the regular season this year as they travel to Sun Belt East rival Appalachian State (+3) on Wednesday night.
Other than that, I am still keeping my eye on 7-0 Texas-San Antonio from Conference USA. The Roadrunners travel to Louisiana Tech (+5) this week. I expect them to get in and out quickly as *cough, some people, *cough, have no desire to stay in that state for very long.
Finally, four of the top teams in the Mountain West square off with each other this week as Air Force (-4) hosts San Diego State and Fresno State (-1.5) hosts Nevada.
That is all the advice that I have for you this week. Until next time, Go State, beat the Skunk Bears!