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Bad Betting Advice, Week 10: Orange Crush

It might feel like the Spartans’ season has gone flat, but there is still a lot left to play for.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

So, who wants to talk about some actual football? Yes? Sounds good? OK!

Two games ago, the Spartans were able to pop off a win against a team in red (Wisconsin). Last week, things were not so mellow against the team in yellow (Michigan). This weekend, it is onward to the land of the orange crush (Illinois).

The Michigan State Spartans head to Champaign to square off with the Illinois Fighting Illini. Coach Bret Bielema’s Illinois squad has been the surprise team of the Big Ten so far this year. The Illini enter Saturday’s game with a 7-1 record and have bubbled up to the top of the Big Ten West standings (4-1 in conference play). Illinois boasts the best scoring defense in the nation by giving up just 8.9 points a game and best total defense in the nation (224.5 yards allowed per game).

Michigan State’s offense has not exactly had a lot of fizz this year and now the Spartans have to face the best scoring defense in the country? Fanta-stic. It might be a good idea to stock up on Vernors just to settle our stomachs for the times when Michigan State has the ball.

Hopefully, this game will be the type of palate cleanser that Spartan Nation needs. This season certainly has not gone as planned, but it is always important to move forward.

Saturday will provide an opportunity to get a win against a top-20 team, which would also put Michigan State in a much better position to earn a bowl bid and get those valuable extra practices in December. There is still a lot to play for.

Picks for Week 10

As we do every week, Figures 1 and 2 summarize the projected picks from both my algorithm and ESPN’s FPI, relative to the opening lines as provide by our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Figure 1: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on my algorithm to the opening DraftKings lines for Week 10.
Figure 2: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on ESPN’s FPI to the opening DraftKings lines for Week 10.

Table 1 below summarizes the upset picks that pop out of the two figures above. The computers suggest a total of eight upset picks this week, three of which are consensus picks. None of the games on the list this week will likely impact the conference races in the Power Five.

Table 1: Summary of upset picks for Week 10.

However, an upset win by Memphis over Central Florida would certainly impact the race in the American Athletic Conference (and thus the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six bowls). In addition, potential upsets of Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State would likely kill any remaining conference title dreams of those two schools.

My simulation of this week’s action using the opening point spreads suggests that a total of 16.2 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.3 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).

Table 2: Picks against the opening spread for Week 10. The picks are listed in order of confidence score.

Combined the computers suggest a total of six bets against the Las Vegas spread. Interestingly, ESPN’s FPI likes Michigan State to cover at Illinois this weekend. My computer’s “best bet” is for Duke to cover against Boston College. Table 3 below summarizes the recommended point total bets for the week, otherwise known as the “over/under” bets.

Table 3: Recommended total points bets (over/under) for Week 10. Note that the picks labeled as “locks” are at a higher level of confidence.

In total, my computer has nine bets on the board this week, eight of which qualify to be “locks” based on my methodology. Note that the Ball State defeated Kent State on Tuesday night be a score of 27-20, so that pick was correct.

My computer likes the under in the Ohio State/Northwestern game and the over in the Clemson/Notre Dame matchup. The performance of these best have slipped a bit since the beginning of the season, but the locks are still performing with a success rate over 60 percent.

Michigan State and Big Ten Overview

The Spartans opened this week as a 16.5-underdog according to DraftKings. The historical data suggests that Michigan State will therefore have only about a 12 percent chance that it can squirt past Illinois and pull the upset win.

Illinois and Michigan State have only met nine times since 2001, and the Spartans have been favored all eight times. The only incidence I can find of a game in the series where Illinois was favored was back in 1995.

That said, Illinois has three recent upset wins over MSU starting in 2006 and in the two most recent meetings in 2016 and 2019. Michigan State was a pretty big favorite in each of those tree contests (-26.5 in at home 2006, 8.5-points on the road in 2016 and 14.5-points at home 2019). Perhaps it is time for the Spartans to turn the tables on the Illini.

Unfortunately, my computer is not so optimistic. My algorithm is very high on Illinois, so much so that it has them currently ranked No. 4 nationally, one spot behind Ohio State and one spot ahead of Michigan. As a result, my official score prediction is a final score of Illinois 33, Michigan State 10. ESPN’s FPI predicts a much closer game, although it still had Illinois winning by a touchdown.

So, is there any hope for a spritely bounce-back win on the road? Of course there is. The Illini are a very solid team that thrives on really tough defense and a punishing run game. If Michigan State can contain the Illini’s offense, the Spartans can stay within striking distance.

That said, in order to win, Michigan State is going to need to score points. The second half against Michigan was brutal on the offensive side of the ball. If Michigan State is going to find a way to manufacture some points, it most likely will come through the defense forcing turnovers and giving the MSU offense good field position, a well as some well-timed big plays.

But, Illinois is certainly not invincible. Indiana managed to put up 23 points on the Illini in a three-point win for the Hoosiers back on Sept 2. So, it can be done. But no other team has scored more than 14 points on Illinois’ defense.

As for the rest of the action in Big Ten land, Table 4 below summarizes the details of the other six games on the calendar.

Table 4: Summary of Big Ten action in Week 10, 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.

In the Big Ten East, both Ohio State and Michigan should have no trouble at all against Northwestern (+38.5) and Rutgers (+26), respectively. Penn State, however, faces Indiana (+13) on the road, which is a tighter spread than I expected.

In addition, Maryland (+5.5) is a road underdog at Wisconsin. This game likely won’t impact the conference races at all, but it would be a big confidence boost for the Terrapins heading into a two-game stretch at Penn State and against Ohio State in the next two weeks.

The remaining two games are interesting Big Ten West clashes. Minnesota is fading fast in the West race and the Golden Gophers will need to pick up a win at Nebraska (+11) to have any chance at all. The best game of the week projects to be Iowa at Purdue (-4.5). The Boilermakers are currently a game back of Illinois and they likely will need to beat the Hawkeye to maintain control of their own destiny.

Notable National Action

Before we all pop off, let’s look at the other notable action nationwide. Table 5 below gives the details for the remaining games teams that I will be watching out for this coming weekend.

Table 5: Summary of other notable Power Five action in Week 10, including my algorithm’s projected scores.

It is an absolutely monster weekend on both sides of the sun-kissed SEC. In the East, Tennessee, now No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, travels to No. 3 Georgia (-9) in essentially a winner-take-all show-down. That said, if the game is close and the loser finishes 11-1, they would have a solid chance to make the CFP anyway.

In the SEC West, there is almost the more important game featuring No. 6 Alabama at No. 15 LSU (+13). The Tigers already have a win over Ole Miss, and if the Tigers can upset the Crimson Tide, they would be almost assured of an SEC West title. If Alabama wins, the Tide will have an almost identical challenge next week at Ole Miss. My gut tells me that Alabama will partake in a glass of choke-a-cola and not survive both tests.

TCU (No. 7) is currently at the top of the standing in the Big 12, and the Horned Frogs will most likely stay that way with Texas Tech (+9.5) paying them a visit. Meanwhile two of the other teams vying for a spot in the Big 12 Championship game will square off as No. 13 Kansas State hosts No. 24 Texas (pick ‘em). Oklahoma also hosts Baylor (+3.5) in a battle of teams trying to stay in the race.

The races in the two ACC divisions are all but finished. No. 4 Clemson will almost certainly meet No. 17 North Carolina in the ACC Championship. From a national point of view, the main question is if Clemson will be able to run the table. The Tiger travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame (+4) and if Clemson does win, I would go ahead and pencil the Tigers into the playoffs, even though the are ranked just No. 14 in my current power rankings,

Things are a bit slow in the Pac-12 once again this week as none of the top-four teams in the conference (No. 9 USC, No. 14 Utah, No. 8 Oregon, and No. 12 UCLA) are playing each other. All four teams are double-digit favorites against California (+21.5), Arizona (+17.5), Colorado (+31.5) and Arizona State (+10), respectively. We will likely need to wait another few weeks for these teams to separate themselves.

Finally, the New Year’s Six representative from the Group of Five is still most likely to come out of the American Athletic Conference. Of the current top three contenders in that league, Cincinnati (-20.5) should not have trouble with Navy. But, No. 19 Tulane (-7) will likely face a stiffer test at Tulsa, as will No. 25 Central Florida (-5.5) at Memphis.

That is all the advice that I have to give this week. Until next time, enjoy and Go State, beat the Illini!

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