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Against All Odds, Week 11: Edge of Tomorrow

Getting to a bowl game is not the alpha and omega, but the Spartans are now on the edge of a potentially brighter tomorrow.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

For some Michigan State fans, this weekend’s win over Rutgers was simply a ho-hum win over a lower-tier Big Ten team. But for the MSU fans who live and die by every play and repeat that pattern every Saturday in the fall, Saturday’s win was kind of a big deal.

In many ways, the flow of the game mimicked some of the disappointing things that Michigan State fans have been seeing all year long. There were some high passes from quarterback Payton Thorne, some clock-mismanagement and several big plays given up on third or fourth down by the defense. One could also argue that a few new problems arose this time around, including some poor tackling and loss of containment far too many times on Rutgers’ running plays.

At the same time, we also saw some encouraging things. While Thorne did struggle with some accuracy in the cold, breezy weather, he also completed several more beautiful passes. The still short-handed defense kept fighting, and the special teams unit blocked a field goal try from Rutgers at a critical juncture. Speaking of field goals, the Spartans certainly showed improvement in that area as well by doubling the number of made field goals on the year from two to four.

The most important result was that the Spartans got this win and are now just a single victory away from becoming bowl eligible. Just becoming bowl eligible is not the alpha and omega of a program like Michigan State. But Coach Mel Tucker is still building this team and this program toward a brighter tomorrow. Those extra practices and experiences that a bowl game will provide are important for that future. The Spartans are now on the edge of that tomorrow.

Week 11 Results

Figure 1 below shows the results of all 64 games involving two FBS teams this time around in Week 11.

Figure 1: Results of Week 11 showing the actual point differentials relative to the opening spread.

Quite a few teams beat the opening spread by more than 14 points. A few of the notable overachievers include Tennessee, Florida, Penn State and Oregon State. Meanwhile Notre Dame and Arkansas State were two teams that underachieved significantly, yet still won.

A total of 14 teams were bitten by the upset bug in Week 11, which is almost exactly the number predicted by my computer. A summary of those upsets in comparison to the picks from earlier in the week are shown below in Table 1.

Table 1: Upsets in Week 11 based on the opening Vegas line compared to the upset projections from last week.

Many of the upsets on the board will have an impact on the races in several Power Five divisions, as will be discussed in more detail below. Losses by UCLA, Oregon, Illinois and Tulane put the division and conference title hopes of those teams in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, upset wins by TCU, Kansas State, Central Florida and North Carolina have bolstered the odds of those teams.

As for the computers, my algorithm went 2-4 for the week (33 percent), which is on par with its performance year-to-date (34 percent). ESPN’s FPI predictions went 3-5 (38 percent) this week, which is consistent with its performance to date as well (39 percent).

Table 2 below gives the results of the computers’ recommended picks against the opening spread.

Table 2: Results of the highlighted picks versus the spread in Week 11.

My computer decided to sit this cycle out, but the FPI did get two-of-three picks correct (67 percent) to raise its year-to-date performance up to 45 percent. When all 64 games are considered, my computer had a very good week (34-30 or 53 percent) while the FPI struggled mightily (27-37 or 42 percent). Year-to-date, both computers have almost identical records overall and are still just under .500 at 48 percent.

Table 3 below summarizes the results of the highlighted total points bets for Week 11.

Table 3: Results of the recommended point total bets (“over/under” bets) in Week 11.

My computer’s “over/under” bets continue to show strong performance this year. The full table of recommended bets went 5-3 (63 percent) to bring the year-to-date performance to around 55 percent. The “lock” bets did a bit better at 4-2 (67 percent) to bring the year-to-date performance to 64 percent. Hopefully my computer will be able to repeat this strong performance in future cycles.

If I consider all of the point-total bets for the year, my computer’s total performance is just 46 percent. So, there is a clear difference between the curated picks shown above and the “general population” picks. My “lock” picks have had a success rate at 60 percent or better in eight out of 11 weeks. The lock picks have only been under .500 once all year.

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 11.

There were no real surprises in the Big Ten East this week, other than the fact that Penn State completely shut out Maryland. Ohio State and Michigan took care of Indiana and Nebraska, respectively, and continue to be on a collision course for the division crown. My computer projects Ohio State to be about a five-point favorite in that game, which essentially explains the fact that the Buckeyes’ odds to win the East (61 percent) are still better than the Wolverines’ odds (39 percent).

The Big Ten West certainly received a shake-up as Purdue upset Illinois and, to a lesser extent, Iowa defeated Wisconsin. My computer now gives the Boilermakers the best odds (38 percent) to win the West with the Hawkeyes just behind (32 percent).

Illinois is still in the race with about 21 percent chance to win the division, with Minnesota (nine percent) still with an outside chance, thanks to the Gophers’ win over Northwestern.

Michigan State’s expected wins and remaining schedule

Table 5 below shows the updated win distribution matrix for the Big Ten following the action of Week 11.

Table 5: Updated Big Ten win distribution matrix after Week 11.

With just two games remaining, Table 5 gives a fairly complete view of the Spartans’ current situation. Michigan State’s expected win total is up to 5.84 and the odds for MSU to win at least one more game is right at 75 percent. Table 5 also suggests that there is an eight percent chance that the Spartan’s will win out to get to 7-5.

With just two games left, I will forego my usual bar chart and simply summarize my simulation’s projections as follows:

  • Indiana at Michigan State (-8.5) => 67 percent chance to win for MSU
  • Michigan State (+18.5) at Penn State => 12 percent chance to win for MSU

Note that the actual line for next week’s game against Indiana is currently slightly higher at -11.5 for the Spartans. Based on just this same change in odds, Michigan State’s chances of getting to .500 and a bowl game looks closer to 80 percent.

National Overview

Let’s close out this cycle with a recap of the action around the country in Week 11.

There were few surprises in the SEC as Georgia and Tennessee both won big in the East and LSU and Alabama took care of business in the West. As a result, the SEC Championship game is set as Georgia will face LSU in three weeks. The only upset in SEC action was Vanderbilt’s win over Kentucky.

There are currently nine total SEC teams that are bowl eligible with both Missouri and Arkansas having a chance to make it 10 teams before the end of the year (Arkansas visits Missouri for the season finale). Meanwhile, Auburn and Vanderbilt are major long shots to reach six wins and Texas A&M (3-7) will be lucky just to get to five wins after losing to Auburn.

It was a wild week in the Big 12 as four of the five games on the schedule ended in an upset. Texas Tech’s win over Kansas was the only game that went to plan. Most significant were TCU’s win over Texas and Kansas State’s upset win over Baylor. With these wins, TCU is now guaranteed a spot in the Big 12 Championship game while Kansas State’s odds of joining the Horned Frogs are 88 percent.

Texas (10 percent) can still sneak into the top-two if the Longhorns can win out and if Kansas State stumbles in either of the final two conference games.

A total of six Big 12 schools are now bowl eligible. Oklahoma (5-5) has the best chance (82 percent) to join those six schools despite an upset loss to West Virginia this week. Texas Tech (5-5) more likely than not (65 percent) will also reach .500. In contrast, Iowa State (24 percent) and West Virginia (seven percent) will most likely be home for the holidays.

In Pac-12 action, both UCLA and Oregon lost in upset fashion to Arizona and Washington, respectively. Meanwhile USC and Utah both won easily. As a result, the Utes (73 percent) and the Trojans (68 percent) are inching closer to a date with each other in the Pac-12 Championship game. That said, the Ducks (35 percent), the Bruins (18 percent) and even the Huskies (seven percent) still have a chance.

The bowl picture is also becoming very clear in the Pac-12. A total of seven teams are over or at the six-win mark, while four other teams (Stanford, California, Arizona State and Colorado) already have seven losses or more and will not be going bowling this cycle. Only Arizona is still on the fence, but the Wildcats’ odds of getting six wins are only at 26 percent.

The division races in the ACC are also now complete, thanks to North Carolina’s upset win over Wake Forest. The Tar Heels will face Clemson in the ACC Championship game. A total of nine ACC teams are currently bowl eligible with Miami (5-5) as the only team with a reasonable chance (43 percent) to join them. Boston College, Virginia and Virginia Tech will all be home for the holidays, as will (almost certainly) Georgia Tech.

Table 6 below summarizes my computer’s current College Football Playoff odds, including both my calculated strength of record (SOR) and strength of schedule (SOS) rankings. I calculate strength of schedule as the expected number of wins an average Power Five team would have with each team’s full season schedule.

Similarly, I calculate strength of record as the number of wins above or below the current expected value of wins for an average Power Five team using the same calculation method that I do for strength of schedule.

Table 5: Current playoff and national title odds based on the results of a 30,000 cycle Monte Carlo simulation of the rest of the college football season. Also shown is the strength of record (SOR) and strength of schedule (SoS) of each team.

My computer currently projects an all-SEC and all-Big Ten final four with TCU, Clemson and USC or Utah on the outside looking in. That said, my calculations suggest that TCU has the most impressive resume. If the Horned Frogs win out, my math would suggest that they deserve to make the playoffs over either Tennessee or (more likely) the loser of the Michigan/Ohio State game.

Finally, in Group of Five action, Central Florida’s upset win at Tulane has forced a three-way tie at the top of the America Athletic Conference (AAC) standings which also includes Cincinnati. Central Florida now owns a tie-breaker over both teams and as a result, I project UCF to have an 89 percent chance to advance to the AAC Championship game. The Knights will most likely be joined by the winner of the Cincinnati/Tulane game in two weeks.

The eventual AAC champion is still the most likely team to make it to the Cotton Bowl in the New Year’s Six (about 58 percent odds). That said, Troy, South Alabama and Sun Belt East Division Champions Coastal Carolina will have something to say about that. Troy (52 percent) has the best current odds to win the Sun Belt and to stake its own claim on New Year’s glory.

Against all odds, I have reached the end for today. As always, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Hoosiers.