Throughout the course of any college football season, there are bound to be a few doglegged twists and turns. The Michigan State had a couple of good shots to start the season, but the Spartans ran into a bit of a hazard last week at Washington. As the Spartans enter Week Four (Fore?), the team finds itself in the rough.
With one loss on the scorecard already, one mulligan has been used up. I guess we’re playing for keeps now. I guess the kidding around is pretty much over. Out of nowhere, the current Michigan State season is starting to feel like a Cinderella story. The Spartans need to make their next few shots count.
This week’s opponent is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. As for Minnesota’s mascot, any graduate of a land grant university will tell you that gophers are varmints. They’re one of the lowest members of the food chain. The University of Minnesota could just as easily replace Goldie with a rat. (Just kidding, Minnesota fans. People don’t say that about you, as far as you know.)
As for the Gophers’ schedule so far, it’s a disgrace. Now, don’t get me wrong; New Mexico State and Colorado are no slouches. OK, I do not want to sell them short. The fact is, they are tremendous slouches. Furthermore, rumor has it that Minnesota tried to schedule a roll of damp paper towels for Week Two, but the towels had a previously scheduled engagement in Ann Arbor. The Gophers instead had to settle for Western Illinois. Rodent, please.
This week, it is up to the Spartans to teach the Gophers a lesson about what it’s like to be a decent, upstanding member of the Big Ten. So, how will the Spartans accomplish this?
In times like these, it is sometimes helpful to defer to an expert. Based on my extensive knowledge of the theatre, I can think of no better expert on Gophers than Carl Spackler (played by Bill Murray) from the fine 1980 film “Caddyshack.” On the subject of Gophers, Spackler said approximately the following:
“To defeat this enemy, you must know your enemy, and in this case the enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit — ever. So you have to fall back on superior coaching and superior athleticism. And that’s all she wrote.”
Hmmm. Considering how that film ended, perhaps additional sources of advice are needed...
Personally, I am optimistic that Michigan State can play through its problems. First, Minnesota prefers more of a ground-based attack, as one would expect from Gophers. Fortunately, MSU’s strength on defense is stopping the run. So, the Spartans have that going for them, which is nice.
Second, I think that this game may come down to Michigan State’s quarterback Payton Thorne and the Spartan passing attack. Thorne tried to rally the Spartans last week, but came up short. This week, Thorne will have the benefit of the home crowd. That could be the difference.
To this end, perhaps we can draw inspiration from “Caddyshack.” This time, let’s focus on the sage words of Ty Webb (played by Chevy Chase), who said:
“There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”
Be the ball, Payton.
Well, I have no interest in keeping you waiting. So, while we’re young, let us make the turn to this week’s Bad Betting Advice.
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 60 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 upset picks that are derived from the two figures above. My algorithm suggests a total of three upset picks this week while the FPI contributes an additional four picks. There is exactly one upset pick where both of the machines agree: a pick for Michigan State to upset Minnesota.
So far this year, my algorithm and the FPI have agreed on a total of five upset picks. Three of those actually occurred. One of them was for Michigan State to beat Washington last week. Do with this information what you will. Also note that my weekly simulation predicts that a total of 12.1 upsets, plus-or-minus 2.9 upsets, will be par for the course in Week Four.
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.)
Despite a stormy start to the season, my algorithm is charging ahead with a total of 10 recommended bets against the spread (ATS) in Week Four. My analysis of the FPI data produces an additional four recommended bets. In this case, the computers only agree on one bet: Memphis to cover an 11.5-point spread versus North Texas.
Hopefully my advice will be a little better this week. Otherwise, I might have to start measuring myself against other prognosticators simply by height.
Michigan State and Big Ten Overview
For the second week in a row, Michigan State opened as an underdog, but the computers predicted a victory. That did not work out so well in Week Three. Will Week Four be any better?
In general, my analysis tells me that the spread is the most robust predictor of the outcome of any sporting event. Based on the opening line of +2.5, the data suggests that the Green and White have about a 43 percent chance of feeling all right at the end of the night.
The Spartans lead the overall series with the Gophers 30-17, but recently the series has been streaky. Michigan State won 17 games in a row between 1977 and 1997. The Gophers then went on a run by winning six of the next eight games. But since 2010, the Spartans have won five in a row, most recently in 2017.
That said, Minnesota has also covered the spread in five of the last six games against the Spartans.
As for 2022, I will give my computer another chance to get this one correct. It likes a final score of Michigan State 31, Minnesota 24. The current over/under as listed on DraftKings is 51 points. My computer suggests a bet on the over.
A summary of the remaining games involving Big Ten teams can be found below in Table 3.
Five of the remaining Big Ten teams will be wrapping up their non-conference schedule this week. Purdue, Penn State and Illinois are all heavy favorites, while Nebraska is taking a break in the clubhouse for the weekend. In theory, Northwestern (-7) has a winnable game against Miami of Ohio, while Indiana is a double-digit underdog at Cincinnati.
The computers generally suggest that four of those five teams will cover the spread. The exception is Northwestern, which, let’s be honest, should be happy if it can simply finish the round with a win. That said, the FPI also predicts that Florida Atlantic will cover against Purdue.
The remaining three games are all conference matchups. Michigan (-17) and Ohio State (-17.5) are both big favorites at home against Maryland and Wisconsin, respectively. Ohio State has clearly faced a tougher non-conference schedule than Michigan has, but the Buckeyes are also facing a tougher opponent in Week Four. Either way these two contests should provide more clarity for the upcoming Big Ten East race.
In the final game on the schedule, Iowa (-8) travels to Rutgers in what will most likely be another defensive struggle. The current over/under is listed as 35-points on DraftKings. My calculations recommend taking the under.
Notable National Action
Let’s close out today’s round with a quick look at other games of note. Table 4 below gives the details for the remaining games that I will be watching out for this weekend.
Week Four is not likely to shine much light on the SEC race as both Alabama and Georgia are over 40-point favorites. That said, we should learn a little about which teams may be able to challenge them.
In the SEC West, both Texas A&M and Arkansas have had some up and down moments already this year. Those teams face each other in College Station this weekend where the Aggies are currently a 2.5-point favorite. In the SEC East, Tennessee likely needs to survive a visit from Florida (+11) if the Volunteers hope to challenge Georgia for the division title.
In ACC action, Clemson is less than a touchdown favorite at Wake Forest (+6.5) in what could be the sneaky-tricky game of the weekend. If the Tigers lose, that means that my computer might actually be correct with the idea that Syracuse is the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic Division. That said, the Orange will need to continue to win games such as this weekend’s matchup with Virginia (+10).
In the Big 12, my computer is currently projecting that Texas and Oklahoma will emerge as the top-two teams in the conference. Texas (-4) will need to prove itself in Lubbock this week against Texas Tech, while Oklahoma draws Kansas State (+13) at home.
In Pac-12 action, USC and Oregon currently sit at the top of the conference leaderboard based on my calculations, and both teams open conference play with tricky road games. USC (-6.5) travels to Oregon State and Oregon (-5) faces Washington State. Interestingly, my computer predicts that the home team will cover in both contests. In addition, I will also be keeping my eye on Washington (which hosts Stanford) for Michigan State’s strength of schedule purposes.
Finally, there are four Group of Five teams (in addition to Cincinnati) that are worth tracking this week. Toledo, Appalachian State, James Madison, Tulane and South Alabama all currently are sitting in the top-seven of my current Group of Five leaderboard. Appalachian State (-9) is hosting James Madison, while the other three teams are favored. It will be interesting to see which teams will be able to stay in the lead group.
That is all the advice that I have to give this week. Hopefully there are fewer than nine-to-18 holes in my recommendations this time. But, you know what they say: a donut without a hole is a Danish. Until next time, enjoy and Go State; beat the Gophers!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.