There are some days when a single song sums up a situation very precisely. Saturday was one of those days. The particular song that I am thinking of goes a little something like this:
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. Everything is awesome. When you beat the Wolverines.”
At least that is how I remember it going.
As we all saw, in perhaps the biggest game in the storied history of the rivalry, the Michigan State Spartans came from behind to beat the Michigan Wolverines by a final score of 37-33. The Spartans were surprisingly able to run the ball while stopping the Wolverine rushing attack. Early turnovers and an equally surprisingly competent Michigan passing attack had the Spartans on the ropes.
But the Spartans’ bend-but-don’t break defense once again forced the Wolverines to mostly kick field goals while Michigan State scored touchdowns. Once the turnovers evened out, it was just enough to secure the victory for the Green and White.
For the Wolverines, this loss must feel a bit like stepping on a Lego. For what feels like the 70th year in a row, the Michigan faithful had convinced themselves that this was the year when “the special” things were going to start happening for their program. This was supposed to be the year when the recruiting rankings, the overpaid coaches, and the ugly helmet were finally going to translate into wins over the good teams, and not just all the mediocre ones.
This was supposed to be the year when the older brother put the younger brother into his place and sent him back down to the basement to play with Duplos. It was all foretold back in the spring like some ancient prophecy and repeated in the Ann Arbor echo chamber until they all started to believe it.
Instead, for the 10th time in 14 tries, the Spartans gave the Wolverines the business.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see what happens with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. Back in the summer, everyone was talking that Harbaugh might soon lose his job and have to look for a new opportunity (perhaps that would give him more time for his awesome community). That talk died down as the wins accumulated. I expect it to return a roar again soon.
As for Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and the Spartans, side by side it feels like they are going to win forever and party forever (or at least until next weekend). It’s awesome to win, and it’s awesome when the Wolverines lose. It is even more awesome when it happens together.
Week Nine Results
As is my weekly tradition, Figure 1 below shows the results of all 53 games involving two FBS teams in Week Nine.
The teams that were awesome and overachieved this week include Oklahoma State, Louisiana, UCF, Wake Forest, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, Marshall, BYU and Kansas State. There were not any games that crossed the dotted line over into underachievement, but USC came very close to not being awesome.
Table 1 below summarizes the 13 games that ended in an upset relative to the opening Vegas line and in comparison to the computer picks.
Week Nine featured a total of six upsets where the line was a touchdown or greater. These include Washington State (+16) over Arizona State, Miami (+10) over Pittsburgh, Purdue (+7) over Nebraska and West Virginia (+7) over Iowa State. Naturally, the Spartans’ (+2) awesome win over the Wolverines is also on the list.
As for the upset picks this week, they were a bit more awesome than usual. My metric got two-thirds of the picks correct and the FPI was over 40 percent. Year-to-date, both my algorithm (36 percent) and the FPI (34 percent) are lagging behind historical performance, but this weekend helped.
Now if you really want to see an awesome performance, check out Table 2 below which gives the results of the computers picks against the opening spread (ATS).
Things were not so awesome for the FPI, which swung and missed on the only pick of the week. However, my algorithm was correct on five of the total six picks. This brings my computer’s performance up 63 percent for the year. The FPI has sunk a bit more below .500 through nine weeks, and the overall performance where I combine the picks from both models sits at 54 percent year-to-date.
For Week Nine as a whole, everything was once again pretty awesome for my algorithm. It went 35-18 (66 percent) against the opening line, even though it got the Michigan/Michigan State game wrong. For the year, my computer is still a less-then-awesome 226-248 (48 percent) but it is making progress.
Much like the Wolverines, things were significantly less awesome for ESPN’s FPI. That computer was only 22-31 (42 percent) and overall is now down to 223-251 (47 percent). I have heard a rumor that FPI software engineers think that the officials are simply conspiring against them, but the evidence is not indisputable.
Updated Big Ten Odds and Expected Wins
Following the results of Week Nine, 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.
Even outside of the state of Michigan, it was a pretty big weekend in the B1G. Let’s start in the West Division where Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue all scored key victories. The Golden Gophers of Minnesota are now alone in first place with the Badgers, Boilermakers, and the fading Hawkeyes a game back in the loss column.
My computer has a lot of respect for Wisconsin and as a result now gives the Badgers the slight edge in the division race with 42 percent odds. The Badgers have wins in hand against Purdue and Iowa and a reasonably manageable schedule down the stretch (with games at Rutgers, versus Northwestern and versus Nebraska).
Minnesota’s odds are just a tick lower at 40 percent, despite being a game ahead in the standings. If Wisconsin were to stumble (for example against Nebraska) and if the Gophers can run the table (by winning versus Illinois, at Iowa and at Indiana) the final weekend won’t matter and Minnesota will make its first trip to Indianapolis. But, all signs are pointing to a winner-take-all Thanksgiving showdown between Wisconsin and Minnesota in Minneapolis where my computer projects that the Badgers (-3) will be a slight favorite.
With wins by both Michigan State and Ohio State this weekend, the battle for the East is basically down to those two teams and Michigan, and the odds are surprisingly close. My computer has finally come around to the idea that the Spartans are legitimate contenders, and I actually project MSU with slightly better overall odds than Ohio State by two tenths of a percentage point (36.7 percent versus 36.5 percent).
While our eyes are telling us that Ohio State is still likely the best team of the three, my computer still projects that the Wolverines should be favored on a neutral field against the other two (despite the result in East Lansing). But, the Spartans are simply refusing to lose.
Penn State is essentially out of the race, but they can still play the role of spoiler for the Spartans and/or the Wolverines. Ohio State and Michigan State also need to avoid stepping on a Lego in one of the upcoming sneaky road games, including next week when Michigan State travels to Purdue and Ohio State heads to Nebraska. There is still plenty of opportunity for drama in the Big Ten East race.
The updated Big Ten win distribution matrix is shown below in Table 4.
As expected, the big win over the Wolverines gave the Spartans’ expected win total a nice boost up to 10.31. More precisely, Table 4 gives MSU a 78 percent chance to get to at least double-digit wins, a 43 percent chance to get to 11-1 and a 12 percent chance to run the table in the regular season.
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.
With the season now in full swing, there is simply more data and less uncertainty. As a result, these projections have not changed much over the past few weeks. As of today, MSU is expected to be a big favorite over Maryland, a narrow favorite at Purdue and versus Penn State, and an underdog at Columbus.
Next week’s contest in West Lafayette is the very definition of a trap game. The Spartans opened as a 2.5-point favorite, and my computer projects a virtual toss-up. So far this year, Coach Tucker has been very good at keeping his team focused on the task at hand.
The Spartans have both awesome momentum and an awesome opportunity at hand. In order to make last weekend’s win really count, MSU needs to take care of business. A pair of wins in the next two weeks would bring the record to 10-0 and almost certainly place the Spartans in the College Football Playoff picture.
Getting a win in Columbus is going to be tough; if MSU were to win that game and make it to 11-0, it would clinch the Big Ten East title before the Thanksgiving Turkey was even on the table. In the more likely scenario where the Spartans lose in Columbus, the finale against the Nittany Lions would more likely be for a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Based on the strength of Michigan State’s schedule, a 10-2 record would very likely secure the Spartans a spot in the New Year’s Six in either the Fiesta Bowl or the Peach Bowl with the Rose Bowl still a possibility.
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.
In the ACC this weekend, Wake Forest rolled Duke to run its record to 8-0 and its Atlantic Division title odds to 75 percent. However, the Demon Deacon have a tough schedule ahead including three road games and a lone home game against North Carolina State (23 percent division odds), and NC State still controls its own destiny.
In the Coastal Division, Pittsburgh was upset by Miami and as a result, the Panthers’ division odds have dipped to 67 percent. Pitt is now just a game ahead in the loss column of Virginia (21 percent odds) and Miami (eight percent).
The Big 12 is starting to look more like a three-team race for two spots in the Big 12 Championship game. Baylor (51 percent odds) is one of those teams and Texas is not following the Bears’ win over the Longhorns this weekend. Iowa State (29 percent) also seems to be fading following an upset loss at West Virginia. Joining Baylor at the top are the two schools from Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Sooners (47 percent) are at the top of the standings, but are third in my odds, due to a tough remaining schedule. In contrast, the Oklahoma State Cowboys (71 percent odds, best in the conference) have an easier path and the benefit of hosting the Sooners at the end of the year.
In the Pac-12 North, Oregon (38 percent) is a game ahead of the pack in the standings, and a new potential challenger has risen up my odds table. Washington State (24 percent) upset Arizona State and now claim the second best odds in the division, just ahead of Washington (21 percent).
In the Pac-12 South, Utah scored a big win over UCLA this weekend and now has a commanding lead with a 95 percent chance to advance to the Pac-12 Championship game.
In the SEC East, the race is now officially over. Georgia drank Florida under the table in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” and Kentucky got upset at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs cannot be caught.
In the SEC West, Auburn’s win over Ole Miss effectively makes the division a three-team race with Alabama (72 percent) still heavily favored. Auburn (20 percent division odds) and Texas A&M (six percent division odds) remain in the race.
As for the College Football Playoff race, my algorithm still projects Georgia as a virtual shoe-in with 96 percent odds, but the rest of the top four include Wake Forest (47 percent), Notre Dame (37 percent), and oddly Michigan also at 37 percent). The Spartans’ odds are a tick below at 29 percent, which is still good enough for fifth place, nationally.
That said, I ran a few new numbers this week, which give perhaps a more realistic projection of what the initial CFP rankings — which come out tonight (Tuesday) — might look like. I constructed a new metric, which measures actual wins relative to strength of schedule. It is a performance-based and not a prediction-based metric that counts wins either above or below the expected value of wins that an average Power Five team should amass with the same schedule as the team in question. Those results are shown below in Table 5.
This metric places undefeated Georgia, Michigan State and Oklahoma in the top three spots, with Notre Dame in fourth place.
In notable Group of Five action, the Bearcats of Cincinnati continued to roll with a win over Tulane and continue to reside at the top of my Group of Five New Year’s Six leaderboard with almost a 60 percent chance to claim that slot. In order to claim that spot, however, the Bearcats will need to win the AAC Championship game and they will almost certainly face Houston in that contest, thanks to the Cougars’ win over SMU this weekend.
The Group of Five team with the second best NY6 odds is Texas-San Antonio (8-0), which was idle this week, but still has the best conference odds in Conference USA at 36 percent.
In the Mountain West, Fresno State knocked San Diego State from the ranks of the unbeaten and now appear to be the new conference favorites with 48 percent odds.
In Sun Belt action, Louisiana (99.5 percent division odds) appears to still be on a collision course with Appalachian State (72 percent division odds). In the MAC, Miami of Ohio (69 percent) and Northern Illinois (59 percent) are still the projected division winners.
Against all odds, I have reached the end for this week. I hope that this week brings you nothing but awesomeness. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Boilermakers!