The dog days of summer typically refer to that period of time in July and August when the temperatures rise and the motivation of people (and their canine friends) tend to be at their nadir. College football fans will often feel an additional sense of malaise during this time of the year as we patiently wait for the season to begin.
Even though we are now two full weeks into the season, Michigan State fans still seem to be experiencing a strange combination of lethargy and anxiety. Sure, the Spartans have outscored Western Michigan and Akron by a combined score of 87-13. But neither of those teams are world-beaters and both the MSU offense and defense, at times, were not as sharp as we hoped. The dog days seem to still be upon us.
On Saturday night, the serious part of the season will begin and it will be time to find out if the 2022 version of Michigan State has more bark or more bite.
For the second year in a row, Michigan State will have a crucial road game against a Power Five team in the third week of the season. Last year’s win at Miami (FL.) was a bit of a coming out party for the Spartan program under head coach Mel Tucker’s leadership. That win was a bellwether for what turned out to be a remarkably successful season.
This year, Michigan State will travel to the Pacific Northwest to face a similar challenge in the Washington Huskies. Instead of the south Florida heat and humidity, the Spartans will be contending with jet lag and a dubious history of struggles when it comes to regular season road victories on the West Coast.
Despite the fact that Michigan State is now ranked in the top-10 of the Coaches Poll and Washington is unranked, the team wearing Green and White is the one that has been labeled as the slight underdog. Either way, a dog fight is expected.
One of the reasons that the Spartans were so successful in 2021 was the fact that Michigan State was able to close out tight games in the fourth quarter and win more than its share of coin-flip games, like the one that will take place this weekend.
Some might call that dumb luck, but I am starting to believe that it has more to do with good coaching and the culture that Coach Tucker has established in East Lansing. Saturday night against Washington will be one more chance to test this theory.
In other words in 2022, does that Spartan dawg hunt or not? Tune in on Saturday night to find out.
Picks of the Week
As is my weekly tradition, Figures 1 and 2 below give this week’s projected point spreads for each of the 50 games involving two FBS teams. Figure 1 shows the projected point differentials from my algorithm relative to the opening point spreads, courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. Figure 2 shows a similar analysis using the picks from ESPN’s FPI.
Table 1 below summarizes the underdog picks that are implied from the figures above. In general, both computer systems seem to be feeling a bit frisky this week. Combined, the machines predict a total of 10 upsets, three of which overlap. One of those picks that the computers agree upon happens to be Michigan State over Washington. The computers seem to have thrown MSU fans a bone.
Other underdogs who hope to have their day this week include Old Dominion (over Virginia), Western Kentucky (over Indiana) and BYU (over Oregon). My simulation of the week using the opening point spreads suggests that a total of 9.1 upset, plus-or-minus 2.6 upsets, will actually occur. This is a notably low number that suggests the week projects to be fairly calm.
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.)
The friskiness from the computers has continued with this week’s recommended bets. My algorithm suggests a total of 11 bets, while my analysis of the FPI data suggests a total of 12. Four of the recommended bets overlap in this case, including Texas to cover vs. Texas San Antonio.
Hopefully the computers are not barking up the wrong tree or else they might both find themselves in the doghouse come Sunday morning.
Michigan State and Big Ten Overview
The careful reader has probably already noticed that the Spartans’ game against the Huskies appears in both Table 1 and Table 2 this week. Not only do both computers predict an upset in Seattle, my algorithm also flags Michigan State to cover the opening spread of 3.5 points.
Based on this spread, the Spartans have about a 40 percent chance of returning from the West Coast with the victory. If Michigan State can pull off the win, it will break a rather dubious streak of having lost the previous 13-straight regular season West Coast road games. The last regular-season win on the West Coast win for the Spartans was a 19-0 victory at California in 1957. Woof.
Furthermore, in the four previous losses during this streak (at Hawaii in 2004, at Cal in 2008, at Oregon in 2014 and at Arizona State in 2018), the Spartans also went 0-4 against the spread. Double woof.
The Spartans and Huskies have only met three times before. The teams split a home-at-home series in 1969 and 1970. In 1997, a Nick Saban-coached Michigan State squad lost to Washington in the Aloha Bowl. As a result, the Huskies hold a narrow 2-1 lead in the all-time series.
All of these intangibles are certainly not in the Spartans’ favor, but as the data in the previous section shows, my computer’s tail is wagging confidently. My official data-driven prediction is Michigan State 32, Washington 23. Based on the current over/under of 56.5, my math favors the under, but only barely.
While the Spartans have struggled in regular season games on the West Coast during the regular season, the postseason has not been a problem. In fact, eight of Michigan State’s 11 wins in bowl games over the last 50 years occurred west of the Mississippi River. Streaks are made to be broken.
While I am certainly nervous about this week’s game, I will choose to be optimistic and follow my computer’s lead. I foresee that Michigan State might get off to a slow start and may even trail at halftime. But, in the second stanza, the Spartans will be sharp. They slowly, but surely begin to out-execute the Huskies until the lead changes hands and MSU wins going away.
As for the rest of the action in the Big Ten, Table 3 below summarizes the lines and computer predictions for all 12 games involving Big Ten teams this week.
The Big Ten slate has a few interesting games on tap. The Scott Frost-less Nebraska Corn Huskers are big underdogs versus Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Rutgers are all double-digit favorites over Group of Five-level opponents. Minnesota is also close to a 30-point favorite over the Colorado Buffaloes, who are off to a brutal start in 2022.
None of those games are likely to be competitive. That said, it seems reasonable to ask if Iowa is capable of scoring enough points to even beat a Nevada team that is fresh off a 14-point loss to an FCS team, Incarnate Word, in Week Two. Triple woof.
The remaining four Big Ten games all have some good entertainment potential. The headliner of the week is Penn State’s trip to Auburn. The Nittany Lions are off to a strong start so far with a win at Purdue and a blowout victory over Ohio.
By contrast, the Tigers put together two rather lackluster wins in a row against Mercer and San Jose State. The computers and Las Vegas both like Penn State in this matchup, and a second Power Five road win in three weeks would suggest that the Nittany Lions are perhaps ready to run with the big dogs in the Big Ten East.
Maryland and Indiana host SMU and Western Kentucky, respectively, this week. These Group of Five opponents could certainly challenge the Terrapins and Hoosiers. The computers both like Maryland to cover the spread, but not Indiana. In fact, the FPI calls for an upset in Bloomington.
But the under-the-radar most interesting Big Ten game this week is Purdue at Syracuse, which opened as a pick’em on DraftKings. Syracuse is off to a surprisingly good start and Purdue very nearly knocked off Penn State in Week One. Interestingly, my most recent simulation of the full season gave both teams the best odds to win their respective conference divisions.
This result is likely still a bit of a mathematical anomaly due to the general sparseness of data at the beginning of the season. That said, it will be interesting to see which team will come out as the top dog in this matchup and how their season will progress from there.
Notable National Action
Let’s now take a spin around the rest of the country to see what other notable action will be taking place. Table 4 below gives the details for the remaining games teams that I will have my eye on this weekend.
There are a few early season SEC and ACC matchups, but the one most likely to impact a division race is Mississippi State (-3) at LSU. My algorithm projects an easy win for the visiting Bulldogs, while the FPI predicts an upset.
Table 4 also highlights four additional non-conference games between two Power Five-level teams. The most interesting games in this group are BYU at Oregon (-3.5) and Miami at Texas A&M (-5.5). Both the Ducks and the Aggies have had humbling starts to the season and I am sure both programs want to show that they have not completely gone to the dogs. Interestingly, my computer projects a BYU upset while the FPI projects an upset win by Miami.
Finally, Table 4 also summarizes seven games involving Group of Five teams that are worth a look. Pittsburgh (-9.5) will look to avenge last year’s loss to Western Michigan. A second upset by the Broncos would certainly help Michigan State’s strength of schedule.
Three Pac-12 teams (USC, Utah and UCLA) have intriguing matchups with a pair of solid Mountain West teams (Fresno State and San Diego State) and a Sun Belt team (South Alabama). The spread in all three games is in the double-digits, but my algorithm especially likes South Alabama this week. Can the Sun Belt bite another Power Five team?
Finally, there is a pair of interesting interstate matchups in the form of Miami of Ohio at Cincinnati and South Florida at Florida. These games both project as 20-plus-point blowouts. That said, Miami (OH) was the preseason MAC East favorite, and the motivation for the underdogs is likely to be high in both games. It would not be shocking if one or both teams enter their game in a mood meaner than a junkyard dog.
That is all the advice that I have to give this week. It’s time to bring this shaggy dog story to a close. Until next time, enjoy and Go State; beat the Huskies!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.