The year was 1998. The time was probably something like 2 a.m. The place was a computer laboratory in the bowels of the engineering building on the campus of Michigan State University. The scene was a group of senior undergraduates sitting bleary-eyed at individual workstations and hammering away at some computer simulation for a capstone engineering design project that certainly must have been due the next day.
In an act of bravery or exhaustion or simple sarcasm, one brave student started half-mumbling and half-singing a familiar refrain from the radio of the day:
“I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down. I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down.”
It occurs to me that this catchy tune from the British band Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping,” is not unlike the refrain of Michigan State football team. The message from head coach Mel Tucker is to be relentless and to “keep chopping.” If you get knocked down, you get back up.
Over the last two weeks, the Spartans got knocked down pretty hard at the hands of the Washington Huskies and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. This week, Michigan State will travel to College Park to face the Maryland Terrapins in the Spartans’ first conference road game of the season. If Mel Tucker and his team want to prove that last season was not simply a one-hit wonder, they are going to need to get back up off the mat and make a stand.
The task will not be an easy one. Maryland runs a pass-first offense and is led by senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (if he is healthy). If it were not for a muffed kickoff return in the opening seconds and a couple of long runs by Michigan tailback Blake Corum, the Terrapins might be coming off from an upset win over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor last weekend.
Nevertheless, this is a game the Spartans need to find a way to win if they want to avoid the danger of pissing away this once promising season. So, which way is this going to go? Come Saturday, will Spartan fans be singing while they are winning or will they be singing songs that remind them of the better times?
Either way, Danny boy, I have a feeling that we may need a whiskey drink to get through this one...or possibly a vodka drink...or a lager drink...or perhaps a cider drink. I am not sure. It’s best to keep your options open.
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 58 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. Despite the fact that my algorithm has been repeatedly knocked down this season, it has risen up once again to make a total of eight upset picks for the week. Note that the FPI (which has a much better track record so far this year) concurs on three of those eight picks.
Interestingly, my algorithm likes three total upsets in Big Ten play this week: Indiana over Nebraska, Illinois over Wisconsin and Iowa over Michigan. Note that a simulation of the week’s action using the actual opening lines from DraftKings suggests that a total of 14.4 upsets, plus-or-minus 3.2 upsets, is most likely.
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.)
It appears that my algorithm decided to get drunk on upset picks this weekend and is sleeping on the picks against the spread. My computer only suggests two total bets: Army and Baylor to cover. ESPN’s FPI, in contrast, chose the opposite approach as it has ordered a total of seven picks against the spread this week.
I can never remember how that old phrase goes. I think that it’s: “upsets before spreads and your wallet is dead. Spreads before upsets...” Oh, never mind.
Michigan State and Big Ten Overview
On Saturday, Michigan State and Maryland Terrapins will meet for the 13th time in history. MSU leads the all-time series 10-2. Michigan State won four games out of five against Maryland from 1944 to 1950. The series then completely fell by the wayside until it was picked back up again once Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014. Since then, Michigan State has won six of the seven meetings with the lone loss coming in 2016.
Over that seven-game span, Michigan State is 4-3 against the spread versus Maryland. However, Saturday will mark the first time in the series since at least 2014 (and likely ever) that Maryland will enter the game as the favorite. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Maryland is a 7.5-point favorite, which historically gives the Spartans only about a 30 percent chance to steal this desperately needed road win.
For the past two weeks, my computer and I have been the voice of optimism for the Spartans. While I would love to predict that Michigan State will suddenly look a lot better, rise up, and get the win at Maryland, my computer and I are now to the point of the season where we will need to see it to believe it.
As result, my official prediction is that the Spartans will barely cover the spread, but that they will lose by a final score of Maryland 31, Michigan State 25. The current over/under as listed on DraftKings is 60 points. My analysis suggests a bet on the under.
A summary of all of the games involving Big Ten teams can be found below in Table 3.
In general Week Five marks the start of conference play around the country and all 14 Big Ten teams are in action against another Big Ten team. Ohio State (-40 versus Rutgers) and Penn State (-26.5 versus Northwestern) are both huge favorites, but the other five games all could get interesting.
Minnesota (-12) returns home this week to face Purdue as the current favorite to win the Big Ten West. As recently as two weeks ago, my computer gave the Boilermakers the best odds in that division. Purdue’s starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell did not play in last week’s (very tight) win over Florida Atlantic. If O’Connell is healthy, I think that this game could be close, especially if the Gophers are a little hungover or are still picking small bits of Sparty out of their teeth.
Michigan (-11) finally leaves the state to travel to Iowa in a rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship game. It is hard to believe that Iowa will be able to score enough points to hang with the Wolverines, but it was also hard to believe that Maryland was within five points of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the fourth quarter last weekend. My calculations have this game as a virtual toss-up where the Iowa home crowd could make the difference.
The remaining two games (Indiana at Nebraska and Illinois at Wisconsin) both feature home-team favorites, but in both cases my computer is issuing an upset alert. The idea that Nebraska is good enough to beat anyone is curious, but it is the Illinois/Wisconsin game that intrigues me the most.
My computer has a very high opinion of Illinois so far this year, so much so that the Fighting Illini are actually favored by my algorithm to win all of their remaining games this year, including a mid-November trip to Michigan. I seriously doubt that the Illini are that good, but they just might be good enough to make it a bad day for Badger fans. If nothing else, Coach Brett Bielema’s return to Madison is certain to bring some drama.
Notable National Action
It’s time for last call, so let’s end with a quick look at the remaining national action of note this week. Table 4 below gives the details for the remaining games teams that I will be watching out for this weekend.
In the SEC, Alabama (-16.5) might get tested at Arkansas, and Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-4) looks like a battle of also-rans. But Kentucky’s visit to Ole Miss (-7) is likely the game of the week down south. Both teams are undefeated and project to have the second-best odds to win their divisions, based on my most recent calculations. The winner of that contest gets to stay in their division race.
In the Big 12, Kansas State made a splash last week by beating Oklahoma and the Wildcats will try to keep the momentum going this week as they host Texas Tech (+8). Meanwhile Oklahoma (-5.5) will attempt to sober up at TCU. Despite a Week Two loss at BYU, Baylor is trying to sneak into the conference race as well. The Bears (-2.5) will need to beat Oklahoma State to prove that they belong. Here’s a sentence that I did not expect to write this year: Kansas (+3) has a solid shot to upset Iowa State to push the Jayhawks’ record to 5-0.
In ACC action, Virginia’s game at Duke (-2) and Wake Forest’s trip to Florida State (-7) both might impact the division races, but it’s North Carolina State at Clemson (-6.5) that draws my eye. Both teams are undefeated, but both have looked shaky at times in 2022. The Wolfpack picked off the Tigers in overtime last year, which wound up costing Clemson the division title. Will history repeat itself this year?
In the Pac-12, the game with the biggest impact on the conference standings is likely to be Oregon State at Utah (-10.5). That said, the game that looks like the most fun is Washington (-2.5) at UCLA.
Finally, Table 5 below provides a summary of the most interesting games in the Group of Five for Week Five.
It looks increasingly likely that the New Year’s Six participant from the Group of Five is going to come out of the American Athletic Conference or the Sun Belt. In the AAC, Cincinnati is still the most likely candidate, and Bearcats have a potentially tricky road game at Tulsa (+12) this week. That said, I still have my eyes on both Central Florida and Tulane. The Knights (-3.5) host SMU while the Green Wave (+2.5) are at Houston. My computer likes Tulane in the road upset.
Finally, in Sun Belt action, there is a major showdown in the West Division as preseason favorite Louisiana (+5) hosts new favorite South Alabama. If the Jaguars are for real this year, they are going to need to escape Cajun country with a “W.”
You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. That is all the advice that I have to offer this week. Until next time, enjoy and Go State; beat the Terrapins!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.