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Bad Betting Advice, Week 11: Knight’s Gambit

Some coaches play checkers. Mel Tucker plays chess.

Michigan State v Rutgers Getty Images

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. A week ago, the Michigan State Spartans were reeling. The kings and queens of Spartan Nation were hunkering down in their castles. A series of extremely poor decisions resulted in several key pieces being removed from the board. The prospects of pulling any sort of victory out of the 2022 season were grim.

But then suddenly, the Michigan State coaches and players unleashed a counterattack through a series of clever gambits. The Spartans were able to checkmate the Illinois Fighting Illini on the road. Now, the goal for the remainder of the season is very black and white. It starts this weekend against the visiting Scarlet Knights.

Michigan State (4-5) needs to win two more games in order to become bowl eligible. There are still a lot of moving pieces with three weeks remaining in the season. But the current point spreads for the game this weekend against Rutgers, and my projected point spreads for the remaining games against Indiana and Penn State, give the Spartans about a 67 percent chance to go bowling.

The most likely outcome is a final record of 6-6 which would almost certainly land Michigan State in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. But there is also a roughly 10 percent chance that the Spartans will run the table and finish the season at 7-5. In this scenario, a few warmer holiday destinations might come into play.

The additional practices and opportunity to end the season on a positive note will certainly feel like victory after the last few weeks. That said, back in August the idea of a 6-6 or even a 7-5 season would have been a major disappointment. Back then, it felt like the world was our oyster.

The fate of a college football fan is to endure the inevitable ups and downs. If there is one thing that we should all have learned by now, it’s that spending more than a few nights in East Lansing can make a hard man humble and tough guys tumble. Sometimes there is not much between despair and ecstasy.

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 provided 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 11.
Figure 2: Comparison of the projected final margins of victory based on ESPN’s FPI to the opening DraftKings lines for Week 11.

Table 1 below summarizes the upset picks that are derived from the two figures above. Both my algorithm and ESPN’s FPI project a total of six upsets, one of which is a consensus pick for a total of 11 picks for Week 11. Note that a simulation of the week using the opening lines from DraftKings suggests that a total of 14.7 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.1 upsets, are most likely.

Table 1: Summary of upset picks for Week 11.

Seven of the projected 11 upsets involve Power Five teams, including upset picks of Syracuse over Florida State (-6), Kansas over Texas Tech (-4) and Wisconsin over Iowa (-1.5). The only potential upset that would impact a Power Five race is Kansas State over Baylor (-3.5), as both teams are still very much in play for the two spots in the Big 12 Championship game. The remainder of the teams in the table above are merely pawns in their various conference races.

The biggest potential upset on the board this week is Central Florida over Tulane (-2.5). The outcome of this match will help decide the fate of the American Athletic Conference and therefore the Group of Five spot in the Cotton Bowl.

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 lines that move in the direction of bishops).

Table 2: Picks against the opening spread for Week 11. The picks are listed in order of confidence score.

Strangely, my computer did not identify any games in Week 11 that seemed to merit a wager. ESPN’s FPI only triggered a bet recommendation on three games, all of which involve Group of Five teams.

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 11. Note that the picks labeled as “locks” are at a higher level of confidence.

My methodology yields a total of eight point-total picks, including six picks that qualify as higher confidence “locks.” The top pick on the board is for “under” on the North Carolina/Wake Forest game. Other notable picks this week include taking the “over” in both the Michigan State/Rutgers game and the Wisconsin/Iowa game.

Also note that the Ball State/Toledo game was played on Tuesday night with a final score of 28-21, so that pick is already in the loss column.

Michigan State and Big Ten Overview

As mentioned above, the Spartans’ big upset win over Illinois last week has opened the door for a possible bowl invitation. In order to capitalize on that opportunity, Michigan State will almost certainly need to win this week’s game against Rutgers. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Spartans opened as an 11.5-point favorite, which translates to a 79 percent chance of two victories in a row for the Green and White.

Michigan State leads the overall series with Rutgers 9-4, which includes a three-game series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and a pair of games in the early 2000s where combined Rutgers holds a 3-2 advantage.

But since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten in 2014, the Spartans hold a 7-1 advantage with the only loss coming at home in 2020 in head coach Mel Tucker’s first game in East Lansing. The Spartans have been favored in all eight of these Big Ten games by an average of a little more than 16 points. Michigan State is 5-3 against the spread versus Rutgers since they joined the conference.

As for this year’s game, my computer is ready to be hurt again. It projects a final score of Michigan State 33, Rutgers 15. My computer likes the Spartans to cover and to hit the “over” on the point total bet of 40.

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 11, 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.

Relative to the overall Big Ten race, the most important game on the schedule is Purdue at Illinois (-6) which will very likely decide the fate of the Big Ten West. If the Fighting Illini can bounce back with a win, they would only need to get one road victory either at Michigan or at Northwestern in the final two weeks of the season to secure the division crown.

A win by Purdue would likely force a four-way tie for the division crown with just two games left in the season. It would also force me to review the Big Ten divisional tie-breaker rules. Note that while my algorithm suggests that Illinois will win big against the Boilermakers, the FPI projects that Purdue will cover.

The only other game that is expected to be competitive is Wisconsin at Iowa (-1.5). The winner of this game would be one of the teams in the theoretical four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West if Illinois were to lose. The winner will also earn their sixth win and officially become bowl eligible. My algorithm projects that the Hawkeyes will cover while the FPI has issued an upset alert.

The remaining four games all have double-digit spreads. Maryland at Penn State (-11) is likely to be closer than Northwestern at Minnesota (-18). Meanwhile Michigan (-28) and Ohio State (-40) are both huge favorites over Nebraska and Indiana at home.

My computer suggests that the favored team will cover the spread in three of these four games. Indiana is the exception. The FPI concurs with this pick and also likes Maryland to cover versus Penn State.

Notable National Action

Before we close things out, let’s check on the other notable action nationwide. Table 5 below gives the details for the remaining games that I will be watching out for this coming weekend.

Table 5: Summary of other notable national action in Week 11, including my algorithm’s projected scores.

LSU put themselves in the driver’s seat in the SEC West after beating Alabama last week, but there is still work to be done. The Tigers travel to Arkansas (-2.5) and a win could possibly clinch the SEC West if Alabama (-11.5) is able to win at Ole Miss. If either Arkansas or Ole Miss scores the upset, the race will be extended for at least another week.

In the SEC East, Georgia can officially clinch the division with a win at Mississippi State (+16). Georgia can also back into the SEC East title if Tennessee were to drop a game to Missouri (+20.5). In either case, both Georgia and the Tennessee are in good shape to earn College Football Playoff berths if they can win out.

Once again it is an action-packed weekend in the Big 12 as the top-four teams in the conference face off with each other. The headliner is conference leader TCU’s trip to Austin to face Texas (-6.5). A win by the Horned Frogs would solidify a spot in the Big 12 Championship game, while a win by Texas would further complicate the race. The computers both favor Texas to win and cover.

The other featured Big 12 game is Kansas State at Baylor (-3.5). The loser is likely out of the Big 12 race and the computers are split as to which team will win.

The Pac-12 race also has four very viable contenders and all four teams are double-digit favorites at home against a collection of conference pawns. Oregon faces the toughest challenge as Washington (+12.5) pays a visit. Elsewhere UCLA (-19.5), Utah (-23) and USC (-34) are huge favorites over Arizona, Stanford and Colorado, respectively.

The race in the ACC is essentially over, but North Carolina can officially end it with an upset win at Wake Forest (-4). Clemson still has hopes that it can sneak into the playoffs if the Tigers run the table and win the ACC Championship game. The Tigers will need a win over Louisville (+7) to keep that dream alive.

Finally, there are six total Group of Five teams with a realistic chance to play in the Cotton Bowl as a part of the New Year’s Six. Most notably, two of those teams face off this week in American Athletic Conference action as Central Florida travels to Tulane (-2.5). My computer predicts that Tulane will win, cover and eventually win the AAC and secure the Cotton Bowl bid. However, the FPI is projecting a win for UCF.

In other Group of Five action, Cincinnati (-5.5), Troy (-9), Coastal Carolina (-12) and South Alabama (-16) are all expected to win and stay in the Cotton Bowl hunt.

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

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.