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Against All Odds, Week Nine: A Letter from Paul

The Only Colors secured an exclusive interview with the most famous collegiate trophy in the state. How does Paul feel about moving to Ann Arbor?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Michigan State at Michigan
No one looks good in yellow pants.
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dear Spartan Nation,

We all knew that this day would come someday, but that does not make the reality of the situation any easier. We all know how this works. The winner of the annual Michigan/Michigan State game gets to take me back to their town for a full year. Like all of you, I was hoping that the Michigan State Spartans would be able to pull yet another upset on the Michigan Wolverines. Sadly, it was not meant to be.

I tried to put on a strong face for the camera on Saturday night, but I am sure that some of you could probably tell that I was close to tears. They put that stupid winged helmet on me and made me wear yellow pants. I mean, seriously. Who wears yellow, or “maize” pants? Have they no fashion sense? Gross. They even put one of those hats with the block “M” on it for a while. It was embarrassing.

So, I guess this is goodbye for now. I have really enjoyed the last two years in East Lansing. Things have really been great over the last 15 years or so. Well, except for a few years in there. I am sure that you know which ones. Anyway, I am off to Ann Arbor for the next 12 months. I promise to do my best to stay strong and put on a happy face, but it won’t be easy.

When you see him, tell Coach Tucker that I miss him and that I will be counting the days until Oct. 21, 2023. If I know Mel, he will do everything in his power to mount a rescue mission as soon as possible.

Yours truly and always a Spartan at heart,

Paul Bunyan.

Michigan v Michigan State
Goodbye, for now sweet Paul.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Week Nine Results

Figure 1 below shows the results of all 47 games involving two FBS teams in Week Nine.

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

The teams that overachieved enough to beat the spread by more than a standard deviation (14 points) include Kansas State, Tennessee, South Alabama, Minnesota and North Carolina. San Jose State holds the distinction of being the only team to underachieve by more than 14 points, yet still win.

A total of 14 teams took an upset loss this week. Those 14 games are listed in Table 1 in comparison to the Week Nine picks from the computers.

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

The biggest upsets on the board, based on the opening spread, were all in the Group of Five this week. Charlotte’s upset of Rice (-17) was the biggest. Most of the other upsets will likely not impact conference races with the exception of Central Florida’s upset of Cincinnati.

The computers had a solid week with upset picks. My algorithm went 5-4 (56 percent) to bring the year-to-date performance up to 20-37 (35 percent). ESPN’s FPI did not do quite as well at 3-4 (43 percent) for the week. That said, the FPI has a better year-to-date record of 15-23 (40 percent).

The results of the picks against the spread for in Week Nine are summarized below in Table 2.

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

Unfortunately, the computers’ picks against the spread this week were as strong as Michigan State’s special teams play against Michigan (too soon?). My algorithm went just 2-4 (33 percent) while the FPI went 1-4 (20 percent). Both computers are still sitting well below .500 for the year.

Beyond just the highlighted picks for the week, the computers also struggled overall. My algorithm went just 17-30 (36 percent) while the FPI went 20-27 (43 percent). Year-to-date my computer’s record against the spread is 221-253 overall (47 percent) while the FPI’s record is 228-246 (48 percent).

Table 3 below summarizes the results on the highlighted total points bets for Week Nine.

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

In total, the performance was not great with a record of just 3-5 (38 percent). That said, the “lock” picks had a solid 3-2 record (60 percent) for the week and are still performing over 60 percent for the season.

Updated Big Ten Odds

Table 4 below gives the updated odds for the Big Ten race.

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

There were essentially no surprises at all in Big Ten play and as a result, both division races are status quo. In addition to the game in Ann Arbor, Ohio State got the win over Penn State, and the Buckeyes and Wolverines appear to be on a collision course to decide the Big Ten East title on Nov. 26 in Columbus.

My computer currently projects that Ohio State will be about a 6.5-point favorite in that game versus Michigan, which is essentially the reason that the Buckeyes currently have a 65 percent chance to win the division compared to just a 35 percent chance for Wolverines. Michigan also still needs to host the current West division leader Illinois the week prior to traveling to Columbus. Ohio State’s toughest remaining game is at Maryland on the same weekend.

Speaking of Illinois, the Illini were able to get a road win at Nebraska this week to push their record to 7-1. Illinois still has games remaining against Michigan State and Michigan, but even if the Illini were to drop both of those games, Illinois can still very likely win the Big Ten West with a win over Purdue at home on Nov. 12.

In other Big Ten news, Minnesota shut out Rutgers and Iowa took care of business against Northwestern.

Michigan State’s remaining schedule and expected wins

Table 5 below shows the updated win distribution matrix for the Big Ten following the action of Week Nine.

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

Despite the loss to the Wolverines this week, the Spartans’ expected win total remained steady at 4.67. However, Michigan State’s odds of crawling their way back to .500 dipped down to 12 percent.

Table 5 also shows that five Big Ten teams have already cleared the six-win threshold (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland and Illinois). Two other teams (Minnesota and Purdue) are just a game away and while Wisconsin and Iowa both have work to do at 4-4, both teams have a 70 to 75 percent chance to also become bowl eligible.

Figure 2 below gives the detailed odds and projected point spreads for Michigan State’s four remaining games. I have also included the values calculated from last week for comparison.

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

It should not be much of a surprise that Michigan State’s situation is essentially unchanged. In order to make a bowl, the Spartans will need to win three of their final four games. While the Spartans will likely be favored against Rutgers and Indiana, they will be double-digit underdogs in the other two contests.

There are two small bits of good news. First, the Rutgers game now looks a little bit easier compared to last week. The projected spreads in the other three games are essentially unchanged. Second, while my computer continues to ride the Illini hype train, the actual spread for next week’s game at Illinois opened with a spread around +16 for Michigan State. So, that game now looks slightly more winnable as well.

At this point, I am going to take any small victories where I can find them.

National Overview

Let’s close things out for today with a recap of the action around the country in Week Nine.

Much like the action in the Big Ten, there were no real surprises in the SEC other than Missouri beating South Carolina, which was essentially irrelevant. Georgia and Tennessee both beat interstate rivals Florida and Kentucky to set up next week’s winner-take-all showdown in Athens. Georgia opened as an eight-point favorite, which translates to about a 70 percent chance for the Bulldogs to beat Tennessee and to win the SEC East. Georgia does have a tougher remaining schedule with two potentially tricky road games left at Kentucky and Mississippi State, but the race in the East will likely be over next weekend.

In the SEC West, Alabama and LSU had the week off while Ole Miss survived a scare at Texas A&M. The odds for the West therefore are essentially unchanged. Alabama still has the best odds at 64 percent, with LSU and Ole Miss essentially tied with about an 18 percent chance to win the West.

In Big 12 action, TCU pulled away from West Virginia late to stay undefeated, and Kansas State completely destroyed Oklahoma State to stay a single game back in the standings. Based on these wins, the Horned Frogs (74 percent) and Wildcats (68 percent) are starting to pull away and are edging closer to locking up the top spots in the Big 12 Championship game. I still have Texas with the third best odds (37 percent) and Baylor (11 percent) still in the picture, but no other team has odds greater than five percent.

In the ACC, the race for both divisions is basically over. I have Clemson with a 98 percent chance to win the Atlantic Division and North Carolina with a 94 percent chance to win the Coastal Division. The Tar Heels used a dominant fourth quarter to beat Pittsburgh and essentially locked up the division. I currently project Clemson to be about a 12-point favorite over North Carolina in the ACC Championship game.

There were also no upsets in the Pac-12 in Week Nine. UCLA and Oregon both covered the spread, while USC and Utah did not. There was some small movement in the odds for those four teams to finish in the top two of the conference, but I still have USC in the lead with a 64 percent chance to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah (58 percent) is right behind with Oregon (45 percent) also right there. UCLA (27 percent) still has a shot as well.

With Cincinnati’s loss to Central Florida this week, there are now only two teams in the Group of Five with fewer than two losses: Tulane (7-1) and Coastal Carolina (7-1). Tulane is currently at the top of my Group of Five leaderboard with a 35 percent chance to earn a New Year’s Six Bowl bid, but the Green Wave’s odds of running the table in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) are at less than 30 percent.

Despite Coastal Carolina’s record, the Chanticleers are currently ranked as No. 80 in my power rankings and my calculations project that they only have a 14 percent chance to win the Sun Belt Conference. I only give the Chanticleers about a 3.5 percent chance to make the New Year’s Six, which is only good enough for eighth place.

At this point, it looks like the New Year’s Six representative from the Group of Five will be the weakest one in history exactly a year after Cincinnati broke through into the playoffs. If Tulane fails to win the AAC, the next teams up on my Group of Five leaderboard are Troy (10 percent), Boise State (10 percent), South Alabama (nine percent), Cincinnati (nine percent) and Central Florida (eight percent).

Against all odds, I have reached the end for today. As always, enjoy, Happy Halloween, and Go State, beat the Illini!