It's a good thing that Michigan State is favored this weekend. How come? It is because of a strange statistical anomaly. The underdog in Michigan's road openers for more than 20 years has an uncanny knack of beating the spread, and very often pulling the upset. Here is a history of Michigan's road openers since 1986. Notice how the favorite almost never covers the spread. In most cases, it's obvious just by glancing at thes core whether the underdog beat the spread. I have left a few games open, because I don't know how to find spreads for really old games, and some of these were close. Edit -- I have updated this diary, thanks to the information in some of the comments below...
1986 – <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Michigan enters the game against Notre Dame as a heavy favorite and escapes with a 1-point victory. Underdogs beat the spread (1-0) Edit: we were actually a 7-point favorite
1987 – Michigan loses at Michigan State. I can’t find any documentation, but I’ll bet we were favored in this one, so I’ll give this one to the underdog (2-0)
1988 – Michigan loses by two to Notre Dame. I don’t know what the spread for this one was either, but two points sounds like it might have been right since both teams were ranked highly, so this one is an unknown. Edit: we were a three-point dog.
1989 – Michigan beats a crummy UCLA team by 1 point. Once again, underdog beats (3-0)
1990 – Michigan loses to ND by four. Both teams were top 5 ranked, but since the game was in South Bend, ND was probably a small favorite. I'll say that they covered (3-1) Edit: we were actually a five-point favorite. Seems weird, but once again, the 'dog beats the spread.
1991 – Michigan comes out flat against 4 TD underdog Boston College but wins by 22. I’m pretty sure that this was an underdog victory vs spread (4-1)
1992 – Michigan is a slight underdog against Notre Dame and they beat the spread with a tie (5-1)
1993 – Michigan is favored to beat Michigan State and loses (6-1)
1994 – Michigan is the underdog to Notre Dame and wins (7-1)
1995 – Favored Michigan destroys Illinois. Favorite actually covers. (7-2)
1996 – Underdog Michigan upsets Colorado (8-2)
1997 – Michigan massacres Indiana by 37. Favorite covers (7-3)
1998 – Underdog Notre Dame destroys Michigan in South Bend (8-3)
1999 – Michigan beats Syracuse by 5. I don’t know what the spread for this one was, since we lost to them badly the year before and it was in the Carrier Dome. This one is an unknown. Edit: We were favored by 6, so underdog beats spread.
2000 – Underdog UCLA upsets Michigan, starting a long, horrible road opener losing streak for Carr (9-3)
2001 – Michigan loses by 5, but was a touchdown ‘dog, if I recall (10-3) Edit: turns out we were only underdogs by 3, so Washington did, in fact, cover it.
2002 – Underdog Notre Dame beats Michigan (11-3)
2003 – Underdog Oregon beats Michigan (12-3)
2004 – Underdog Notre Dame beats Michigan (13-3)
2005 – Underdog Wisconsin beats Michigan (14-3)
2006 – Underdog Michigan beats Notre Dame. (15-3)
2007 – Heavily favored Michigan escapes Evanston with a 12-point victory over Nortwestern. I don’t know exactly what the spread was, but the ‘Cats were coming off of a loss to Duke and then a 58-7 loss to Ohio State, so I’m sure the spread was more than 12. (16-3)
2008 – 2-point underdog Notre Dame beats Michigan. (17-3)
That’s 17 games where the underdog covers, and 3 games where the favorite covers. That’s an 85% success rate for the underdog! Since 1998, the underdog is undefeated against the spread (except for maybe ’99?) I may have gotten one or two of the older games wrong and I have a couple of unknowns. Even if a few games go to the favorites, it’s still an incredible anomaly. Especially when you consider how refined betting spreads usually are and how tough they are to outpredict. This phenomenon can’t just be summed up as “Michigan underachieves in first road game”, because we have covered the spread as the underdog at least every time since 1992, pulling upsets against Notre Dame twice and Colorado in 1996.
Edit: Actually the underdog is 20-3 over this time span.
Last I saw, we are a 3-point underdog to Sparty. If you’re a betting man, bet on Michigan.