Early in my professional career, I had a manager who would often give a simple piece of advice. “Remember, smile first,” he would say. Part of the reason for this advice was that I worked with a group of very strong-willed people who were not always very diplomatic in their communication. But in general, the idea was that when you are working on a difficult project, it is important to stay positive.
I think that this message is an important one for fans of the Michigan State Spartans this year. Even though MSU’s football team is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, there is still a lot of football to be played. The past is in the past and there is no sense in crying over spilt milk. So as former Michigan State head coach John L. Smith would say: SMILE! OK?
The next step in Michigan State’s season starts with this weekend’s homecoming game against the farmers from the actual Dells, otherwise known as the Wisconsin Badgers. If the Spartans want any chance to avoid being the cheese who stands alone and at home during bowl season, Michigan State is going to need to find a way to get a victory.
Now obviously the Spartans’ performance over the last month has been not-so gouda. In fact, if I were to describe it, I would say that it has been “stinky” with a generally porous appearance (especially on defense). Certainly, those predictions that were made back in the summer have not aged well. Considering the cheddar that the current coaching staff is making, it is fair to ask the question of when Michigan State will get back on track.
Fortunately, I think that there is hope that things may turn around this week. Wisconsin’s offense is not quite as strong or sharp as the last four teams that the Spartans have faced. Furthermore, there were indications last week that a few of Michigan State’s key players on defense (defensive tackle Jacob Slade and safety Xavier Henderson) are close to returning to action. Both Slade and Henderson dressed against Ohio State, but didn’t play.
Spartan Safety Xavier Henderson is in uniform for today's game against the Buckeyes. Defensive tackle Jacob Slade also dressed today.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) October 8, 2022
If the Michigan State defense can take its play up a notch such that quarterback Payton Thorne and the offense are not constantly playing from behind, the entire operation might look a lot better. If that is the case, perhaps MSU fans will all be smiling come Saturday night.
Picks of the Week
As I do every week, Figures 1 and 2 below give this week’s projected point spreads for each of the 51 games involving two FBS teams. Figure 1 shows the projected point differentials from my algorithm relative to the opening point spreads, courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. Figure 2 shows a similar analysis using the picks from ESPN’s FPI.
Table 1 below summarizes the upset picks that are derived from the two figures above. My algorithm is once again making a lot of picks (eight in all). The upsets of note are for Duke to take out North Carolina and for Illinois to upset Minnesota. My algorithm and ESPN’s FPI agree on one pick this week: LSU to beat Florida.
Also note that a simulation of the week’s action using the opening lines from DraftKings suggests that a total of 13.5 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.0 upsets, are likely to occur.
Table 2 below summarizes the recommended wagers that are implied from Figures 1 and 2 above (i.e. the games that fall outside of the dotted diagonal lines.)
The computers are combining for a total of eight curated picks against the spread. The computers selected many of the same games that appear in Table 1 above. In addition, the machines like Purdue, Tulane and Central Florida to cover.
Table 3 below summarizes the recommended point-total (over/under) bets for the week. Year-to-date these are the collection of picks that have been the cream of the crop.
A total of eight picks this week cleared the criteria needed to make this table. Six of those eight picks qualify as a “lock” based on my analysis.
Michigan State and Big Ten Overview
Michigan State and Wisconsin have squared off a total of 54 times in history, stretching back to 1913. The overall series is very streaky, and the Spartans currently lead the series, 30-24. Since Coach Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990, the series has been very competitive. Each school has won 11 games apiece in that span.
Since 2001, the Spartans are 7-6 against the spread and 6-7 straight up against the Badgers with the home team winning all but four of the 13 contests. The teams have only met a total of three times since former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson broke the hearts of Spartan fans in the 2011 Big Ten Championship game. Wisconsin is 2-1 in those games, including a 38-0 blowout win in Madison in 2019.
In 2022, the spread opened with Michigan State as a 5.5-point underdog. Since then, that line has increased and the Badgers are now favored by 7.5 points. Historically, the Spartans’ odds for the upset sit at around 35 percent.
Interestingly, my computer agreed with the opening spread in this contest to within a tenth of a point. Technically, I have Wisconsin covering the opening spread of 5.5, but Michigan State covering the current line of 7.5. Either way, my official, math-based prediction is for the pain to continue in East Lansing. My final score prediction is Wisconsin 29, Michigan State 23.
The current point total on DraftKings is listed as 49.5 points. My analysis suggests taking the over.
If you are looking for a bit more math-based optimism, ESPN’s FPI suggests that this game will be much, much closer than either Vegas or my computer predicts. The FPI still has Wisconsin favored, but the margin is projected to be less than a point.
A summary of all of the games involving Big Ten teams can be found below in Table 4.
Two of those games are not likely to impact the overall conference race. Purdue (-14) is likely to get past Nebraska at home, and Maryland (-9.5) is favored to beat Indiana on the road. The computers both project that the favored team will cover.
The other two games will be much more impactful. The game of the week in the Big Ten is Penn State’s visit to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are at home and are favored by roughly a touchdown, but the Nittany Lions are coming off a bye. The winner automatically becomes the biggest threat to the Buckeyes for the role of big cheese in the Big Ten East, and the conference overall.
The biggest contest in the Big Ten West is Minnesota’s visit to Champaign to face the Illinois. Minnesota comes into the game as a three-point favorite, but my computer is simply enamored with the Illini. It has Illinois favored by 14 points.
The health of star players on both sidelines may ultimately determine the winner. Minnesota’s star running back Mohamed Ibrahim missed the Gophers’ loss to Purdue two weeks ago, but is rumored to be back this week. As for the Illini, starting quarterback Tommy DeVito status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
Notable National Action
Let’s take a “brie-f” look at the other notable national action this week. Table 5 below gives the details for the remaining games teams that I will be watching out for this weekend.
There is a lot of exciting action down in SEC country this week across the board. Georgia (-39) should not have any trouble with Vanderbilt and SEC West contender Ole Miss is a double-digit favorite versus Auburn (+15.5). In addition, two of the games feature teams that are jockeying for position in the middle of their division standings. Mississippi State (-5.5) will try to steal a road win at Kentucky, and LSU (+2.5) will try the same at Florida.
But, the big game on the schedule this week is Alabama at Tennessee (+7). The Crimson Tide struggled last week against Texas A&M and only beat Texas by a point in Week Two. Tennessee has had a few close calls against Florida and Pittsburgh so far, but the Volunteers dominated LSU in Baton Rouge last week. An upset win by Tennessee would turn the SEC race onto its head.
There is a good chance that we will start to see some separation in the Big 12 race this week as well. Texas is at the top of my leaderboard right now, and the Longhorns (-17) should get past Iowa State, while Kansas State has the week off.
On its face, Oklahoma State’s visit to TCU (-4) is the biggest game on the schedule as both teams are undefeated, but my calculations have both teams as long shots to make the Big 12 Championship game. I am more interested to see if Kansas can win at Oklahoma (-7.5).
In ACC Atlantic Division action, Clemson (-5.5) has a tricky road test at Florida State and Syracuse (-3.5) has a similarly tough test at home against North Carolina State. Both teams will try to stay undefeated and at the top of the standings. In the Coastal Division, the top two teams on my ACC leaderboard square off as North Carolina (-6) travels to Duke. My algorithm predicts an upset win by the Blue Devils.
The schedule in the Pac-12 is a bit light this week, as two of the top-four teams (UCLA and Oregon) are on a bye, but the other two teams are facing each other as Utah hosts USC (+4). While the Utes are a narrow favorite, my algorithm suggests that this game is a virtual toss-up.
In Group of Five action, three of the top -four teams on my Group of Five leaderboard (South Alabama, UCF and Tulane) are double-digit favorites. The team currently at the top of that leaderboard, San Jose State, has a tougher road test at Fresno State (+6).
I could keep this up until the cows come home, but I think that I have milked this analysis for all that it is worth. That is all the advice that I have to give this week. As always, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Badgers!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.