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Against All Odds, Week Seven: Momentum

After this weekend’s massive win over Wisconsin, Michigan State is finally moving in a positive direction.

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Classical physics defines the property of momentum as the product of mass and velocity. Over the previous month of the season, the Michigan State Spartans seemed to be stuck in place. The velocity was zero. This fact was weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of Spartan fans, players and coaches.

But this weekend, things finally started to move in a positive direction. Some might call it the product of getting a few players back from injury, better execution and perhaps (finally) a little bit of good fortune. It also helps to be playing at home against a team with a less potent passing attack.

No matter the impetus, Michigan State finally is moving again after Saturday’s massive double overtime win over Wisconsin. Dare we say that the Spartans have some momentum? For the first time in a month, Michigan State fans have something to be happy about.

Classical physics also describes the concept of inertia, which is the idea that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. The Spartans will now move through the bye week with a chance to heal up and regroup. The preparations will also begin as the Spartans gear up for a collision with their archrival Michigan Wolverines from Ann Arbor. Can the Spartans build on the current momentum and continue to move forward in the second half of the season?

The challenge that Michigan State will face in two weeks seems enormous, but I am confident that the Spartans will hit the Wolverines with as much force as they can muster. Will it be enough for MSU to claim an even more massive win? No one can say for sure, but for now I certainly like the direction, I like the pace and only time will tell where the season goes from here.

Week Seven Results

Figure 1 below shows the results of all 51 games involving two FBS teams in Week Seven.

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

The only favorites to beat the spread by more than 14 points were Central Florida, Air Force, Michigan and Georgia. Clearly, those four teams also picked up some momentum this weekend. No team technically underachieved by the same margin, yet still won, but Texas and Texas-San Antonio were very close.

Basically, all the favorites that underachieved significantly in Week Seven lost. I count a total of 18 upset relative to the opening spreads, which is both larger than expected and the highest number observed so far in any week of 2022. Table 1 below summarizes those 18 upsets in comparison to the picks from last week.

Table 1: Upsets in Week Seven based on the opening Vegas line compared to the upset projections from last week.

Based on the spread, the most massive upset of the week was Stanford’s takedown of Notre Dame. That said, the most notable upset of the week was Tennessee’s win over Alabama. In addition, Table 1 shows that my algorithm correctly predicted five total upsets including wins by Illinois, West Virginia, Arkansas and LSU.

My algorithm had its best week of the year, going 5-3 (62.5 percent) but year-to-date its success rate is only 30 percent. ESPN’s FPI got its one-and-only pick correct to bring its tally for the year to 10-18 (36 percent).

Table 2 below gives the results of the recommended picks against the spread for Week Seven.

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

It was also a momentous week for picks against the spread. My algorithm went .500, which is tied with the best weekly performance of the year. The FPI did better, going 3-1 (75 percent). Combined, the metrics were 5-3 (63 percent). Year-to-date, my algorithm’s success rate is just 32 percent. The FPI’s rate is better at 43 percent.

When all of the games in the week are considered, my algorithm showed some positive momentum by going 27-24 (53 percent) while the FPI was just 25-26 (49 percent). Year-to-date, the two computers have identical records of 183-192 (49 percent).

Table 3 shows the results of the week’s point total (over / under) picks.

Table 3: Results of the recommended point total bets (“over / under” bets) in Week Seven.

In contrast to the upset picks and the picks against the spread, the point-total (over/under) picks were moving in the opposite direction this week. I have been tracking these numbers all season, and the overall performance has been excellent (56 percent for the selected picks and 63 percent for the “locks”), but this week, the performance was horrible. The locks went 1-5 (17 percent) while the overall picks were 2-7 (22 percent).

Updated Big Ten Odds

Coming into the week, it seemed clear that Week Seven would have a big impact on the direction of the races in both Big Ten divisions. In looking at the results, that was definitely the case.

In the Big Ten East, the big question was whether Penn State or Michigan would emerge as the primary challenger to Ohio State. The Wolverines put a massive beat down on the Nittany Lions to stake their claim on that role. In fact, as Table 4 below shows, Michigan’s performance was so strong that the Wolverines (49 percent) have nosed ahead of the Buckeyes (45 percent) for the best odds to win the East as well as in my power rankings.

Table 4: Updated Big Ten rankings, expected wins, strengths of schedule and season odds following Week Seven.

That said, both teams are still favored to run the table until they meet in Columbus in the final game of the regular season. Ohio State still projects to be favored to beat Michigan. The Buckeyes trail in odds at the moment due to their tougher remaining schedule, which also includes one additional game.

In the Big Ten West, the spotlight was on the Illini and the Boilermakers. Illinois was able to upset Minnesota while Purdue was able to close out Nebraska. As a result, the two teams are now tied for first place in the West at 3-1. My calculations continue to favor Illinois. It gives them an 82 percent chance to win the West with Purdue only having a 16 percent chance.

Michigan State’s remaining schedule and expected wins

The Spartan’s win over Wisconsin certainly provided a happy homecoming in East Lansing, and it also increased the odds that Michigan State can qualify for the postseason. But the impact was perhaps not as great as hoped. As the updated win distribution table shows below in Table 5, the Spartans’ expected win total edged up to just 4.7 while the odds to get to six wins are now projected to be just 16 percent.

Table 5: Updated Big Ten win distribution matrix after Week Seven.

Figure 2 below provides a detailed breakdown of the projected point spreads and odds for Michigan State five remaining games.

Figure 2: Updated odds and spread projections for Michigan State’s remaining games, following Week Four and based on a 60,000 cycle Monte Carlo simulation.

Part of the problem for Michigan State is that its next two opponents (Michigan and Illinois) also both had really good weeks. Despite the fact that the Spartans scored an upset victory, I project that Michigan State will be over a 20-point underdog in its next two games at Michigan (+22.5) and at Illinois (+21).

The Spartans now have a shot to get some rest. If MSU Can steal a win at Michigan or at Illinois, then the chance of a bowl game increases dramatically. At that point, the Spartans would have even more momentum and would just need to protect the home field against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Indiana Hoosiers.

If Michigan State drops the next two games, then the mission is simple: the Spartans would need to win out in order to get to six wins. In the best case, this would set up a chance to salvage something positive out of the season in the final game of the regular season at Penn State.

At that point, Penn State will very likely be out of the Big Ten East race and would only be playing for bowl positioning. The Spartans very well might be the more desperate team in that scenario. Furthermore, Michigan’s blowout win over the Nittany Lions also tends to suggest that Penn State might not be quite as good as we thought just last week, and the updated projected point spread of 15 points reflects that. All of a sudden, the final game of the season seems more winnable.

The fact that we can still discuss plausible bowl scenarios for the Spartans is an indication of just how massive Saturday’s win really was. The idea of a trip to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix is not what Spartan fans dreamed of back in August. But the additional December practices that bowl participation brings would be extremely valuable as Coach Mel Tucker continues to rebuild this roster.

For now, that is the goal and that goal is still on the table.

National Overview

As we do every week, let’s check in on the other notable action around the country this week.

One could certainly argue that the biggest game of the week was Tennessee’s upset win over Alabama. But, did that win actually change the trajectory of the SEC race? In all honesty, it most likely did not. In the SEC East, Georgia is still the team to beat with a 79 percent chance to win the division. As for Tennessee (19 percent), the Volunteers will still almost certainly need to beat the Bulldogs in Athens in order to advance to the SEC Championship game.

In the SEC West, Alabama similarly still controls its own destiny with a 59 percent chance to win the division. The Crimson Tide do have a tougher path, however, as Alabama has road games coming up in a few weeks against its two biggest challengers in Ole Miss (31 percent) and LSU (seven percent).

In the Big 12, some separation was apparent as three teams seem to be rising to the top of my Big 12 leaderboard. Texas had a lackluster performance against Iowa State, but the Longhorns did win and continue to have the best odds (75 percent) to finish in the top-two of the regular season standings.

The other two teams in the top-three are Kansas State (58 percent) and TCU (33 percent) as both schools remain undefeated in conference play. No other team projects to have better than 10 percent odds to advance to the Big 12 Championship game.

Some separation was also observed in the ACC as Clemson, Syracuse, and North Carolina all won to remain undefeated in conference play. Clemson (62 percent) can likely wrap up the Atlantic Division next week as it hosts Syracuse (36 percent). Meanwhile, North Carolina (71 percent) now has a commanding lead in the extremely weak Coastal Division, thanks to the Tar Heels’ come-from-behind win at Duke.

In Pac-12 action, Utah was able to beat USC in order to set up what now looks like a four-team race for the two spots in the conference. Oregon (39 percent) and UCLA (31 percent) are currently both undefeated in conference play and at the top of the standings. That said, USC (73 percent) and Utah (48 percent) still project to be the two teams in the conference with the best odds to square off for the Pac-12 crown.

Finally, in Group of Five action, San Jose State lost at Fresno State and almost certainly played itself out of contention for a possible New Year’s Six bid. So, we are back to the situation where the top-ranked Group of Five team will either be the champion of the American Athletic Conference or South Alabama, if the Jaguars can run the table and win the Sun Belt Conference.

This week, my calculations give Central Florida (36 percent), Tulane (29 percent) and Cincinnati (16 percent) the best odds to win the ACC and therefore those three teams occupy the three of the top-four spots on my Group of Five leaderboard. South Alabama currently sits in second place with a 43 percent chance to win the Sun Belt and a 21 percent chance to earn a trip to the New Year’s Six.

Against all odds, I have reached the end for today. Until next time, enjoy the bye week.