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Against All Odds, Week 10: Never Say Never Again

Fans were shaken, but Michigan State responded by providing a stirring performance on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Illinois
Tucker. Mel Tucker.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s OK to admit it. A week ago, it felt like the sky was falling. The idea that the Michigan State Spartans could eke out a victory on Saturday over the Illinois Fighting Illini seemed like some far-fetched caper from a spy novel. This particular doctor gave the Spartans almost no chance. But we were wrong, very wrong. And I think that I know the reason.

Tucker. Mel Tucker

Despite some of the noise coming from other fanbases, the fact that Michigan State was able to gut out the victory speaks volumes about the players, the coaching staff and the culture in East Lansing.

The Spartans were facing a ranked team on the road, with more than double-oh-seven players missing from the defense. It would have been easy for this Michigan State team to throw in the towel. But the Spartans didn’t do that. They decided that this was no time for the season to die just yet.

They rose up. They executed, and they made the plays that mattered in winning time. The Spartans weren’t perfect, but they completed the mission. It is impossible to imagine a Bobby William or John L Smith-coached team showing the same resilience. I am not even sure that a Mark Dantonio-coached team would have been able to pull off the same feat under the circumstances. But this Mel Tucker-coached team did.

The 2022 season has not gone the way that Michigan State fans had hoped. The fact that the Spartans’ chances at just making a bowl game have increased dramatically (as we will see below) provides only a quantum of solace for Michigan State fans. But Saturday proved that the foundation of the program is stronger than we had feared.

Yes, the culture is in fact strong in East Lansing, and just like diamonds, culture (when properly maintained) is forever.

Week 10 Results

Figure 1 below shows the results of all 60 games involving two FBS teams in Week 10.

Figure 1: Results of Week 10 showing the actual point differentials relative to the opening spread.

The teams who overachieved by beating the spread by more than 14 points include Western Kentucky, Florida State, Washington State, Penn State, North Texas and Louisville. On the other side of the coin, both USC and Ohio State had the living daylights scared out of them and underachieved, but still won in the end.

A total of 18 teams were not as fortunate as the Trojans and Buckeyes. Table 1 below shows the list of teams who lost in upset fashion relative to the opening spread in comparison to the picks for this week.

Table 1: Upsets in Week 10 based on the opening Vegas line compared to the upset projections from last week.

The biggest upset on the board just happens to be Michigan State’s upset of Illinois (+16.5). Some of the other notable upsets include Liberty over Arkansas, LSU over Alabama, Iowa over Purdue, Notre Dame over Clemson, Kansas over Oklahoma State, and Florida over Texas A&M.

My computer went 2-4 (33 percent) on upset picks to bring the year-to-date record to 22-42 (34 percent). ESPN’s FPI metric did a bit better at 2-3 (40 percent) for a year-to-date record of 17-26 (40 percent).

A summary of Week 10’s recommended bets are shown below in Table 2, for those who enjoy visiting the Casino Royale.

Table 2: Results of the highlighted picks versus the spread in Week 10.

The good news is that in total, the computers had a very strong week with a combined record of 4-2. The bad news is that this performance is mostly due to the FPI picks going 3-0 while my algorithm only went 1-2. Year-to-date, my computer is just 15-34 (31 percent) for recommended bets against the spread. My picks based on the FPI data are doing better (but still poorly) at 28-36 (44 percent).

For all 60 games over the weekend, my picks posted a record of 29-31 (48 percent) while the FPI went 31-29 (52 percent). Year-to-date my computer’s record is 250-284 (47 percent) while the FPI is nine games ahead at 259-275 (49 percent).

Table 3 below summarizes the results of the highlighted total points (over/under) bets for Week 10.

Table 3: Results of the recommended point total bets (“over/under” bets) in Week 10.

It was another strong week for my recommended point-total bets. The total recommended bets went 7-2 (78 percent) and my “lock” picks posted a record of 6-2 (75 percent). Year-to-date, both methods continue to perform significantly above .500.

There is also a notable difference between the recommended picks and the overall performance of my method. Overall, my point total bets were just 27-33 (45 percent) for the week and are 244-283 (46 percent) for the 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 10.

There were two upsets in the seven Big Ten games in Week 10 as Michigan State upset Illinois and Iowa upset Purdue. Ironically, these two upsets essentially canceled out in relation to the race in the Big Ten West. Illinois maintains a one-game lead in the standings, with Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin (who all won this week) and Purdue in a four-way tie for second place.

Based on the remaining schedules, my computer still gives the Fighting Illini an 84 percent chance to win the West with the four teams in second place all having odds between two and six percent.

In the Big Ten East, Ohio State struggled to beat Northwestern, and Michigan trailed Rutgers at the half, but both won and the overall odds are essentially unchanged. I currently give Ohio State a 65 percent chance to win the East with Michigan holding the remaining 35 percent.

The Buckeyes (84 percent) and the Wolverines (62 percent) have the second- and third-best odds to make the playoffs behind only Georgia. In fact, both Michigan and Ohio State earn a playoff bid in 56 percent of my simulations.

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 10.

Table 5: Updated Big Ten win distribution matrix after Week 10.

The Spartans’ upset win over Illinois has obviously made a big impact on the trajectory of Michigan State’s season. For weeks, the specter of missing out on bowl season had been haunting the Spartans.

But Michigan State’s expected win total is now up to 5.78 and the odds of finishing the season with at least the six wins needed to qualify for the postseason has jumped up to 70 percent.

Figure 2 below gives the detailed odds and projected point spreads for Michigan State’s three remaining games. I have also included the values calculated from last week for comparison.

Figure 2: Updated odds and spread projections for Michigan State’s remaining games, following Week Nine and based on a 30,000 cycle Monte Carlo simulation.

As expected, Michigan State’s outlook in the three remaining games has improved across the board. The Spartans now project to be a double-digit favorite in the next two home games against Rutgers and Indiana. Even the road finale at Penn State looks a bit more winnable. Note that the actual spread for the Rutgers game is slightly lower than my projection at -11 for the Spartans.

If the Spartans can win two of the final three games, it is reasonable to start to project which bowl Michigan State might be invited to. As of today, a total of 10 Big Ten teams appear likely to reach or exceed six wins, as suggested by Table 4. Michigan State will be at or very near the bottom of this list.

There are a lot of potential scenarios in play, but it is easy to guess that there is a financial driver (i.e. ticker sales) for the Spartans to end up in Detroit at the Quick Lane Bowl against a MAC opponent. Unless Michigan State runs the table to finish at 7-5 or one of the teams in the Big Ten West also finishes at 6-6, this is the most likely scenario.

National Overview

Let’s close things out for today with a recap of the action around the country in Week 10.

We knew that it was going to be a big weekend in the SEC and it did not disappoint. No. 3 Georgia made a clear statement by beating No. 1 Tennessee. As a result, I now give the Bulldogs a 98 percent chance to win the SEC East and the best odds (92 percent) chance to make the College Football Playoff. My calculations also give Tennessee a 74 percent chance to run the table and a 58 percent chance (No. 4 nationally) to make the playoffs. Both SEC East teams make the playoffs in 62 percent of my simulations.

In the SEC West, LSU gambled on a two-point conversion and won in overtime against Alabama. The Tigers (76 percent odds) now have a big lead in the SEC West race with Ole Miss (13 percent) and Alabama (11 percent) still holding out hope.

A total of eight SEC teams have qualified for a bowl and Florida is on the cusp with five wins after upsetting Texas A&M. Missouri and Arkansas both have some work to do to qualify. Those two teams will face each other in the final weekend of the season, possibly with a bowl-bid on the line.

The race in the Big 12 continues to be wide open. TCU beat Texas Tech to stay undefeated with a two-game lead in the standings and with a 78 percent chance to advance to the Big 12 Championship game. Meanwhile, Texas was able to get the road win at Kansas State to force a three-way tie for second place with Kansas State and Baylor (who upset Oklahoma). As a result, Texas (60 percent) moves into second place in my Big 12 leaderboard just ahead of Kansas State (40 percent) and Baylor (20 percent).

A total of six Big 12 teams have qualified for a bowl game with Oklahoma on the cusp and with Iowa State still with a solid chance (63 percent odds to win six games or more). Texas Tech (39 percent) and even last place West Virginia (six percent) have a shot at bowl eligibility.

Clemson went on the road and lost to Notre Dame this week, but a loss by Syracuse to Pittsburgh allowed the Tigers to lock up the ACC Atlantic Division title anyway. North Carolina is a hair’s breadth away (99 percent odds) from clinching the Coastal Division title following its win over Virginia. I still give Clemson a 22 percent chance to make the playoffs, which is fifth best overall.

A total of eight ACC teams have already qualified for a bowl game, including every team in the Atlantic Division except Boston College. In the Coastal Division, Pittsburgh (88 percent odds to win six or more games) is one win away from joining North Carolina and Duke in the postseason.

There were no surprises in Pac-12 action this week. As a result, the race for the two spots in the Pac-12 Championship game is still red hot. My math has Oregon (54 percent), Utah (54 percent) and USC (53 percent) in a virtual dead heat. UCLA (37 percent) also remains in the race. Those top-four teams have also already qualified for bowl season along with Washington and Oregon State. Washington State is also a virtual shoo-in (96 percent odds) to get to at least six wins. As for the playoffs, one of the four Pac-12 contenders earns a playoff bid in 42 percent of my simulation.

In Group of Five action, my calculations say that there is a 90 percent chance that the New Year’s Six participant will be the champion of the American Athletic Conference or the Sun Belt Conference. There are three teams in each league with two or fewer losses that are in the lead lap of the race: Tulane, Central Florida and Cincinnati in the AAC, and Troy, South Alabama and Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt.

Tulane has a single-game lead in the AAC standings and the current best odds to win that conference (42 percent) and to play in the Cotton Bowl (33 percent). Troy is tied with South Alabama in the Sun Belt South Division and currently owns a tiebreaker. I currently give Troy a 53 percent chance to win the Sun Belt and a 20 percent chance to earn the New Year’s Six bid.

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

Dr. Green and White will return in Bad Betting Advice later this week.