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Against All Odds, Week One: Reservation of Judgment

With just one week of data, the jury is still out on how good any team really is. One thing is for sure, however: last week’s betting advice was truly bad.

Marvin Hall/The Only Colors

Week One of the 2022 college football season, including for the Michigan State Spartans, is now complete. So, how are we all feeling?

On one hand, the Spartans faced some adversity and overcame it to put away a scrappy in-state opponent in Western Michigan. Michigan State even covered the spread (although it was -22.5 in some places at kickoff). A win is a win, especially in the first game against a highly-motivated opponent.

On the other hand, the Spartans looked sloppy, it was still a one-possession game with under seven minutes to play, and the injuries (some quite serious) are already piling up. What are we to make of all of this?

At this point, I simply choose to reserve judgment for now. Is Michigan State not quite as good as fans had hoped in the offseason? Is Western Michigan a little better than expected? It is hard to say. Would the game have played out more positively for MSU fans had Payton Thorne not thrown a bad interception in the final minutes of the first half? If so, would Thorne have instead attempted a similarly bad throw later in the year (for example) at Washington or at Michigan?

Who knows?

Michigan State has a reservation next weekend to face the Akron Zips. Right now, we only know slightly more about MSU than we did a week ago. Next week will be a chance to gather a bit more data about the Spartans and the rest of the college football landscape. As for now, a more reserved approach seemed warranted. Let’s all keep our gavels and robes in storage for the time being.

Week One Results

While the jury is still out on Michigan State, we do have the data from Week One in order to judge the performance of the computers’ predictions.

In my Bad Betting Advice preview of Week One, I presented the picks from my football algorithm as well as the picks from ESPN’s FPI metric as compared to the opening spread as found on DraftKings. Now, it is time to adjudicate the results of the week, first by plotting the actual final point differential of each game as a function of the opening Las Vegas line.

Figure 1: Recap of the action from Week One comparing the actual game results to the Vegas line (only including games where both teams are in the FBS)

A glance at Figure 1 suggests that it was a good week to be the favored team. A total of 10 teams including Georgia, SMU, James Madison, Michigan, Tennessee, TCU and BYU all covered the spread by more than two touchdowns (the points above the dotted line), In addition, the eight total upsets on the week (the points below the red vertical line) were slightly fewer than the 10 predicted by the weekly simulation.

Table 1 below summarizes the upsets that occurred in Week One.

Table 1: Summary of the upset from Week One involving two FBS teams

Based on the opening spread, Old Dominion’s (+7.5) win over Virginia Tech was the biggest upset of the weekend. But, an upset of this magnitude is the college football equivalent of jaywalking. In 2021, there were a total of 59 upsets with an opening point spread of +7.5 and above.

The computers both got off to a tough start in 2022 when it comes to upset picks. Of the eight total picks on the board, only one ended up correct: The FPI’s pick of Florida to beat Utah.

Table 2 below summarizes the result of the computers’ recommended picks against the spread for Week One.

Table 2: Results of the suggested bets from Week One.

If the computers’ performance in upset picks was judged to be a misdemeanor, the performance against the spread was downright felonious. My computer actually was OK in Week One, getting one out of two. The FPI, however, was disastrous, getting just one out of 10 correct.

As I mentioned in this week’s preview, the data from ESPN’s computer was less reliable last year than expected, and it is not off to a good start in 2022. If this behavior keeps up, I may need to put the FPI in prognosticator jail for a few weeks to sober up.

Overall, the data for all 46 games is no better than the data for the suggested bets. My algorithm went 16-30 (35 percent) on the week while the FPI was 18-28 (39 percent). This week’s Betting Advice was truly bad.

Updated Big Ten Odds and Expected Wins

Just as it is important to reserve judgment on Michigan State, the same can be said for the rest of the Big Ten and on the college football landscape in general. That said, we now have a full week of actual data and by processing it, it is possible to gain some potential hints as to the direction of the Big Ten season.

Weeks Zero and One were fairly good ones for the Big Ten Conference. To date, Big Ten teams are 10-0 in non-conference play. Rutgers was able to earn a road upset at Boston College, and Ohio State protected home turf against No. 5 Notre Dame. It’s early but it was also a good start for the Big Ten East, as Penn State avoided a road upset at Purdue and Indiana survived the visit from Illinois this week.

The Iowa Hawkeyes were even smart enough to score two safeties against FCS opponent South Dakota State to pair with a single field goal to disguise the fact that the team’s offense barely gained over 150 yards and never found the end zone in the 7-3 win. I would assume that Iowa will petition the courts and request that a judge seal all records pertaining to the full box score and play-by-play. Let us never speak of this game again.

Tables 3 and 4 below provide an update to the Big Ten odds and win distribution matrix following the results of Week One. As was done in the summer, the data is the output of a Monte Carlo simulation of the full season based on projected point spreads for all remaining games.

Table 3: Updated Big Ten odds after Week One. The change in rankings and odds from the preseason are shown in parenthesis. The strength of schedule data are noted with the updated national ranking in parenthesis.
Table 4: Updated Big Ten win distribution table after the results of Week One

For Michigan State, the verdict after one week of play is that the road looks a little tougher than it did a week ago. The expected win total has dropped by almost a full game, down to 7.44 wins, and the odds to win both the East Division (seven percent) and the Big Ten (four percent) have both roughly been cut in half, despite the win over Western Michigan on Friday night.

The reason for this small downgrade is two-fold. First, the Spartans’ performance against the Broncos was slightly below expectation, at least in the eyes of my computer. Michigan’s State’s power ranking has dipped down to No. 19.

The second factor is likely the more important one. Almost every single opponent on Michigan State’s schedule had a neutral to positive outing in Week One. As a result, the Spartans now own the most difficult schedule in the Big Ten (up from No. 5 in the preseason) and the ninth-most difficult schedule in the nation (up from No. 25).

As for the rest of the Big Ten, the race in the East Division still looks like a battle between Ohio State (41 percent) and Michigan (38 percent). The Buckeyes and Wolverines statistically gained some separation from Penn State (10 percent) and Michigan State (seven percent) in Week One.

In the Big Ten West, Wisconsin (39 percent) still has the best odds, but a new dark horse contender has arisen in the form of the Minnesota Golden Gophers (30 percent). Iowa (13 percent) and Purdue (eight percent) are looking more like long shots.

Michigan State’s remaining schedule

In my math-based preview of Michigan State, I presented a game-by-game projection of the point spreads and the odds for the Spartans to win each game. Now that Week One is in the books, Figure 2 gives the updated projections for the remainder of Michigan State’s schedule.

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

If we compare this figure to the one generated a month ago, the odds for the Spartans in literally all 11 remaining games have decreased. Based on Table 4 above, the odds are now 50-50 that the Spartans will win eight or more games.

Next weekend’s game with Akron and the late season home games against Rutgers and Indiana still all look like likely wins (for a total of four). But, the road games at Washington, Maryland, Illinois and Penn State, as well as the home games against Wisconsin and Minnesota, now look essentially like six toss-up games.

The Spartans continue to project to be significant underdogs against Ohio State and at Michigan, but the #math currently gives the Spartans a 50-50 chance to win at least one of those two games.

National Overview

Finally, let’s take a quick spin around the country and pass some judgment on the other action in Week One. For reference, my updated odds for each conference can be viewed by clicking on the hyperlinks below.

The SEC was found not guilty of stumbling during the opening week as the only loss the conference suffered was LSU’s dramatic loss to Florida State. Florida managed the mild upset over visiting Utah, and Ole Miss was the only team that clearly failed to cover (against Troy). The assumed division favorites (Georgia and Alabama) won their games by a combined score of 104-3 and both teams have a more commanding lead based on the updated division odds.

Every Big 12 team won with the exception of West Virginia (which lost to Pittsburgh). The only notable things to put on the record here are that Oklahoma and especially Oklahoma State both failed to cover the spread against UTEP and Central Michigan, respectively. As a result, my calculations now project Texas (47 percent) and Baylor (38 percent) to have the best odds to reach the Big 12 Championship game.

In the ACC, Boston College and Virginia Tech both suffered upset losses to Rutgers and Old Dominion, respectively, while Florida State upset LSU. Pittsburgh and North Carolina narrowly avoided upsets at the hands of West Virginia and Appalachian State, respectively.

Over all, Clemson (58 percent) and Miami (55 percent) are both still favored to win their division. I will also note that North Carolina State struggled mightily to beat East Carolina, which prompted a 13-percentage point drop in the Wolfpack’s odds to win the Atlantic Division. My selection of the Wolfpack to earn a New Year’s Six Bowl may have been an error in judgment.

The Pac-12 was found guilty of having a tough start to the season. Both Oregon and Utah (the two preseason conference favorites) had chances to make a Week One splash against SEC opponents. But Oregon got blown out by Georgia and Utah lost at Florida.

As a result, the odds of a Pac-12 team making the College Football Playoff dropped significantly (from 52 percent to just 32 percent). Furthermore, the teams with the best odds to make the Pac-12 Championship game are now Utah (58 percent), USC (31 percent), Oregon State (30 percent) and UCLA (23 percent).

Finally, it was a tough opening weekend for several Group of Five teams with New Year’s Six Bowl aspirations. Cincinnati lost to Arkansas, and Houston needed overtime to defeat Texas San Antonio. Boise State got blown out at Oregon State, San Diego State was upset by Arizona, and Appalachian State couldn’t outscore North Carolina.

Perhaps the biggest under-the-radar Group Five result was Southern Methodist’s blow out win over North Texas. As pedestrian as this seems, it did rocket SMU to the top of my Group of Five leaderboard. I suppose that we will need to reserve judgment until next week to see if this new ranking holds.

Against all odds, I have reached that end for today. Until next time, enjoy, and Go State; beat the Zips!