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Bad Betting Advice, Week Six: Top Gun

Michigan State is trying to break out of the current flat death spin with the conference’s top gun headed into town. Can the Spartans complete the mission against the Buckeyes? Can they at least buzz the tower?

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Goodness gracious, great balls of fire. It is hard to believe that we are almost at the midpoint of the college football season. Back in the summer, most Michigan State fanboys expected that the Spartans would be close to clinching a bowl bid by now. Instead, the Green and White are sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten East standings at 2-3 overall. The season has entered a danger zone.

As if that were not bad enough, the mission this week seems close to impossible. The opponent is the perennial top gun of the Big Ten conference, Ohio State. This enemy has superior firepower and a need for speed. More likely than not, the Buckeyes will shoot the Spartans down before they even get off the ground. It does not take a Harvard or Yale graduate to tell you that by the time the rooster crows on Sunday morning, Michigan State most likely will have another loss.

Is there any hope that the Spartans can get some payback for last year’s beatdown in that nest of vipers known as Columbus? Head Coach Mel Tucker is generally calm, cool and collected in most situations (think Ice Man). But in this case, he might need more of an unconventional and risky approach to get the job done (think Maverick). Honestly speaking, the Spartans likely will need a little magic just to stay close (think Merlin).

But no one thought in 1998 that a scrapy maverick of a head coach named Nick Saban could go into the horseshoe, navigate a treacherous canyon, and complete the mission against the No. 1 Buckeyes. But he did, along with at least some help from a young graduate assistant named Mel Tucker. Despite the odds, there is still a reason that we play the game.

That all said, I am certainly not expecting any Hollywood-style ending this Saturday. I am just hoping that by sundown the Spartans won’t still have a goose egg on the scoreboard.

Picks of the Week

As is my weekly tradition, Figures 1 and 2 below give this week’s projected point spreads for each of the 56 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.

Figure 1: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on my algorithm to the opening DraftKings lines for Week Six.
Figure 2: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on ESPN’s FPI to the opening DraftKings lines for Week Six.

Table 1 below summarizes the upset picks that are derived from the two figures above. My algorithm has decided to buzz the tower one more time as it boldly made seven upset picks. The FPI agreed on three of those picks and added two more for good measure. The most notable upset picks on the board this week are for Kansas to upset TCU, LSU to shoot down Tennessee and Iowa State to upset Kansas State.

Note that my weekly simulation using the opening point spreads suggests that a total of 15.7 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.1 upsets, are more likely in Week Six. That is the biggest number projected so far this year, so it could be a wild weekend.

Table 1: Summary of upset picks for Week Six.

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).

Table 2: Picks against the opening spread for Week Six. The picks are listed in order of confidence score.

My analysis of ESPN’s FPI picks suggests a total of eight recommended picks against the opening spread, one of which my algorithm agrees with. My algorithm also adds three additional picks to the board this week.

Note that one of the FPI picks is for Michigan State to cover the opening spread of +24.5 against Ohio State. So far in 2022, the computers have recommended bets on the Spartans a total of four times and been wrong all four times.

In addition to my projected upset picks and picks against the opening spread, this week I would like to introduce a new set of recommendations: total points or “over/under” bets. I have been tracking this data for a while and I have developed a method to select a subset of games where a winning bet is likely. Table 3 below shows this week’s recommendations.

Table 3: Recommended total points bets (over/under) for Week Six. Note that the picks labeled as “locks” are at a higher level of confidence.

Furthermore, I have a tier of higher confidence total points “locks” based on a comparison of my data with Bill Connelly’s SP+ predictions. A retroactive analysis of this method for Weeks One through Five shows that my overall method has been correct close to 60 percent of the time overall (61-43) while the “lock” picks have been correct 70 percent of the time (25-18). That result really took my breath away when I first saw it. Let’s see what Week Six brings.

Michigan State and Big Ten Overview

The 2022 season marks the 51st meeting between the Michigan State Spartans and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Michigan State has only 15 total wins in the series, and they tend to come in bunches. The Spartans won five of the first seven meetings from 1912 to 1966. Michigan State then won three of the next four games in the early 1970s, two in a row in the late 1980s, two more in a row in the late 1990s and then three-out-of-five from 2011 to 2015. However, the Spartans are currently in the middle of a six-game losing streak in the series.

Against the spread, Michigan State has not performed much better in recent history. The Green and White have only covered the spread five times in 17 tries since 2000 and only one of those covers (2016) occurred in East Lansing.

This year, the betting lines opened with Ohio State as a 24.5-point favorite. Historically, an upset will occur only around five percent of the time when the spread is in this range. For context, it is roughly the same odds that a No. 15 seed has to upset a No. 2 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament.

This is the largest point spread in the series since Michigan State was a 27.5-point underdog against the No. 1 Buckeyes Columbus in 1998. That day wound up to be a happy one for Spartan fans. Based on the records that I can find, this is the biggest upset win for Michigan State in at least the past 30 years.

As for this year’s contest, the computers certainly are not predicting an upset, but both my computer and ESPN’s FPI predict that the Spartans will cover the opening spread. My official prediction is a final score of Ohio State 39, Michigan State 17. The current over/under on DraftKings is listed as 65 points. The computers recommend a bet on the under.

A summary of all of the games involving Big Ten teams can be found below in Table 4.

Table 4: Summary of Big Ten action in Week Six, including my algorithm’s projected scores. The teams shaded in green are projected to cover by my algorithm. The teams shaded red are projected to cover by the FPI.

Minnesota and Penn State have the week off, which leaves five additional games on the schedule. Michigan (+21) is a big favorite in Bloomington against Insiana, but both computers like the Hoosiers to cover the spread over those jesters from Ann Arbor. The other four games look to be more competitive.

Even without a coach, Wisconsin (-8) should be able to take down Northwestern. Nebraska (-3) at Rutgers might be a dog fight, but the result will largely be irrelevant. In contrast, the other two games featuring Purdue at Maryland (-3) and Iowa at Illinois (-3.5) will have a big impact on the Big Ten West race.

My current calculations have Illinois (69 percent) and Purdue (16 percent) with the highest odds of winning the West. But I still have some doubt as to the quality of either of those two teams. If Purdue can steal a win at Maryland and if Illinois can dominate Iowa the same way that it dominated Wisconsin last week, then I think that my computer might be onto something.

Notable National Action

Before we ride our motorcycles off into the sunset, let’s take a quick look at the other notable national action this week. Table 5 below gives the details for the remaining games teams that I will be following this weekend.

Table 5: Summary of other notable national action in Week Six, including my algorithm’s projected scores.

In the SEC, most of the current division contenders are double-digit favorites. The exception is the cross-division clash between Tennessee (-3.5) and LSU. Both teams are undefeated in conference play and they had best stay that way if they want to stay in the hunt for a division title. Both computers pick home-dog LSU Tigers in the upset win.

In the Big 12, three of the four games on the schedule have a point spread that opened at five points or less. The Red River Showdown between Texas (-5) and Oklahoma is drawing most of the attention, but the fact is that those teams are a combined 1-3 in conference play.

I am far more interested to see if Kansas State (-1) can stay undefeated at Iowa State and which of TCU (-5) and Kansas will also stay unblemished. The computers are split as to which team will win both contests.

In ACC action, Clemson (-21) should have no problem at Boston College, but there are three other games involving divisional contenders where the spread opened between three and four points. The loser of the game between North Carolina State (-3.5) and Florida State is likely out of the race in the Atlantic Division. In the Coastal Division, no one seems to want to take command of the race, but Duke (-3.5 at Georgia Tech) and North Carolina (+4 at Miami) will both try to stay undefeated in conference play.

In the Pac-12, Utah and USC are both in prime position to finish in the top-two of the final conference standings. USC (-12) should get past Washington State this week, while the Utes (-3.5) have a much stiffer test at UCLA. Elsewhere, both Oregon (-11.5) and Washington (-13) are double-digit favorites on the road against Arizona and Arizona State, respectively.

In the Group of Five, Cincinnati (-28) is a huge favorite against South Florida, but I have my eye on Tulane (-2.5 versus East Carolina). Sun Belt favorite South Alabama is on a bye this week, so if you are looking for another dark horse to claim that last New Year’s Six spot, check out San Jose State (-5.5) against UNLV.

Finally, Notre Dame (-4) hosts BYU in a clash of FBS independents that are both essentially irrelevant for the rest of the season.

That is all the advice that I have to offer this week. No matter what happens this week, don’t lose that lovin’ feeling, Spartan fans. Until next time, enjoy and Go State; beat the Buckeyes!

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