When the guest picker for last weekend’s ESPN’s College Football Gameday was announced as actor and comedian (and medical doctor and Detroit native) Ken Jeong, I must admit that I was confused. But, he was funny and also one of the only panelists to (correctly) pick the Spartans to win. I guess he got the last laugh. It just goes to show that it is important to listen to the doctor.
Michigan State is now 8-0, and ranked No. 3 in the first College Football Playoff Top-25. After beating Michigan on the Saturday of Halloween Weekend, all of Spartan Nation was ready to P-A-R-T-Y. But now it’s a new week and it’s time to get back to work. The question is, did we all party too much? I think that it might be time to call one of the stars of The Hangover to see if the good doctor has any advice on prevention.
MSU’s game this week at Purdue is honestly pretty terrifying, and it is even more so following the Spartan win last week over the Wolverines. Just a few weeks ago, Michigan State was rolling in a season with very low preseason expectations. Every win was gravy and once the Spartans were bowl eligible, on some level the season was already a tremendous success. Head coach Mel Tucker already has the Michigan State program rebuild well ahead of schedule.
But all of a sudden the stakes are much higher. The Spartans are well poised to play in a New Year’s Six bowl at the least. But, a loss to Purdue would put a major dent in those dreams. The “Spoilermakers” have a history of ruining the day of any team ranked in the top-five. I was there in 1999 when Nick Saban led the 6-0 Spartans into West Lafayette. Drew Brees and company hung 52 on the Green and White that day.
While there is no one on Purdue’s roster that will be confused for Brees, a train has definitely been spotted and it is time to sober up. It’s time to hydrate and take some Vitamin B. Let’s all get some sleep and eat a good breakfast.
Under Coach Mark Dantonio, the Spartans were an impressive 11-2 in the game following the Michigan game. The only losses came in 2014 to Ohio State (who went on to win the national championship) and in 2016 (when MSU only won one total game after Week Two). “The Hangover” was non-existent and there was barely even a sequel.
Last year in Coach Tucker’s first year, the Spartans did falter badly at Iowa after beating Michigan, but 2020 was...2020. So far this year, Tucker has done a great job in keeping his team even-keeled and focused at the task at hand. Hopefully that will continue.
If it does not, and Michigan State falters, it will leave Spartan Nation dizzy, headachy, and sick to our stomachs. In other words, we will all feel like we were hit by a train.
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 59 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.
Together the two computer systems have a total of 11 upset picks this week, including a few interesting ones in the Pac-12 and ACC. My computer is putting the Oregon Ducks on upset alert against Washington. Clemson and North Carolina are also on my list of potential upset victims. As for the FPI, its most bold choice is Tennessee over Kentucky.
My weekly simulation predicts a total of 13.3 upset picks, plus-or-minus 2.9 upsets, this week, which is essentially identical to what it has spit out for the last five weeks. But, it has also been correct as there have been 11 to 14 upsets each week over that span. It will be interesting to see how many teams will be making the walk of shame on Sunday morning.
As for my recommended picks against the opening Vegas spread this week, those can be found below in Table 2.
Overall the computers this week are combining for a total of 13 picks relative to the opening line. The top-two picks on the board should be welcome news for fans of the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish.
Michigan State and Big Ten Overview
As I said above, this game is more than a bit scary. Based on the opening line of Michigan State only at -2.5, an upset is a very real possibility. History tells me that MSU’s odds to escape with a win are only about 57 percent. If that weren’t enough, my computer is even less confident. My math still projects a Spartan victory, but it is by only the slimmest of margins. My official prediction is a score of Michigan State 24, Purdue 23.
As for the recent history of the Michigan State/Purdue series, there are some interesting trends. MSU is on an eight-game winning streak back to 2007, including the last three games played in West Lafayette. In the eight games prior to 2007, Purdue had actually won seven out of eight.
Against the spread (ATS), however, the numbers are not as kind. The Spartans are only 3-6-2 against the final line back to 2001. In fairness, though, four of the losses ATS came in games where Michigan State was favored by over 20 points. The last two times the Spartans played at Purdue when the line was less than five points, the Spartans both won and covered the opening line (in 2007 and 2009).
I am guardedly optimistic that the Spartans can avoid the curse of the “Spoilermakers” this year, but I will likely not sleep well Friday night.
As for the rest of the action in Big Ten Country this week, the data on the seven contests is summarized below in Table 3.
Based simply on the Vegas lines, the MSU/Purdue game looks to be the most competitive. That said, of teams near the top of both divisions, only Michigan and Minnesota are at home. Those two teams are poised to eliminate both Indiana and Illinois from bowl eligibility by handing them a seventh loss on the season.
Ohio State also has a chance to ensure a losing season for Nebraska, but the Buckeyes have to travel to Lincoln in order to do it. The Cornhuskers are just chaotic enough that they have a shot at causing the Buckeyes to throw up on their shoes. My algorithm only has OSU by four points.
The other three games seem less likely to make the favored teams ill. Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin are all on the road at Northwestern, Maryland and Rutgers, respectively. The Badgers are the only one of those six teams with a reasonable shot at a division title. If I were them, I would switch to coffee early the night before.
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.
There are still five teams with a realistic shot at the ACC title this year, none of them are named Clemson, and three of them play in games this week where the line opened at a touchdown or less. In the Atlantic Division, undefeated Wake Forest is actually an underdog on the road at North Carolina (4-4). If the Demon Deacons do drop a game, North Carolina State would reap the benefit...assuming the Wolfpack (-2) can beat Florida State in Tallahassee this week.
The other three contenders are in the Coastal Division. Pittsburgh (-21) should be able to sleepwalk past Duke this week, while Miami (-7) is likely to struggle a bit more against Georgia Tech. Virginia decided to abstain this week and is idle.
In Big 12 action, Oklahoma is also abstaining this week, but Baylor (-6) at TCU), Oklahoma State (-3) at West Virginia and Iowa State (-6) versus Texas are all in action. The Cyclones look unlikely to recover in time to make a run on the Big 12 Championship game. On the other hand, both Baylor and Oklahoma State can ill afford a bad loss.
Out in the Pac-12, Utah has got the South Division all but wrapped up. The Utes could afford to lose at Stanford (+6) this weekend, but I would not recommend that course of action. In the North, Oregon (-7) has to travel to Seattle to face Washington. My algorithm has the Huskies in an upset here, which would blow up the first playoff poll before the ink is even dry.
In the SEC, Georgia started drinking last week when the Bulldogs’ friends from Florida invited them to a cocktail party in Jacksonville. They have since clinched the East Division and don’t need to sober up until early December. My computer still has the Dawgs beating Missouri by over 50 points.
In the SEC West, however, things are a bit more serious. Alabama is still in the pole position, and will likely stay that way after hosting LSU (+25). In other action, Texas A&M (-6.5) hosts Auburn and the winner has the potential to steal the division crown if Auburn can beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl in a few weeks.
In the Group of Five, Cincinnati (-22) continues its slow walk toward playoff disappointment with a home game against Tulane. Texas-San Antonio (-9) will attempt to stay undefeated against UTEP, and Fresno State (-3) will attempt to remain the Mountain West favorite at Boise State.
That is all the betting and hangover prevention advice that I have for you this week. Until next time, Go State, beat Purdue!