“Life is short. Eat dessert first.”
That quote is attributed to the great pastry chef Jacques Torres. He is also known for the phrase:
“No one can create anything perfectly the first time they try. So, clean up and start over.”
While I am guessing that Torres was likely not an American football fan, his wisdom seems to translate well to the gridiron. In the sport of college football, the season is certainly short, and many teams tend to start things off with a bit of dessert. As such, the schedule this week is filled with cupcakes and French pastries for a lot of Power Five and FBS teams.
As for the second quote, few teams are perfect in the first game or two. So, perhaps it is a good idea to ease into things with perhaps a sweet confection or two to prep the stomach for the heartier meals to come.
But, the harsh reality is that this analogy breaks down in the final sentence. College football offers few, if any mulligans. There is no cleaning up and starting over. Once those losses start to accumulate, next season gets closer and closer.
That’s why the Michigan State Spartans’ first win of the season over Big Ten foe Northwestern on Friday was such a big deal. Starting off with a loss would not have been catastrophic, but it would have made the rest of the season an uphill climb. Just making a bowl game would have been a challenge.
But sitting at 1-0, things are certainly looking a bit sweeter for the Green and White. As things currently stand, my math gives the Spartans a 76 percent chance to get to 6-6 and qualify for the postseason. A seven- or even eight-win season all of a sudden seems at least plausible. Things have changed a lot in the last 10 days.
While MSU certainly looked pretty good in Week One, the Spartans were not perfect. I would still like to see improvement in the pass rush, secondary play, and a little better passing attack from sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne. There are still some things that need to be cleaned up.
This week, the Spartans will hopefully get that chance when a frozen delight in the form of FCS opponent, the Youngstown State Penguins. Spartans fans are expecting an easy victory and a chance to tune up and tighten some screws after Week One.
However, just like any actual dessert, one must chew carefully. Too big of a bite of cake can take down the even the toughest guy in the room. Last week alone saw five dessert-related causalities in places like Tulsa, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Washington and UNLV.
Even a lowly FCS opponent can sometimes present a real choking hazard. Hopefully, this weekend the Spartans and their fans will be able to enjoy the dessert course with limited stress.
Picks of the Week
As is my weekly tradition, Figure 1 and 2 below summarize the projected final margins of victory from both my algorithm and ESPN’s FPI. These projections are plotted versus the opening Vegas spread for each of the 45 games this week that involve two FBS teams in Week 2. More detail about these figures and how to read them can be found in last week’s preview.
As Michigan State does not play an FBS team this week, the Spartans do not appear in either graph.
In Week One, both computer systems made predictions that were very much in line with the opening Las Vegas lines. This week, however, things are starting to get interesting. In some cases, there is quite a bit of conflicting information about how good some of these teams really are. Data is still limited, and it is hard to know how to weigh what we thought we knew during the summer and what we saw last week.
In my case, I simply average the two pieces of information. I am not sure how ESPN handles it. Either way, there are a lot more upset and picks against the spread that I will recommend this week compared to last week. The upset picks are summarized below in Table 1.
I also simulated the week’s action and found that a total of 9.6, plus-or-minus 2.5, upsets should be expected this weekend.,
As for picks against the spread (ATS) this week, there are a lot, and they are summarized below in Table 2.
My metric recommends a total of four bets ATS this week, including EMU to cover versus the Badgers as my top pick on the board. The FPI agrees with that assessment and adds nine additional unique picks to bring the total to 13 for the week.
Historically, my method can consistently perform above 50 percent using the combined wisdom of my algorithm and the FPI. I am on a bit of a sugar rush so far this year, sitting at 4-1 for the season. Hopefully we don’t see a crash this weekend.
MSU and Big Ten Overview
Many years ago when I was setting up my football algorithms, I made the conscience choice not to include FCS-level teams in my model. If I were to do so, it would add over 100 additional teams and increase the complexity of my system such that it would be much harder to manage, with limited pay off. It might just give me a tummy ache.
So, when FBS teams play FCS team, I simply treat the game as an exhibition. The result of any FBS-FCS game does not factor into my calculations at all. I treat all FCS teams as if they are equal in strength to roughly the weakest FBS team. As such, I can project a spread, but it is really just a very rough approximation.
So, for the MSU game this week, my computer has no strong opinion as to what will happen. I would expect MSU to tighten some screws and play pretty well. I expect Kenneth Walker III to rack up a lot of yards, unless the coaching staff decides to put him on ice against the Penguins. I expect Payton Thorne to look a little sharper, and I expect the Spartans to win by a lot and enjoy the sweet taste of victory. My not-very-confident computer says MSU 45, Youngstown State 9. Sure. I will go with that.
As for the rest of the Big Ten, the match-ups for Week Two are shown below in Table 3.
Of the 14 team Big Ten schools, three additional teams (Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern) are joining the Spartans at the FCS dessert buffet this weekend.
Four Big Ten teams (Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin) are facing MAC teams, while Purdue is facing a UCONN team that would struggle to be competitive in the MAC. The Big Ten schools are all favored in these matchups, but the computers only have consensus that the Golden Gophers will cover versus Miami of Ohio.
The most interesting line in this group is Nebraska (-11) versus Buffalo. The computers both have Buffalo covering. If I were a Cornhuskers fan, I would bring some antacid to tailgate, just in case.
Both Illinois and Rutgers travel to face ACC teams this week. The Illini (+13) are underdogs at Virginia. The computer have the Cavaliers to win, but Illinois to cover. The Scarlet Knights (-2) are wafer thin favorites on the road at Syracuse. The FPI has faith in Rutgers, but my algorithm has them on upset alert.
Finally, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State are all playing in very non-dessert-like marquee matchups this weekend. The Ding Dongs from Ann Arbor host Washington this week in a matchup that looked a lot more compelling a week ago. In Week One, Washington was upset by the Montana. In fairness to the Huskies, Montana looked a lot more like Gummy Bears than Grizzly Bears when the schedule came out.
Somehow, the Michigan/Washington spread opened at just one point and then almost instantly rose to almost a touchdown. My algorithm (which was not told about the upset loss) thinks the opening spread was about right. The FPI, however, has the Wolverines by double-digits.
Ohio State (-11.5) hosts another Pac-12 North team on Saturday in the Oregon Ducks. The Buckeye looked just OK against Minnesota while the Ducks looked outright shaky against Fresno State last weekend. The computers are split as to which team will cover. Either way, the winner is certain to get a boost of confidence this early in the season.
But, the game of the week for me is the battle for the “coveted” Cy Hawk trophy as Iowa travels to Ames to face Iowa State (-5). This will mark the first time in history that the two teams have met when both teams were ranked.
While the Cyclones are narrow favorites, the Hawkeyes have won the last five games in the series and are coming off a much more impressive performance in Week One. Iowa devoured Indiana, while Iowa State almost needed the Heimlich maneuver versus Northern Iowa. My math currently has the Hawkeyes as the new favorites in the Big Ten West. If they can win this weekend, it is time to start believing.
Notable National Action
As for the rest of the FBS, Table 4 below summarizes the other games that I will have my eye on this weekend. In general, I included all the games that involve two Power Five teams (outside of the Big Ten games above) and a few other games where an upset watch seems warranted.
As I looked through the rest of the games on the schedule this week, it honestly put a bit of a bad taste in mouth. A total of 37 FBS teams are facing an FCS opponent in Week Two. While I am sure these teams will enjoy their little aperitif, us fans are left feeling slightly bitter.
But, there are a few games on the menu that might be worth watching. In the ACC, it is natural to keep an eye on the Spartans’ next opponent: Miami (FL). The Hurricanes were humbled by the Crimson Tide last week, but that has happened to the best of us. This week, Miami opened as only a six-point favorite against Appalachian State. If the Canes were to stumble or just scrape by and not cover, this might bode well for MSU’s chances next week.
In other ACC action, I am very curious to see how North Carolina State (pick ’em) fares at Mississippi State. The Wolf Pack shut out South Florida in Week One in impressive fashion. As a result, my computer now has NC State favored over Clemson to win the Atlantic Division. I am not quite ready to believe that yet, but a win in Starkville would give me pause.
In Big 12 play, Texas (-3.5) travels to Arkansas, which looks to be a fun match-up of future conference foes. I also have my eye on the Cowboys of Oklahoma State (-14). The computers both like Tulsa to cover and an upset in this intrastate rivalry does not seem out of the question. In other news, Kansas is a 27-point underdog at Coastal Carolina...yikes.
Notre Dame (19.5) faces Toledo this weekend. On paper, that looks as easy as a Bomb Pop on a summer day, but after the Irish needed overtime to beat Florida State, I wonder if this might be closer than one might think (even if my computer disagrees).
In the Pac-12, there are a few interesting games as Arizona (-1) hosts San Diego State in a game that could go either way, and Utah (-6) travels to BYU, which should be a tasty rivalry game.
In SEC play, Missouri (+3) travels to Kentucky in the lone conference game on the menu this week. If Kentucky wins, it is positioned to be at least the third-best team in the SEC East, and might be a dark horse for the division crown.
Also in the SEC, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are clearly on upset alert, while the Florida Gators (-29) actually will travel to Tampa Bay to face the South Florida Bulls. An upset seems unlikely, but the fact that the Gators agreed to play in Tampa for this game is, in itself, notable.
As a final note, I just wanted to mention that while I list my projected point totals for each game in Tables 3 and 4 as possible over/under bets, I do not actually have any specific recommendations to use this data.
That said, I have been entering this data into the “Tallysight” website for every game since last year and so far the results have been surprisingly good. Last year I got 54 percent of my over/under bets correct for the season. In the first real week of 2021, I seem to have also had a pretty good week:
CFB Week 1 O/U Expert Rankings— Tallysight (@tallysight) September 7, 2021
1) @PaulFanson ($187.34, 39.03%)
2) @CJOlson2000 ($169.20, 14.97%)
3) @SSN_KState ($61.69, 19.28%)
4) @ausportsnerd ($59.89, 46.07%)
5) @DKThompson ($54.56, 21.82%)
*(Profit, ROI) based on $10 betshttps://t.co/o7P1Ziv09z pic.twitter.com/yN4AP7JKWg
So, it might be worth your while to take a closer look at the final column of those tables this week, if you are so inclined.
That is all the advice I have for this week. As always, chew your food, enjoy and Go State, Beat the Penguins!