The first few weeks of September are a time for players and coaches to get settled into the new college football season and to get accustomed to the new combination of players on the roster. It is a time to identify potential strengths and a time to hopefully shake out and fix a few potential problems before the beginning of conference play.
In Week One, the Michigan State Spartans were pushed a bit by the visiting Western Michigan Broncos. For the first time in eight months, the Spartans were able to spar with an opponent with whom they do not share the same locker room. It wasn’t perfect, and as a result I am sure both the coaches and the players learned a few things.
The old saying goes that a team will show the most improvement between Week One and Week Two. The problem is that it might be difficult to judge any real improvement due to the quality of MSU’s opponent this week: the Akron Zips.
Here is what we know about the Zips. Their nickname can be traced back a century to the longer version “Zippers,” which was “the name of a popular rubber overshoe sold by Akron’s B.F. Goodrich Co.” A rubber shoe is a difficult thing to translate into a mascot, so half a century ago a student council member proposed the kangaroo as the mascot. They later named him “Zippy.” He’s actually quite adorable.
It is not immediately clear if Zippy wears rubber shoes. If he does not, that feels like a missed opportunity. But I digress.
Here is what else we know about the Zips. In the preseason magazines, Akron was ranked between No. 125 and No. 130 out of a total of 131 teams. In Week One, the Zips squared off against Saint Francis (a small catholic University in eastern Pennsylvania with an FCS level football team that I am sure that we have all heard of). Akron trailed at halftime and needed overtime to earn the win.
In other words, Akron does not appear to be among the stronger non-conference opponents that the Spartans have faced in recent memory. That said, the Zips might still be better than two or three of Michigan’s non-conference opponents in 2022.
In any event, despite the fact that kangaroos are known for their boxing skills and for their surprisingly powerful kicks, Spartan fans should feel quite safe on Saturday afternoon. If this game were to turn into a nail-biter, it would not be a positive sign for things to come.
It’s now time to hop right to the Bad Betting Advice for the week.
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 47 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 seven total upset picks that are implied from the figures above. The biggest upset on the board this week would be for Northern Illinois (+6.5) to upset Tulsa. The computers also favor upsets by Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Baylor, Houston and Oregon State, any of which would have some significance on a national scale.
Note that my simulation of the week’s action using the actual point spreads suggests that a total of 10.3 upsets, plus-or-minus 2.7 upsets, is likely to occur in Week Two.
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).
My algorithm suggests a total of five recommended bets this week, including wagers on Penn State, Michigan and Texas A&M to all cover double-digit spreads. The potentially less reliable FPI suggest an additional seven bets. As discussed earlier this week, the FPI is on probation following a shaky performance in 2021 and a very rough start to 2022. Bettor, beware.
Michigan State and Big Ten Overview
As implied above, the Michigan State Spartans (who prefer classic Greek sandals) are huge favorites over the visiting marsupials, I mean Akron Zips. The line opened with the Spartans favored by 34 points, which is the third highest opening line for Michigan State against an FBS opponent since at least 2001. Michigan State was favored to beat Eastern Michigan by 38 points in 2002 and by 44 points in 2014 (and covered both times).
The Spartans have only played the Zips twice in history, but the last time was a 75-6 stomping back in ‘14...1914, that is.
While a 69-point victory in 2022 is unlikely, my computer is slightly more optimistic about the Spartans’ chances than is Las Vegas. It projects a final margin of 36.7 points. Therefore, my official prediction is Michigan State 44, Akron 7. Based on the current over/under of 56.0, my data also suggests to take the under.
Hopefully backup quarterback and redshirt freshman Noah Kim (and a few other young faces) can get some extended planning time in the fourth quarter this time.
Based on the point spread, the odds of an upset are estimated to be only about one percent, which is roughly equivalent to the odds that a No. 16 seed beats a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Due to the frequency of spreads of this magnitude, an upset with a spread in this range is only expected about once every 10 years.
The most recent example of an upset of this magnitude happening to a Big Ten team was when the Appalachian State Mountaineers (+33) (who prefer hiking books) came into Ann Arbor in 2007 and bounced the flat-footed Michigan Wolverines.
Speaking of other Big Ten teams, Table 3 below summarizes the lines and computer predictions for all 14 Big Ten teams in Week Two.
Four Big Ten teams (Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Rutgers) are playing FCS opponents and five teams (in addition to Michigan State) are over 20-point favorites against lower-level Group of Five opponents (Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State).
This leaves us with four games where the Big Ten team is facing another Power Five team. Illinois (-4.5) and Northwestern (-10) are both favored over ACC opponents (Virginia and Duke, respectively). Wisconsin (-16) host Pac-12 foe Washington State, while Iowa (-3.5) hosts its intrastate rivals, the Iowa State Cyclones.
Both Wisconsin and Illinois have a bit of a spring in their step so far this season and I project that both teams will cover. In contrast, I suspect that both Northwestern and Iowa might receive a swift kick in the head. The Hawkeyes have yet to find the end zone this year, and Duke had a quietly impressive shutout win over Temple in Week One. I am placing both the Wildcats and the Hawkeyes on upset alert this week.
Notable National Action
Let’s now bounce around the rest of the country to see what other notable action will be taking place. Table 4 below gives the details for the games involving Power Five teams that I will have my eye on this weekend.
I count a total of 10 additional games this week that involve two Power Five teams. Five of those games are early-season conference games and the other five are inter-conference contests.
Of the early-season conference games, No. 20 Kentucky’s (-5.5) visit to No. 12 Florida is likely the most significant. Georgia is still the nearly a shoe-in to win the SEC East, but the winner between the Wildcats and Gators gets to at least stay in the division race for a little while longer.
I will also have my eye on USC’s (-10) visit to Stanford. The Trojans were one of hardest teams in the preseason to handicap. For example, Athlon Sports ranked USC No. 9 while Pro Football Focus had them at No. 72. Right now, the Associated Press poll has the Trojans ranked No. 10 after USC steamrolled an awful Rice squad by 52 points in Week One. Stanford is not projected to finish in the upper half of the Pac-12, but at home, the Cardinal should offer a useful measuring stick to get a hint as to whether the Trojans are for real or not in 2022.
In inter-conference play (for now) this week, No. 1 Alabama’s trip to the Lone Star State to lock horns with Texas (+17.5) at noon should be a fun one. The point spread and sheer common sense would imply that steak will be on the menu for the Crimson Tide come late afternoon on Saturday.
The more interesting game on the schedule is No. 24 Tennessee’s (-4) visit to No. 17 Pittsburgh. Both teams are considered as potential Cinderella contenders in their respective divisions. We will get a better idea of who the glass slipper might fit by the end of the day.
While the point spread may not justify it, I will also have an eye on Arizona State at No. 11 Oklahoma State (-11). The boot-wearing Cowboys struggled to beat Central Michigan in Week One and are looking for a bounce-back performance.
Finally, Table 5 below summarizes a few additional games involving Group of Five and Independent teams that are worth keeping an eye on.
Some of the teams in Table 5 (such as Appalachian State, Houston, Texas San Antonio and East Carolina) will try to rebound from a loss or close call in Week One in order to regain some momentum for the impending conference races. Some of the other teams (such as BYU, Fresno State, Air Force and UCF) will attempt to build on their current momentum by taking down a Power Five team.
No. 9 Baylor at No. 21 BYU (-3) is the clear headlining act in this group, but I am also curious to see how Fresno State (-1.5) and Air Force (-15) fare as home favorites against Pac-12 opponents Oregon State and Colorado, respectively. My data likes BYU and Air Force to both win and cover the spread, but both the FPI and my algorithm have Fresno State on upset alert.
That is all the advice that I have to give this week. Until next time, enjoy and Go State; beat the Zips!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.