This past weekend, Daylight Saving Time came to an end for most of the country. It was that one magical weekend every fall when we all get one extra hour on a Saturday. For Michigan State University football fans, it meant one extra hour to stew about the Spartans’ first loss of the season at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers.
In the loss to Purdue, the Spartans failed to make the plays during “winning time” that they had managed to make in the first eight games of the season. Now, with the Maryland Terrapins coming to town, it is time for the Green and White to reset the clock and attempt to fall back to their winning ways.
If the Spartans get shell-shocked by the visiting turtles on Saturday afternoon, Michigan State’s dreams of a Big Ten East title will be all but finished. At that point, the rest of the regular season would essentially fall back to an exercise in maneuvering for the best possible bowl game. A win over Maryland would get the Spartans to 9-1 and well positioned for the very challenging final two weeks of the season.
If a (hypothetical) 9-1 Spartan team with a win over Michigan, a tough Big Ten loss on the road, and an impending trip to visit Ohio State sounds familiar, one just has to mentally turn the clock back to the 2015 season. Can lightning strike twice in Columbus? The Spartans won that game, despite being a 13-point underdog. My computer currently projects a similar point spread for the game in two weeks.
Even if the Spartans don’t get the win in Columbus, a record of 9-2 entering the final weekend will look a lot better than a record of 8-3. This weekend’s game against Maryland is an opportunity to get back on track.
Picks of the Week
As I do every week, let’s take a look at Figures 1 and 2 below for this week’s projected point spreads for each of the 61 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.
Table 1 below summarizes the combined upset picks for the week, based on the data shown above in the two Figures.
This coming weekend has the potential to be pretty wild. Over half of the games opened with a spread at seven points or lower, and over a quarter have a spread of a field goal or lower. My weekly simulation projects a total of 16.3 plus-or-minus 3.3 upsets are likely based on the opening lines, which is the largest number that I have seen all season.
As Table 1 shows, several of the potential upsets have major implications for several division and conference races. An upset win by North Carolina State, Baylor, and/or Ole Miss this week would reset the odds in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC East.
As for my recommended picks against the opening Vegas spread this week, those can be found below in Table 2.
The extra hour of computation time this weekend seems to have made the computers a bit frisky in Week 11. Combined, my analysis of the spreads results in a total of 17 recommended bets.
Michigan State and Big Ten Overview
There is some good news and some bad news when it comes to the Spartans’ matchup with Maryland this weekend. The good news is that the computers are pretty confident in a Spartan victory. On paper, this is clearly the easiest Big Ten home game of the season.
From a power rankings point of view, I have Maryland (No. 82) ranked similarly to Rutgers (No. 77) and Indiana (No. 97) and slightly worse than Western Kentucky (No. 61) and Miami (No. 62). The Spartans won all four of those games, three of which were on the road.
When I plug all the numbers in, my computer comes back with a final score of Michigan State 41, Maryland 16. The FPI predicts a slightly closer game, but still has MSU winning by 17. In both cases, the computers predict that the Spartans will cover the opening spread of 14 points.
History generally favors the Spartans as well. Michigan State is 9-2 against the Terrapins all time with five of the games coming in the late 1940s and in 1950. Since Maryland joined the Big Ten, Michigan State is 5-1, with the only loss coming at Maryland during the 2016 season.
Against the spread, MSU is 3-3 against Maryland back to 2014, and the Green and White have only covered once (in 2018) since 2015. If the computers are correct, this year will be the time to fall back to the mean.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that Maryland is another pass-happy offense, not so different than the one that the Spartans saw in West Lafayette last weekend. Maryland’s defense does not appear to be as strong as the Boilermaker defense, and the Spartans will be at home. That should help.
But, with Michigan State also a bit thin in the secondary, there will likely bit some tense moments on Saturday when Maryland drops back to pass and the Spartans fall back into coverage. The math suggests that the Spartans will win more plays than they will lose, but they will need to get back to playing the way that they did earlier in the season.
As for the rest of the action in Big Ten Country this week, the data on the six contests is summarized below in Table 3.
The biggest game on the schedule this week is Michigan’s trip to State College to face Penn State. Michigan opened as just a two-point favorite and the current line is trending closer to a pick’em. The result of this game will have a major impact on the final standings in the Big Ten East and on the final Big Ten pecking order for bowl selection.
Based on Tuesday night’s updated College Football Playoff rankings, it is clear that if Michigan and Michigan State have identical records, Michigan is still likely to get a nod over the Spartans, despite the head-to-head result. If both teams end the regular season at 10-2 (assuming both teams beat Penn State, but lose to Ohio State), the Wolverine will likely be headed to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. A Penn State win this weekend is therefore very much in Michigan State’s best interest.
At the top of the standings in each division, Ohio State and Wisconsin both look safe this weekend as roughly 20-point favorites. That said, Purdue has been known to beat top-five teams from time to time, so I am told.
The other Big Ten game to watch is Minnesota at Iowa (-7). The Gophers have the best chance to prevent the Badgers from winning the West, but they are sizable underdogs against the Hawkeyes.
Even the battle for the Big Ten East basement between Rutgers and Indiana (-8) looks potentially interesting. Indiana would drop out of bowl eligibility with a loss. Vegas and the FPI both favor Indiana, while my computer projects an upset win for the Scarlet Knights.
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.
The situation in the ACC will get clearer this week. North Carolina State (+3.5) is a slight underdog at Wake Forest and the winning team will be in very good shape to win the Atlantic Division. In the Coastal Division, Pittsburgh (-5) hosts North Carolina and will try to maintain its one-game lead in the standings. Meanwhile, Miami (-3) will travel to Florida State and needs a win to stay in the race.
In Big 12 action, Oklahoma is currently alone in first place, but my computer is projecting that the Sooners are on the verge of falling back in the standings down the stretch. Oklahoma (-7) is favored at Baylor, but I have the Sooners on upset alert. Oklahoma State (-11) and Iowa State (-12) have slightly easier contests versus TCU and at Texas Tech this week, respectively.
In the Pac-12, Utah and Oregon are both in good shape to advance to the Pac-12 Championship game. The Utes (-24) are big favorites at Arizona this week. Oregon (-16) is a more narrow favorite over Washington State, but the Ducks would no longer control their own destiny with a loss.
In the SEC, Georgia is just killing time (and each of their opponents) while they await the SEC West to sort itself out. Alabama does not quite have the West locked up, but the Tide are close. Auburn and Texas A&M are still holding out hope in the race, but both programs need to get past their games versus Mississippi State (+4) and at Ole Miss (+1), respectively.
In Group of Five action, the primary contenders for the New Year’s Six slots are all big favorites this week. Cincinnati, Houston, and Texas-San Antonio are all favored by over 20 points. Louisiana is a seven-point favorite at Troy State, which looks to be a stiffer test. The most interesting Group of Five game is in the Mountain West this week as Nevada (-3.5) visits San Diego State. My computer projects the Aztecs to win in upset fashion to get to 9-1 on the season.
That is all the advice that I have for you this week. Until next time, Go State, beat the Terrapins!