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Against All Odds, Week 12: Turning Red

The Michigan State Spartans weren’t expecting a fairy tale ending, but things got a bit tangled this weekend and now the season is approaching a black hole.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 Indiana at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan State fans, it’s OK to be angry. It is honestly pretty difficult to process the events in Spartan Stadium on Saturday as MSU dropped a heartbreaker in the snow and in double overtime on senior day to the Indiana Hoosiers. There is no reason to put on a brave face. This stinks.

After a very difficult start to the season, things were looking up for the Spartans. Halfway through the game with Indiana, Michigan State appeared to be on cruise control to qualify for a bowl game and send the seniors off as winners.

But then...things happened. Lots of incredibly bad things happened. The Crimson and Cream visitors from Bloomington stole the souls of the Spartans in the final quarter and change. Fans and players alike were both left seeing red and turning red in the face. Worse yet, the Hoosiers even took our favorite spittoon with them on their way out of town.

The season has once again been turned inside out. The success that the Spartans enjoyed last year now seems lightyears away. Next week will provide one final chance to earn that elusive sixth win and a possible ticket to the Quick Lane Bowl.

As we will see below, the cold hard numbers say that the Spartans will have a chance to win that game. Does Michigan State actually have a chance? In the sage word of Eeyore: “I wish I could say yes, but I can’t.” Not today at least. Tomorrow? Maybe.

Actually, by tomorrow my answer will most likely be upgraded to “probably.” What can I say? I am an optimist by nature. Despite the fact that this season has been a carousel of disappointment, I still believe that there is the potential for progress next year, to infinity and beyond. In the words of Walt Disney:

“There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow and tomorrow’s just a dream away.”

Week 12 Results

Let’s now move onward to the results of Week 12. Figure 1 below shows the results of all 61 games involving two FBS teams.

Figure 1: Results of Week 12 showing the actual point differentials relative to the opening spread.

Relative to the opening spread, Penn State, Texas, Washington, Tulane, LSU, Oregon State and Auburn were among the teams that significantly overachieved. Meanwhile, Texas A&M, Ohio State and Michigan all failed to cover the opening point spread by 14 points or more, yet still won.

The story was different for a total of 18 teams that joined the Spartans as upset losers in Week 12. Table 1 below summarizes those upsets and compares them to the picks from the computers earlier in the week.

Table 1: Upsets in Week 12 based on the opening Vegas line compared to the upset projections from last week.

Spartan fans can take some comfort in the fact that six other teams blew things more than Michigan State did this weekend, including Tennessee, North Carolina and Central Florida. The Knights had a great shot at earning a Cotton Bowl bid before this weekend’s loss to Navy. Tennessee had the inside track to a playoff bid. Other notable Power Five upsets include Arkansas over Ole Miss and Iowa over Minnesota.

The computers missed both upset picks this week and are continuing to struggle. My machine’s year-to-date performance is now at just 24-48 (33 percent) while ESPN’s FPI upset predictions are at 20-32 (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 12.

It was another slow week for curated picks against the spread. My computer was on a Disney vacation and neglected to make any picks at all. Its record remains a dismal 15-34 (31 percent for the year). The FPI split its two picks and is now 31-38 (45 percent for the year).

Overall for the week, my computer was 26-35 (43 percent) while the FPI was 31-30 (51 percent). Year-to-date, the performance of both computers is within seven game of each other out of almost 600 total game. The machines have a winning percentage of between 47 and 48 percent.

Table 3 below summarizes the results of the highlighted total-points bets for Week 12.

Table 3: Results of the recommended point total bets (“over/under” bets) in Week 12.

The point-total kingdom was again magical this weekend as my algorithm went 8-5 (62 percent) overall for over/under bets and 8-4 (67 percent) for the “lock” picks. Year-to-date, these curated picks are performing at 55 percent overall and 63 percent for locks.

When I consider all 61 games, the over/under predictions had a record of 33-28 (54 percent), but year-to-date those picks have a winning percentage of only 47 percent.

Updated Big Ten Odds and Prospects for Michigan State

With just one week left in the regular season, there is no longer a need to run a simulation to determine the odds for each team to win their division or the Big Ten conference. There are currently five total teams with a shot to win the Big Ten: two in the East Division and three in the West.

The race in the East Division is dead simple and unchanged from the situation over the past few weeks. It wasn’t easy for either Michigan or Ohio State to get past Illinois and Maryland, respectively, but both teams eventually got the win. The winner of the Michigan/Ohio State game wins the East and will advance to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.

Based on the opening spread of 8.5 points, this suggests that Ohio State has a 73 percent chance to avenge last year’s rare loss to the Wolverines. As we will see below, both teams have over an 80 percent chance to make the College Football Playoff no matter what happens next weekend.

The race in the West is more complicated. Iowa upset Minnesota this week, and as a result, the Hawkeyes now have the inside track to return to Indianapolis for the second-straight year. Purdue still has a shot at the title after beating Northwestern, and there are even a couple of scenarios where Illinois can find its way to the Big Ten Championship game. Wisconsin managed to defeat Nebraska, but the Badgers have been mathematically eliminated from the Big Ten West race.

Here is what each Big Ten West team needs to do to win the division. Iowa (77 percent chance) simply needs to beat Nebraska at home and the crown is theirs. The Hawkeyes can also back into the title if both Purdue and Illinois lose next week.

If Iowa does get upset, Purdue (18 percent) then gains the inside track and would only need to beat Indiana to claim the title. If both Iowa and Purdue lose, Illinois (five precent odds) would advance to Indianapolis as long as the Fighting Illini can beat Northwestern.

As for Michigan State, the situation is now very clear. The Spartans will need to go on the road and upset Penn State in order to get to 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. The spread for this game has opened at 17.5 which translates to an 11 percent chance for Michigan State to end the regular season on a high note and qualify for the postseason.

It is also reasonable at this time to ask the question if MSU can still make a bowl game with a 5-7 record. A total of 82 teams will play in a bowl game this holiday season. So far, 72 teams have qualified and an additional 17 teams can still get to six wins.

Based on expected wins, my current calculations suggest that around six of those 17 teams will get a sixth win next week. So, there likely will be a few 5-7 teams that will play in a bowl, and right now there are 14 teams with 5-6 records. I will look into these scenarios in more detail this week.

National Overview

Let wrap things up with a recap of the action around the country in Week 12. Table 4 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 using the same calculation for strength of schedule.

Table 4: 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.

The SEC division races have been over for a few weeks, but there were a few interesting upsets this week in conference play. Arkansas qualified for a bowl game by upsetting Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt upset Florida to keep its slim bowl hopes alive.

But the biggest upset was South Carolina’s win over Tennessee, which now put the Volunteers’ chances at a playoff berth (now at three percent) in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, Georgia remained perfect by winning on the road at Kentucky. The Bulldogs are now a virtual lock for the playoffs (99 percent).

In Big 12 action, TCU once against earned a last-second win, this time over Baylor, to stay perfect on the season. With Tennessee’s loss, the Horned Frogs now have the fourth-best odds (33 percent) to make the playoffs. Kansas State also beat West Virginia and is now just one win away from securing a spot in the Big 12 Championship game against TCU.

Texas still has an outside chance to sneak into the Big 12 Championship game, but the Longhorns would need to beat Baylor next week and root for Kansas to upset Kansas State.

It was an exciting week in Pac-12 action as USC defeated UCLA to secure a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game. At 10-1, I now project the Trojans to have about a 21 percent chance to make the playoffs. In addition, Oregon nipped Utah to maintain control of its own destiny. If the Ducks can defeat the archrival Oregon State Beavers next week, Oregon will face the USC in two weeks. If Oregon falters, both Utah and Washington are still in the race.

In ACC action, Clemson rocked Miami, and at 10-1, the Tigers now have a 40 percent chance to make the playoffs. North Carolina took a bad loss to Georgia Tech, but the Tar Heels will still face Clemson in two weeks in the ACC Championship game.

In Group of Five action, the big change this week was Central Florida’s upset loss to Navy, which sets up a potentially wild finish to the American Athletic Conference regular season. My current calculations say that Tulane (73 percent), Cincinnati (65 percent), UCF (31 percent) and Houston (30 percent) all have reasonable odds to make the AAC Championship game.

The winner of that conference championship game will have a great chance to play in the Cotton Bowl. If Cincinnati is that champion, the Bearcats will almost certainly return to the New Year’s Six. If it is another team, then the champion of the Sun Belt Conference will get a look.

Troy, South Alabama and Coastal Carolina all currently reside in the top-six of my latest Group of Five Leaderboard, with Troy actually in the top spot right now with odds of 27 percent to play in the Cotton Bowl. Interestingly, Texas San Antonio (9-2) from Conference USA could potentially sneak into the Cotton Bowl. The race is still very much up in the air.

Against all odds, I have reached the end for today. Until next time, chins up, Spartans. As always, Go State, beat the Lions!