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Bad Betting Advice, Week Six: Knights, you say?

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This week, Michigan State is on a quest. It seeks another win on the road in conference play over the Scarlet Knights to maintain their flawless record. Will they Spartans succeed? Let’s talk about this week’s action, including the usual dose of questionable betting advice.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

What is your name? “The Michigan State Spartans.”

What is you quest? “We seek a road win over a Big Ten opponent in order to stay undefeated for another week.”

Specifically, the Spartans will be traveling east approximately 600 miles as the unladen swallow flies to Piscataway, New Jersey. The Spartan warriors will attempt to storm the castle and defeat the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University.

The task will not be an easy one. The Scarlet Knights are no longer the harmless little bunnies that they were when they first joined the Big Ten Conference. With head coach Greg Scianno once again at the helm, those rabbits have the potential to be dynamite.

Rutgers got off to a good start to the season with wins over Temple, Syracuse and Delaware. The Scarlet Knights then went into Ann Arbor and hung with the Michigan Wolverines, especially in the second half. But, Rutgers got dismembered by Ohio State last weekend, losing by 39 points. It is hard to say at this point whether that loss was a fatal blow or just a flesh wound.

I am of the opinion that the Knights who say “keep chopping” are pretty good. I think that they might be on par with Nebraska, although my computer currently favors the Cornhuskers. If so, the Spartans will have their hands full this weekend.

But, I also believe that head coach Mel Tucker will have the band of Spartans motivated and ready to go once again this week. The memory of last year’s seven-turnover-season-debut debacle is likely seared into the back of Coach Tucker’s brain. There will be a little bit of extra motivation this weekend, and I think that it will show.

Yes, Rutgers is pretty good. But I think that the Spartans are a little better. It will be a close game, but in the end, I see the Green and White winning. A victory at Rutgers is not like finding the Holy Grail or anything, but a 6-0 record and a possible ascension into the top-10? Oh yes, that would be very nice.

Picks of the Week

And now for something completely different. 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 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 Six
Figure 2: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on ESPN’s FPI to the opening Vegas Spreads in Week Six.

For the first time this year, I have thrown out the preseason rankings data and optimized the power ranking of each team using only the score data from the actual games played so far this year. This results in perhaps a bit more volatility in my computer’s picks this week.

On the upsets side of the house, the predictions are pretty tame, as shown below in Table 1.

Table 1: Upset picks for Week Six

The computers suggest a total of eight upsets, but only two of them involve Power Five teams: Texas Tech over TCU and Virginia over Louisville. I will also note that my computer is taking a big flyer on UL Monroe (+18) this week.

My simulation of the week’s action suggests that a total of 13.5 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.0 upsets, will occur. This is a smaller number than what was projected last week, but it is the second highest so far this year.

As for this week’s recommended bets versus the opening spread, those are summarized below in Table 2.

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

In total, my math suggests a total of 18 games where the computers trigger a betting recommendation. Notably, my computer and ESPN’s FPI both agree on five of the top-six picks on the board. That said, only five three of the contests on the board involve Power Five teams, as my computer favors Texas Tech, Georgia and Kentucky all to cover.

Michigan State and Big Ten Overview

As recently as last week, my calculations suggested that the opening line for this week’s contest might have Rutgers favored to beat Michigan State. The Spartans have not been an underdog to the Scarlet Knights this century, and the two programs have only faced one another three times prior, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

However, Michigan State played a strong game against Western Kentucky last week, while Rutgers was blown out by Ohio State. As a result, the line opened with the Spartans favored by six points. As of this writing, that line has dropped slightly such that MSU is currently favored by three five points. The opening line suggests that the Spartans have a two-thirds chance to successfully complete the quest of obtaining a 6-0 record.

Since 2014, MSU is 4-3 against the spread (ATS) versus Rutgers, but the Green and White are undefeated and 2-1 ATS in Piscataway with an average margin of victory of just over 22 points.

I expect this week’s game to be much closer. While Las Vegas and the FPI both like the Spartans by just under a touchdown, my algorithm sees a much closer game. In fact, I have the Spartans escaping by the slimmest of margins by the final score of Michigan State 28, Rutgers 27.

If MSU can stand tall and win by a touchdown or even double-digits, I would be very impressed. It would be a sign that the Spartans might be able to storm the larger castles of the realm a bit later this season, and maybe even challenge for one of those Big Ten divisional trophies. We already have a few of those. Oh, yes, they are very nice. I would like another one. Right.

In total, there are only three five total games in Big Ten play this week, as Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue all have a bye. Table 3 below summarizes the lines and computer predictions for those five Big Ten games.

Table 3: Summary of Big Ten action in Week Six, 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.

Of the four other games on the Big Ten slate this week, two of them likely will not be of much significance. Ohio State (-21) is a huge favorite over Maryland, and the winner of the Wisconsin (-8) versus Illinois game won’t be dead yet, but they still would be very unlikely to be a player in the Big Ten West race. The other two games, however, are intriguing.

The flying circus that is Ann Arbor is all abuzz with the Wolverines so far this year, and my computer seems to be caught up in the frenzy. Michigan (-4.5) has to travel to Lincoln to face Nebraska, and it will be very interesting to see if the Wolverines can run on that defense or stop Cornhusker quarterback Adrian Martinez.

If Michigan can win that game comfortably, it might actually be legit this year...or maybe the Wolverines are just witches. Blind hope floats? I will likely burn them either way. At the very least, I will taunt them a second time.

The biggest game on the schedule in the Big Ten is clearly the battle of the unbeatens as No. 4 Penn State visits No. 3 Iowa (-1.5). The Hawkeyes can likely afford to lose this one due to the level of competition in the West, but Penn State perhaps cannot. Will the fact that the Nittany Lions need the win matter more? My computer certainly doesn’t think so, as it has Iowa winning by a touchdown.

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 Six, including my algorithms’ projected scores.

Quite a few teams in the ACC and Big 12 especially decided to bravely run away to the refuge of a bye week, and thus the action is a bit sparse. Maybe those teams will spend their free time attempting to acquire some shrubbery.

In the ACC, Wake Forest (-11) will try to stay amongst the ranks of the undefeated at Syracuse this weekend. Other than that, Notre Dame (-3.5) travels to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech. One team will get a quality win out of the deal.

In the Big 12, the only game of note is a big one, as Oklahoma (-5) squares off against Texas in the Red River Showdown in Dallas. The winner will be able to start thinking more seriously about a return trip to the Dallas area for the Big 12 Championship game in a few months. Notably, both computers have Oklahoma winning, but Texas covering the five-point spread.

In the Pac-12, Arizona State is the new front-runner to win the South Division, but the Wildcats play host this week to Stanford (+12). The Cardinal already tossed the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch into the North Division race when they upset Oregon last week. Why not cause a little chaos in the South as well? If they do, it might wind up benefiting the winner of the Utah versus USC (-3) game.

As for the Pac-12 North Division race, my computer has Oregon State as the new favorite. However, the Beavers are only a four-point favorite at Washington State, which makes me wonder how long that will remain the case.

The most intriguing Power Five action outside of Iowa City this week is in the SEC. While Alabama and Georgia seem to be on a collision course for the SEC Championship game, both teams have road games this weekend that at least have the potential for trouble. Bama (-14.5) will visit Texas A&M, while Georgia (-15) travels to Auburn.

An upset in either game would send a shockwave through the FBS. It would also potentially benefit a team like Kentucky, which hosts LSU (+1) this week, or the winner of the contest between Ole Miss (-6) and Arkansas.

In notable Group of Five action, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina are the two teams to watch for the New Year’s Six Bowl berth. Both teams are big favorites this week against Temple (-28) and Arkansas State (-18), respectively. I also have my eye on Houston as a potential AAC spoiler. The Cougars (-3) have a tricky road game at Tulane this week.

For the purposes of Michigan State’s strength of schedule, it might be worth watching Western Kentucky (-3) vs. Texas-San Antonio this weekend. If nothing else, it looks like a fun matchup. Another fun matchup is Boise State at BYU (-2.5), even if it won’t impact the Mountain West race.

A game that might impact this race, however, is San Jose State (pick’em) at Colorado State. My computer (likely due to the general lack of data so far this season) has CSU ranked No. 16 nationally and tabs the Rams as the new favorite in the Mountain Division. I personally have my doubts, but I am interested to see how this plays out.

Finally, in MACtion this week, Western Michigan (-11) will attempt to stay hot against Ball State, while Miami (OH) (pick’em) will face Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti. I am curious to see if Miami can continue to be the leader in the East Division, at least according to my computer.

That is all the advice that I have for you this week. The weekend will be here faster than you can say, “Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing!” Until next time, Go State, beat Rutgers!