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Against All Odds, Week 13: Winter Wonderland

Baby, it was cold outside on Saturday night, but Coach Tucker and his merry gentlemen in Green and White said, “Let it snow!” The Spartans are in the clubhouse at 10-2. Now, what comes next?

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

I must admit that I was very concerned about Michigan State University’s game on Saturday against the Penn State Nittany Lions. On Friday night, news was starting to leak out that multiple Spartans were slowed by a combination of illness and injuries. The point spread drifted Penn State’s direction all week. By kick-off, the Lions were favored by almost a touchdown. Even though we are well short of mid-winter, things looked bleak.

But, college football is a strange game and strange things were afoot across the nation this weekend. In the state of Michigan, snow was gently falling across the region. Baby, it was cold outside. On the field, the snow was glistening. Spartan Stadium was a winter wonderland. As for the play of the Spartans, it was a beautiful sight.

As the Spartans have done all year, they kept fighting and kept chopping, and despite the injuries and illnesses, earned a hard-fought 30-27 victory. The players did not build a snowman in the meadow following the game, but Kenneth Walker did make a snow angel. Spartan fans were happy on Saturday night as they strolled along back to their cars.

Now, Spartan players, coaches, fans, and other merry gentlemen can rest by the fire while the Playoff Committee and the powers-that-be conspire about which Bowl game the Spartans will be invited to play in come late December or early January. A New Year’s Six Bowl is very likely following a very Green and White Christmas.

Once that match-up is announced next Sunday, fans will make travel plans to be there with silver bells on. The coaches will make game plans. It will be a challenge that, like all other challenges this year and going forward, they will make unafraid. The future is as bright in the little town of East Lansing as the sun reflecting off the newly fallen snow on Sunday morning.

In just his second year as head coach at Michigan State, Mel Tucker has won 10 games with a shot at one more. Based on the direction of the program, it will not be his last 10-win campaign. Gone away are the “same old Spartans.” Based on the newly signed 10-year contract extension, Coach Tucker is here to stay, and the rest of the Big Ten is on notice. Are you listening?

Week 13 Results

As is my weekly tradition, Figure 1 below shows the results of all 65 games involving two FBS teams in the final week of the regular season.

Figure 1: Results of Week 13 showing the actual point differentials relative to the opening spread.

Quite a few teams overachieved relative to the opening Vegas line this week, including Nevada, Purdue, Illinois, Iowa State, Miami, Clemson, Wake Forest, Maryland, and UCLA. The teams that underachieved yet still won include Louisiana and Alabama.

There were a total of 17 upsets in the final week of the regular season, which is very much in line with the value of 16.0 plus-or-minus 3.3 that I predicted last week. Those 17 upsets are summarized below in Table 1 in comparison to the upset picks made by the computers.

Table 1: Upsets based on the opening Vegas line compared to the upset projections from Week 13.

Based on the spread, the biggest upset of the week was North Texas’ win over Texas San Antonio in Conference USA action. This result did knock the Roadrunners from the ranks of FBS undefeated teams. The 16 other upsets were all in games where the opening spread was no greater than eight points.

Several of the upsets did make a significant impact on a few conference races and the New Year’s Six Bowl landscape. The first two that come to mind are Michigan’s win over Ohio State and Minnesota’s win over Wisconsin, both of which impacted the two teams who will make their way to Indianapolis next weekend. LSU’s upset of Texas A&M and Oklahoma State’s win over Oklahoma were also notable.

The computers’ picks were okay, but not great. My machine was 3-6 while the FPI was just 1-4. Year-to-date, both machines’ upset pick success rate was a frosty 38 to 39 percent.

As for this week’s picks against the spread (ATS), those are summarized below in Table 2.

Table 2: Results of the highlighted picks versus the spread in Week 13.

My computer had yet another strong week, getting two-of-three picks correct and finishing the regular season at 60-35 (63 percent). In contrast, my curated picks using ESPN’s FPI data went zero-for-two and finished the season at just 56-60 (48 percent). Combined, the computer picks finished at 54 percent ATS.

Overall, neither computer did that well ATS considering all 65 games. My algorithm was 32-33 (49 percent) and the FPI was a tick worse at 31-34 (48 percent). Both of the computers ended the regular season with similarly mediocre records. Year-to-date, my computer is 355-365 (49.3 percent) while I have the FPI as 358-362 (49.7 percent).

Final Big Ten Results and What’s Next

One of the biggest trends this weekend were teams flipping the script on rivalries that have been one-sided for many years. In Minneapolis, the Gophers won Paul Bunyan’s Axe for just the fourth time this century. In Ann Arbor, Michigan beat Ohio State for just the third time this century. As a result, next weekend’s Big Ten Championship game will feature Michigan versus Iowa in a game where Michigan has opened as a 10.5-point favorite.

I must admit that I was very much in the “I will believe it to see it” camp about Michigan actually beating Ohio State. To their credit, the Wolverines were able to control both lines of scrimmage and run the ball on the Buckeyes in a way that MSU could not do last weekend. That said, the weather conditions in Ann Arbor limited OSU’s lethal passing attack, which almost certainly also contributed to the Christmas miracle in Ann Arbor.

If nothing else the Wolverines showed that under Coach Ryan Day, the Buckeyes are vulnerable. Coach Tucker has already proven that he can beat the Wolverines with Coach Dantonio’s players and some help from the transfer portal. Going forward, the Big Ten East might wind up being a bit more wide open.

In other action, Purdue blew out Indiana and took back the Old Oaken Bucket in the process. As a result, the Boilermakers tied Wisconsin and Minnesota for second place in the West. All three teams finished 6-3 in conference play and 8-4 overall.

As it stands now, I would project Iowa (10-2) to the Citrus Bowl, Wisconsin to the Outback Bowl, Purdue to the Las Vegas Bowl, and Minnesota to the Music City Bowl.

Michigan State’s win over Penn State dropped the Nittany Lions to 7-5 overall which likely means the Lions will be eighth overall in the Big Ten Bowl pecking order, just above Maryland, who achieved bowl eligibility by defeating Rutgers this weekend.

I would therefore project Penn State to the Pinstripe Bowl and Maryland to the “Guaranteed Rate Bowl” in Phoenix (formerly known as the Insight Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Cactus Bowl, and Cheez-It Bowl).

As it stands now, Michigan will undoubtedly be in the playoffs with a win over Iowa. Ohio State is basically a lock for a New Year’s Six Bowl and Michigan State is very likely to wind up there as well. Ohio State seems most likely to be given the Rose Bowl, while a potential match-up with Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl seems most likely for Michigan State.

That said, I think that it is possible for the powers-that-be to switch Michigan State and Ohio State to create better match-ups. It is not at all clear if Buckeye fans would travel to Pasadena for a rematch with Oregon or with a game against Utah. The Spartans could still wind up in Southern California for the Holidays, and they might just get a more beatable opponent in the process.

There are a few scenarios out there which could knock the Spartans out of the New Year’s Six. The most likely and straightforward one is if Iowa were to upset Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game. Iowa would then go to the Rose Bowl and would bump Michigan from the playoffs. In this scenario, Michigan State would fall to the Citrus Bowl to face a team such as Kentucky (9-3).

National Overview

Let’s now take a quick spin around the country to review the action in the final week of the regular season and the impact on the postseason.

Things mostly went according to plan this week in the ACC, as Wake Forest defeated Boston College to claim the Atlantic Division Title and Pittsburgh defeated Syracuse to match the Demon Deacons record at 10-2. Wake Forest and Pitt (-3) will meet in the ACC Championship game next week where Pitt has opened as a narrow favorite. The winner of that game is most likely headed to the Peach Bowl.

Other ACC teams that are bowl eligible include NC State (9-3), Clemson (9-3), Miami (7-5), Louisville (6-6), Virginia (6-6), Virginia Tech (6-6), and North Carolina (6-6).

In the Big 12, Oklahoma State defeated Oklahoma for only the fifth time in a century. It was far from a silent night in Stillwater. This win also knocked the Sooners out of the Big 12 Championship Game. Instead, Oklahoma State (11-1) will face Baylor (10-2) next weekend for the conference title. If the Cowboys (-6) beat the Bears, Oklahoma State is very likely bound for the Playoffs. Baylor is likely to play in the Sugar Bowl either way.

At 10-2, Oklahoma is a bit of a wild card. In principle, they could be a threat to steal a New Year’s Six bid, but this seems very unlikely. Note that other Big 12 teams who are bowl eligible include Iowa State (7-5), Kansas State (7-5), West Virginia (6-6), and Texas Tech (6-6).

Out west in Pac-12 action, Oregon (10-2) was able to defeat the Oregon State Beavers and finally lock down the Pac-12 North Title. Next week, the Ducks will get a rematch with the Utah Utes (9-3) in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game. The Utes have opened as a three-point favorite, despite beating the Ducks by 31 points two weeks ago. The winner is bound for the Rose Bowl. Other Pac-12 teams who will go bowling include Arizona State (8-4), UCLA (8-4), Washington State (7-5), and Oregon State (7-5).

In the SEC, Georgia (12-0) easily wrecked Georgia Tech and will now face Alabama (11-1) for the SEC Title. The Tide barely escaped from Auburn in four overtimes this week. Georgia is a six-point favorite at opening. Georgia is certainly already in the playoffs, but Alabama could join them with an upset win. If Bama loses, I am guessing that they are out of playoff contention and will simply play Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.

It is also notable that Ole Miss beat Mississippi State on the road this week to get to 10 wins. The Rebels also are in great shape to claim a New Year’s Six Bowl spot, and the Peach Bowl against the ACC Champion seems to be the most likely destination. If Alabama makes the Playoffs, however, Ole Miss will play Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.

Other bowl eligible SEC teams include Kentucky (9-3), Texas A&M (8-4), Arkansas (8-4), Tennessee (7-5), Mississippi State (7-5), South Carolina (6-6), Missouri (6-6), Florida (6-6), Auburn (6-6), and LSU (6-6).

As for FBS Independents, Notre Dame beat Stanford this weekend to finish the season at 11-1. There are several scenarios where Notre Dame could sneak into the Playoffs, but the most likely case would be for the Golden Domers to face a Big Ten team in the Fiesta Bowl. I should also note that BYU is 10-2, but is very unlikely to earn a New Year’s Six bid. Army (8-3) and Liberty (7-5) are also both Bowl eligible.

In Group of Five action, Cincinnati beat East Carolina to complete a perfect regular season record. If the Bearcats (-10) can beat Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, they will be well-positioned to make the Playoffs. But there is still a chance that they could slide to the Peach or Fiesta Bowl.

Finally, if Houston (11-1) were to upset Cincinnati, the Cougars would very likely claim the automatic Group of Five bid to the New Year’s Six Bowl, unless the committee decides to rank San Diego State (11-1) slightly higher (which is not likely). If Cincinnati were to only fall a couple of spots in the final Playoff poll, this might knock Michigan State out of the New Year’s Six. I suspect, however, that the committee would hammer the Bearcats and drop them to No. 12 or No 13.

Against all odds, I have reached the end. Stay tuned to Bad Betting Advice in a few days, where I will breakdown the scenarios and odds for Championship Week and provide my final predictions for the New Year’s Six Bowls. Until then, enjoy, and Go Green.