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Against All Odds, Week Eight: Countdown to the Showdown

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With the date, time and records now set, it’s time to start talking about the Spartans’ date with the aging, attention-seeking older sibling. Speaking of things that are disappointing, last week’s betting advice could have been better.

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans had the week off in Week Eight, but there was still a lot of action to discuss. Most importantly, the Michigan Wolverines managed to avoid embarrassment and were able to pull away from the Northwestern Wildcats in the second half to ensure a battle of unbeatens next week in East Lansing. It is now officially “Michigan Week” in East Lansing. The countdown to the showdown has started.

A lot can and will be said about this weekend’s matchup in Spartan Stadium. Some fans on both sides are excited by the unprecedented fact of both teams being undefeated this deep into the season. I do not count myself as a part of this group.

From my point of view, beating Michigan has its own appeal, regardless of the Wolverines’ record. Beating “bad” Michigan teams is just as satisfying as beating “good” Michigan teams. Michigan State has had enough high-level success in both major revenue sports over the past 10-20 years that one more win over a top-10 team, while certainly nice, is more of a drop in the bucket. I would much rather hand Michigan its seventh loss, ensuring a losing season, for example.

You see, to me the University of Michigan is like that aging, balding older brother with a beer gut who was a star athlete and student at a small high school and had a reputation for beating up middle-schoolers. He flamed out later in life and now lives in mom and dad’s basement. He likes to talk a lot of smack at family reunions about “the good old days” and how “big things are right around the corner.” I usually just try to ignore him and pretend that he doesn’t exist, which is hard, as he is always seeking attention.

In years like these, the smack talking in Ann Arbor just gets louder, which is frankly even more annoying than usual. If nothing else, I don’t think that it is good for the Wolverines to get their hopes up that they are anything more than a consistently above average, middling Big Ten program — like a more arrogant version of Iowa. It just isn’t healthy. There clearly are a lot of lessons about humility that our friends at the University of Michigan still need to learn.

To this end, I think that I speak for the entire Michigan State and broader Big Ten community when I say that deep down, we just want the Wolverines and their fans, as people, to be the best version of themselves. Continued lessons in humility are a big part of this effort. We Spartans are here to help them lose and to keep losing in as many sports as possible, for as long as it takes. That is how much we care. They are, after all, family, even if no one in the family can stand to have them around.

School will be in session next weekend in East Lansing. Remember to pack a lunch. Are you down?

Week Eight Results

As is my weekly tradition, Figure 1 below shows the run down of all 53 games involving two FBS teams in Week Eight.

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

The teams that overachieved significantly relative to the opening spread this week include Ohio State, Florida State, Mississippi State, SMU, Eastern Michigan, Texas San Antonio and UCF. There were two teams this week that significantly underachieved, yet still won: Oklahoma and Cincinnati. Their fans were a bit down this weekend.

As for the teams that underachieved so much that they lost, they are summarized below in Table 1.

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

Based on the opening Las Vegas line, a total of 14 upsets took place, which was very much in line with expectation. While Illinois’ hilarious nine-overtime win over Penn State (-17) was the most notable, Rice’s upset win over UAB (-19) was the biggest relative to the opening spreads.

My picks against the spread for the week are summarized below in Table 2.

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

For just the second time in the last six week, my curated picks were below .500. My algorithm went just 5-6 (46 percent), including missing badly on three of the top-five picks on the board, including taking UAB and Penn State to cover double-digit spreads (when they both were, in fact, upset) and taking Cincinnati (the Bearcats badly underachieved).

The FPI did even worse at 5-8 (39 percent), which dragged the combined numbers down to just 45 percent. Year-to-date, however, my algorithm is sitting over 60 percent, while the FPI is now down to 49 percent.

Overall, however, my algorithm continues to struggle. It went only 22-31 (42 percent) against the spread this week and is 191-230 (45 percent) year-to-date. Meanwhile, the FPI was 27-26 (51 percent) this week and is 201-220 (48 percent) year-to-date.

Updated Big Ten Odds and Expected Wins

Following the results of Week Eight, I have re-run the full-season Monte Carlo simulation using the updated power rankings, including the current uncertainty in those rankings, in order to update the season odds for each team. Table 3 below gives the update for the Big Ten conference.

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

As expected, Penn State’s upset loss to the Illini put the Nittany Lions’ division hopes on a downward path, as the odds sank by almost 30 percentage points to under five percent. Meanwhile, both Michigan and Ohio State covered and now hold the top two spots on the leaderboard at 57 and 23 percent, respectively. While Michigan State was idle, the Spartans actually dropped a bit in the power rankings, but the team’s division, conference and College Football Playoff odds crept up by about a percentage point or two.

In the Big Ten West, the key result was Wisconsin’s downing of Purdue. which effectively ended the Boilermakers’ hopes of divisional glory. Iowa (43 percent) still looks to be the favorite to advance to Indianapolis, with Minnesota (28 percent) and Wisconsin (26 percent) lurking.

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

Table 4: Updated Big Ten win distribution matrix after Week Eight.

MSU’s odds have not significantly changed over the past few weeks. The Spartans’ expected win total is still sitting at 9.53, which means getting to double-digit wins is still 50-50. Achieving at least 11 wins has odds of just over 20 percent, and running the table still comes in right about five percent.

A closer look at Michigan State’s remaining schedule

Figure 2 below gives my updated projections for the 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: Updated projections for the Vegas line and win probabilities for MSU’s remaining schedule.

With the Spartans were watching all of the games on TV this weekend, you would think that there would not be that many changes, especially this late in the season, but a few lines did shift.

Purdue seems to have come back down to earth after this weekend’s visit from Wisconsin. As a result, MSU’s game with the Boilermakers in West Lafayette has now swung back to essentially a pick’em.

In addition, Penn State’s upset loss and Ohio State’s blowout win this week resulted in a major shift in those lines such that the toughest game on the schedule now appears to be the road trip to Columbus, while the Thanksgiving weekend finale against Penn State now looks closer to a pick’em as well. In other words, my computer seems to be finally catching up to what our eyes have been telling us for weeks.

As for next week’s contest, my calculations favor the Wolverines by about a touchdown, which is higher than the line opened (+2) but it has moved in the Wolverines’ direction since. I will have a lot more to say about this game later in the week.

The Spartans’ remain projected as a big favorite over Maryland on November 13.

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 big game on the Great Plains this week took place in Ames, Iowa as the Cyclones of Iowa State took down Oklahoma State in Big 12 action. Even though Oklahoma is undefeated and sitting alone in first place, my computer ranks the Sooners outside of the top-30. Oklahoma is projected to drop three of its remaining four games and thus has only the fourth-best odds in the conference (34 percent) to return to the Big 12 Championship game.

Instead, my machine gives Oklahoma State (64 percent) and Iowa State (60 percent) the best odds to make the Big 12 Championship game. Baylor has the third best odds at 36 percent. With Texas, Iowa State and Baylor already in the rear-view mirror, and by virtue of drawing the Sooners in Stillwater, Oklahoma State is in good shape despite the loss this weekend.

Parents, I think that it is also time to talk to your kids about a potential Wake Forest/Pittsburgh matchup in the ACC Championship game. Wake Forest is 7-0 after sneaking past Army this week with projected odds to win the Atlantic Division now at 82 percent. North Carolina State (15 percent) is still the most likely challenger, but it failed to win at Miami (FL.) this weekend. Hmm, not winning at Miami...I wonder what that’s like? Couldn’t relate.

In the ACC Coastal Division, Pittsburgh (6-1) neutralized the Clemson Tigers and I now project the Panthers to have a 88 percent chance to win the division. Only Virginia (6-2 and 10 percent odds) has a realistic shot to sneak past Pitt, but that scenario is clearly a long shot.

The SEC is basically status quo this week, with Georgia having the East all but sewn up (99 percent odds) and Alabama trending in that direction (71 percent) after the Crimson Tide covered against Tennessee this weekend. Auburn (12 percent odds) still looks like the only team that could create trouble in the West, but Ole Miss (11 percent) and Texas A&M (six percent) are still in the chase thanks to wins over LSU and South Carolina this week, respectively.

In Pac-12 action, Oregon and Oregon State both picked up wins over South Division foes this week (UCLA and Utah, respectively) and seem to be headed for a late November showdown for all the Northern marbles. Meanwhile, Utah (61 percent) still has the best odds in the South as every single team in the Utes’ division who played this week lost.

A look at my computer’s current playoff leaderboard has Georgia with the best odds at just over 90 percent. The Bulldogs are followed by Michigan (54 percent), Wake Forest (32 percent) and Notre Dame (32 percent). The rest of the top-10 is rounded out by Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Cincinnati, Kentucky and Michigan State.

In Group of Five action, Cincinnati survived a scare from Navy and thus remained as the clear front-runner for a New Year’s Six Bowl (51 percent), which this year could even be one of the two national semifinals games. The Bearcat remain the favorite in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) with 91 percent odds to reach the conference championship game. Houston (6-1, 80 odds) and SMU (7-0, 23 percent) have the best odds to face Cincinnati in that title game.

If Cincinnati does falter and get upset in this conference championship game, Houston and SMU are the most likely beneficiaries, and as such, currently places fourth and fifth on my current Group of Five leaderboard.

The team that used to be in second place, Coastal Carolina, was downed by Appalachian State, which put the Mountaineers in the driver’s seat (63 percent odds) in the Sun Belt East. App State will most likely get a rematch with Louisiana (96 percent odds in the West) in the Sun Belt Championship Game.

Two other Group of Five teams are also worth keeping an eye on. Texas-San Antonio from Conference USA now sits at 8-0 with a 35 percent chance to win the conference, quite likely with a perfect record. In the Mountain West, San Diego State also remained perfect and are the current favorites to win that league with odds at 34 percent.

While the MAC has no shot at New Year’s Six glory this year, Miami of Ohio (62 percent) and Northern Illinois (57 percent) are my current divisional leaders.

Against all odds, I have reached the end this week. It’s going to be a wild week here in Michigan, so buckle up. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Skunk Bears!