clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Against All Odds, Week Three: Starbucked

Michigan State’s secondary was roasted and ground into a powder on Saturday night against Washington. Is it time for MSU fans to wake up and smell the coffee?

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend, the Michigan State Spartans were trying to buck the trend of losing regular season games on the West Coast. Unfortunately, they were trying to accomplish this task with an increasingly large list of star players out with injuries (most recently wide receiver Jayden Reed and defensive tackle Jacob Slade joined safety Xavier Henderson and linebacker Darius Snow on the list.)

By contrast, the Washington Huskies seem to have found a new star of their own. Washington quarterback Michael Penix, Jr., a former Indiana Hoosier, has seen Michigan State’s defense before. Starting from the opening drive on Saturday night, Penix roasted the Spartan secondary and ground them into a fine powder.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan State’s offense seemed a bit over-caffeinated. The first drive ended with a botched handoff. The second drive ended with a safety on the first play. By the time quarterback Payton Thorne and the Spartans got the ball back, the score was 16-0 and Michigan State had run exactly six plays on offense. Trouble was clearly brewing.

Michigan State did fight back and actually outscored the Huskies from that point on. Payton Thorne completed over 70 percent of his passes and racked up 323 yards through the air with three touchdowns and one interception. But the attempted comeback was too little and too latte (get it?).

The Spartans clearly have some problems. The question is whether these problems are tall or venti. Some of the problems can be ascribed to injuries and first road gamer jitters. But other problems, such as the suddenly lukewarm run game and the weak pass defense, are a bigger concern.

As the smell of pumpkin spice fills the air, Big Ten season now approaches. The next couple of weeks will tell Spartan Nation if it is time to wake and smell the coffee regarding the potential of the 2022 Michigan State team.

As for me, I choose to continue to be optimistic about this team’s future. That is just my particular cup of tea. Sure, some fans are a bit steamed right now as they pour over everything that went wrong this weekend. Just to put things into perspective, Michigan State lost only its third game in the past 20 months. Things may not quite be as bad as they seem.

Week Three Results

As is my weekly tradition, Figure 1 below shows the results of all 50 games involving two FBS teams in Week Two.

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

The Spartans’ double-digit loss at Washington was certainly a disappointment, but the final result was well within the range of normal outcomes in Week Three. Several other teams including Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota, Georgia, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Penn State and Oregon all beat the spread by more than 14 points.

There were only a total of 10 upsets this week relative to the opening LAs Vegas spreads, which is in line with the predictions from last week. Those upsets are summarized below in Table 1 along with the upset picks made by my algorithm and by ESPN’s FPI. A majority of the major upsets this week took place in the Group of Five.

More notable than the upsets themselves in Week Three might be the teams that narrowly missed being upset. Indiana, Virginia, Rutgers, Florida, Wake Forest and UCLA all failed to cover and very nearly lost.

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

The computers’ performance seems to be getting a little stronger each week. My algorithm’s picks are still giving me heartburn with a 2-5 (29 percent) record this weekend. But that does improve my extremely poor record to 3-13 (19 percent) for the season. The FPI did quite a bit better. It went 3-3 (50 percent) this week to bring the year-to-date record to 6-8 (43 percent) for the year.

Table 2 below gives the results of last week’s Bad Betting Advice against the spread (ATS).

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

My algorithm showed some grande improvement in this area in Week Three. For the week, my computer went 5-6 (46 percent) on ATS picks, which brings the yearly record to 7-11 (40 percent). This is well below the historical performance of 55 percent, but it is progress.

Meanwhile, the FPI had a trenta type of weekend. It went 9-3 (75 percent) to bring its year-to-date performance up to 13-17 (43 percent).

Overall, my algorithm went 28-22 (56 percent) considering all 50 games this week involving two FBS teams. The FPI was only 25-25 (50 percent). Year-to-date, both machines are still underwater overall at 47 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Updated Big Ten Odds and Expected Wins

It was a mixed bag of performances in the Big Ten this week. Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin were all big favorites against overmatched opponents and all four teams covered easily. Penn State crushed Auburn on the road and even Iowa figured out how to score enough points to both win and cover the spread against Nevada.

A few Big Ten teams struggled, but still managed to escape with a victory. Maryland was tested by Southern Methodist, but the Terrapins eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter. Indiana needed a late touchdown and overtime to beat Western Kentucky, and Rutgers edged Temple by just two points.

Three other Big Ten teams were not so fortunate. Nebraska got destroyed by Oklahoma, Northwestern lost to FCS foe Southern Illinois, and Purdue lost in the final seconds at Syracuse.

Following the results of Week Three, I have re-run the full season Monte Carlo simulation using the updated power rankings, including the current uncertainty in those rankings, in order to update the season odds for each team. Table 3 below gives the update for the Big Ten conference.

Table 3: Updated Big Ten rankings, expected wins, strengths of schedule and season odds following Week Three.

In the Big Ten East, the race is largely unchanged. Ohio State still has the best odds of winning the division at 41 percent with Penn State just a few percentage points behind at 36 percent.

As for Michigan State, the loss in Seattle did not drop the Spartans as much as expected. Michigan State sank just four slots in my power ranking to No. 15 and MSU’s odds of winning the division are now at seven percent.

The situation in the Big Ten West is more interesting. Conventional wisdom suggests that undefeated Minnesota is the most likely team to win the division. But my math has Purdue (1-2) ranked No. 14 and with the best odds (25 percent) in the West. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois all have division odds between 16 and 21 percent.

A look at the projected records based simply on the projected favorites, however, paints a slightly different picture. This analysis suggests that Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois will all finish at 6-3 in conference play. In this scenario, Wisconsin would win the tie-breaker with home wins over the Boilermakers and Illini.

Michigan State’s remaining schedule

I am going to buck my usual format slightly this week and use this section to present the updated Big Ten win distribution matrix as shown below in Table 4.

Table 4: Updated Big Ten win distribution matrix after Week Three.

Michigan State’s loss to Washington certainly did impact the expected win total for the year. Compared to last week, MSU’s expected win total dropped almost a game-and-a-half down to 7.12 wins. I now project the Spartans to have only a 42 percent chance to win eight games or more. The odds of simply making a bowl game are now just above 80 percent.

The more detailed breakdown of Michigan State’s remaining schedule is shown below in Figure 2.

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

As expected, the situation looks worse than after Week Two. The home games against Rutgers and Indiana still look like clear victories, but everything else looks tough. Interestingly, my calculations still project the Spartans to be favored by around five points to Minnesota, Maryland and Wisconsin.

If my computer is correct about these three games, the odds are that Michigan State would still win two of those three contests. That alone is likely enough to secure at least a bowl game appearance in 2022. But, the opening line for this weekend’s game against Minnesota has the Gophers as a two-point favorite.

While my computer may be a bit too optimistic regarding the Minnesota game, it is possible that it is overly pessimistic regarding the early November road game at Illinois. The Illini are projected to be a slight favorite right now. If true, that game is essentially a toss-up.

Michigan State is projected to be a touchdown underdog or more in the remaining three games against Ohio State, at Michigan and at Penn State. The good news is that the odds are only about one-in-three that the Spartans will lose all three of these games, based on my current projected odds.

National Overview

Finally, let’s take a quick spin around the rest of the country to see where the various conference races stand following the action over the weekend.

In the SEC, Georgia continues to look scalding hot. The defending champions have almost an 80 percent chance of winning the East, a 60 percent chance to win the SEC and almost 50-50 odds to repeat as national champions.

In the West, Alabama (51 percent) is still the team to beat, but Ole Miss has now leapt into second place in my projected odds (24 percent) following Arkansas’ scare against Missouri State and Mississippi State’s loss to LSU. Note that the Crimson Tide need to travel to Oxford to face the Rebels this year.

In the Big 12 this week, strange things were afoot in the state of Kansas, as the Jayhawks scored an upset win over Houston but Kansas State lost a head-scratcher to Tulane. Kansas State had a cup of coffee last week in the top-five of my power rankings, but the buzz seems to have worn off quickly. As a result, my calculations now favor a Texas versus Oklahoma matchup in the Big 12 Championship game.

In the Atlantic Division of the ACC, Syracuse held onto the best odds (37 percent) following the Orange’s last-second win over Purdue, North Carolina State (21 percent) even percolated up to second place over Clemson (19 percent) following the Wolf Pack’s win over Texas Tech. In the Coastal Division, my computer now gives Pittsburgh almost 50-50 odds to return to the ACC Championship game.

In the Pac-12, a few teams (such as Arizona State and UCLA) struggled, but several other teams such as Oregon, USC, Utah, Washington and Washington State both won and covered the spread. USC (62 percent) and Oregon (38 percent) hold the best odds to make the Pac-12 Championship game. For reference, Washington (26 percent) now has the fifth best odds behind Utah and Oregon State.

As Table 2 above shows, there were several big upsets in Group of Five action this week that will likely have a big impact on the race for the spot in the New Year’s Six. Tulane’s upset of Kansas State suggests that the Green Wave may now be the biggest threat to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, Air Force’s upset loss to Wyoming now suggests that the Mountain West reverts to a likely battle between Boise State and Fresno State.

But the most caffeinated action of the week took place in the Sun Belt Conference. A week after the best weekend in conference history, several teams seem to have crashed. Conference favorite Appalachian State needed a Hail Mary to beat conference foe Troy. Marshall, Georgia State and Louisiana all lost despite all being double-digit favorites.

That said, South Alabama came close to scoring a major upset at UCLA (as my algorithm foresaw). The Jaguars now project as the favorite in the Sun Belt West and check in at No. 6 in my latest Group of Five leaderboard.

Against All Odds, we have reached the end for this week. Stay tuned for a new batch of Bad Betting Advice coming soon.