Most college football seasons feel like an amusement park roller coaster ride at some point, but the current season for the Michigan State Spartans seems to have had more big drops, reversed direction a couple of times, and even left fans and players in the dark. A lot of fans just want to get off and hop on over to that exciting looks basketball-themed ride across the way.
A few days ago, Spartan fans essentially had no worries about at least making a bowl. I mean, seriously? Who blows a 17-point lead to Indiana on senior day? But here we are.
Now, it is Michigan State that will travel to State College to face a pride of Nittany Lions on their senior day. In this case, I think that word is very appropriate: Pride. That is the one thing that I want most to see this weekend from the Spartans. I would like them to be prepared. I would like to see them play with passion. I would like them to execute. I would like them to show a little pride and to play like Spartan Dawgs.
Even if the Spartans do all of these things, it very well may not be enough. Fans still may not be feeling the love on Saturday night when the clock strikes all zeros. By the time the morning report is issued on Sunday, Michigan State will still likely be left out of the postseason. (More on this later.) But if the Spartans can display a little pride, it will help us all to worry a little bit less about the future.
Picks for Week 12
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 provided by our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Table 1 below summarizes the upset picks that are derived from the two figures above. My computer decided to swing for the fences on upsets in this final week of the season with a total of 11 picks out of 64 games. ESPN’s FPI agree on two of those picks and added one more.
Most of the potential upsets in Table 1 would not impact any remaining conference races. The exceptions are if Oregon State were to upset Oregon or if Tulane were to upset Cincinnati.
Note that the weekly simulation using the actual point spread predicts that a total of 16.8 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.4 upsets, are most likely this weekend. That is the largest value predicted all year, so it could be a wild weekend.
Table 2 below summarizes the curated picks against the spread for Week 13.
My computer continues to be on vacation this week when it comes to picks against the spread. ESPN’s FPI recommends wagers on four total games, including picks for Tennessee and Louisville to cover the spread.
Table 3 below shows the highlighted point-total bets produced by my computer with some help from Bill Connelly’s SP+ data.
There are 11 total “over/under” bets on the board, eight of which meet the criteria to be considered as higher probability “locks.” Hopefully these picks will continue to be worry-free as we close out the 2022 season.
Michigan State Overview
The Spartans opened as a 17.5-point underdog this week over the Penn State Nittany Lions and the current over/under on DraftKings Sportsbook is listed as 52.5. This spread translates to about an 11 percent chance that Michigan State ends the season on a positive note and earns a bid to the postseason.
The Michigan State/Penn State series was first played in 1914, and the Spartans currently hold an 18-17-1 lead overall. Since 2010, Michigan State leads the series 6-3, including three upset wins in 2017, 2018 and 2021.
As for 2022, my computer is not very optimistic. It is projecting a final of score of Penn State 39, Michigan State 14. My math recommends taking the “over” (just barely) and for the Nittany Lions to cover.
If the Spartans do finish the season at 5-7, is there a chance that Michigan State can still earn a bowl bid? The answer is “yes,” but it turns out that those odds are also a bit long. Here is how that breaks down.
There are a total of 41 bowl games this year and thus a total of 82 teams are needed. Usually, at least a 6-6 record is needed to qualify for a bowl game. There are 73 FBS teams that have qualified already, leaving nine total slots available as we head into the final weekend.
If not enough teams make it to 6-6, a team with a 5-7 record can be invited to a bowl game. The NCAA has decided that 5-7 teams with the highest Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores will be offered any available spots first. In the case of ties, last year’s APR score acts as the tiebreaker.
Based on this information, Michigan State is competing with the group of teams that can get to 6-6 with a win this week and the group of teams that can get to 5-7 and have a higher APR score than do the Spartans. In total, there are 19 teams that meet these criteria.
But, Michigan State is already guaranteed to finish behind five teams on that list. First, Ball State (5-6) faces Miami of Ohio (5-6) this week and the winner will finish at 6-6. Similarly, the winner of the Appalachian State/Georgia Southern game will also earn a bowl bid. The loser of both games is out.
Second, Rice, Auburn and Missouri all have 5-6 records and higher APR scores than Michigan State. As a result, the Spartans are in competition with 12 other schools for just four remaining spots.
Table 4 below lists those other 12 teams, including their Week 13 opponents, point spreads, odds and APR scores.
In order for Michigan State to earn a bowl bid with a 5-7 record, no more than three of the teams shown above can win this weekend. As shown in the table, the expected number of wins is 5.02 and five of the 12 teams are favored to win.
It is also possible to calculate the exact odds for this group of 12 teams to post a record of 3-9 or worse based on the odds listed in the table. That number works out to just 14 percent, which is just slightly better than the Spartans’ odds to win at Penn State. Overall, the odds that Michigan State makes a bowl by either winning this weekend or qualifying with a 5-7 record works out to just 23 percent.
Big Ten Overview
Now that we all feel like we have been crushed by a stampede of wildebeests, let turn our attention to the rest of the Big Ten. Table 5 below summarizes the details of the other six games on the calendar for the final weekend of the regular season.
The winner of the Ohio State/Michigan game will advance to the Big Ten Championship game from the East Division. The Buckeyes opened as eight-point favorites, which translates to just a 29 percent chance for the Wolverines to return to Indianapolis. But, both teams have a great shot to make the College Football Playoff no matter what happens in Columbus on Saturday.
With a 9-2 record, Penn State appears to be headed to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl win or lose this weekend.
In the West, Iowa has a 77 percent chance to return to Indianapolis. All the Hawkeyes need to do is beat Nebraska (+10) at home and their ticket is punched. Purdue (18 percent) can still make it if the Boilermakers beat Indiana (+11) and if Iowa loses.
Illinois (five precent) is also still alive and can win the West if the Fighting Illini can beat Northwestern (+12.5) and if Purdue and Iowa both lose. If Iowa, Purdue and Illinois all lose this weekend, Iowa will win the West essentially by default.
As for bowl positioning, after Penn State the rest of the bowl eligible Big Ten teams all look pretty much the same. Iowa, Purdue and Illinois will likely play (in no particular order) in the Citrus, ReliaQuest (formerly the Outback Bowl) and Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin will likely wind up in Music City, Pinstripe and Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Notable National Action
Let’s wrap things up by surveying the pride lands to see what other games might impact the national landscape. Table 6 below gives the details for the most important remaining games this coming weekend.
No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan all have great odds to make the CFP. If Georgia beats Georgia Tech (+35) this weekend, the Bulldogs are basically in.
Therefore, the main question is which team will join those three teams in the playoffs. No. 4 TCU at 11-0 has the best odds (I estimate as 46 percent). The Horned Frogs look to complete a perfect regular season against Iowa State (+11). After that, if TCU can win the Big 12 Championship game, it would almost certainly punch that playoff ticket.
As for TCU’s opponent in the Big 12 title game, Kansas State only needs to beat Kansas (+12) to earn that spot. If the Wildcats falter, Texas can still sneak in by beating Baylor (+7.5).
If TCU fails to win the Big 12, No. 5 USC is next in line. The Trojans have already secured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game, but a loss this weekend to Norte Dame (+5.5) would likely sink USC’s chances at playoff glory. USC also likely needs to win the Pac-12 in order to even be considered. Right now, their most likely opponent is Oregon (77 percent), but the Ducks face a tricky test this weekend at Oregon State (+3).
Utah is still in play (16 percent) and has a much easier path as it faces Colorado (+29.5) this week. Ironically, the Utes need to root for Washington to beat Washington State (+1.5) despite the fact that Washington is also in competition for the same championship game spot. Utah’s only path involves a three-way tie for second place with Washington and Oregon. Due to a strange quirk in the Pac-12 tiebreakers, Utah also needs UCLA to avoid an upset to California (+9).
Washington (six percent) is also still alive in the conference race, but the Huskies need a win this weekend in combination with an upset win by Oregon State and either another upset win by Cal (or UCLA) or Colorado (over Utah).
No. 7 Clemson is still very much in play for the playoff spot as well. The Tigers have by far the easiest path to run the table. Clemson just need to beat South Carolina (+14.5) this weekend and then North Carolina in two weeks to get to 12-1. If TCU and USC both pick up a loss in the next few weeks, I expect Clemson to find itself in the playoffs.
Finally, in Group of Five action, the biggest game on the schedule is Tulane at Cincinnati (-3). The winner of that game earns a spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship game and the inside track to a Cotton Bowl bid.
The tiebreakers for the AAC are a little strange, but my analysis suggests that Central Florida is very likely (89 percent odds) to earn the second bid to the ACC Championship game as long as the Knights beat South Florida. Otherwise, the loser of the Tulane/Cincinnati game will get a shot at revenge the following week.
That said, it is still worth watching the race in the Sun Belt. Coastal Carolina is 9-1 and has already won the Sun Belt East, but it is an underdogs this week against James Madison (-14). Troy can secure the Sun Belt West title with a win over Arkansas State (+13). If Troy falters, South Alabama can with the West be defeating Old Dominion (+17).
That is all the advice that I have to give this week. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State, beat the Lions.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.