“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
(Great Expectations by Charles Dickens)
At six weeks into the season now, the midpoint is upon us. The time for the true nature of the combatants to emerge is nigh. The quality of competition continues to ratchet up, and the schedule grants no quarter to those who may seek pause to collect themselves, to make … improvements. Such opportunities have come to pass, ignominiously. Suddenly, this Team 138 finds itself at a crossroads. All of its goals still remain ahead, yet the prospects for achieving them have taken an alarming hit, with the margin for error now approaching zero, with a new dependence on the the failure of the one who shall not be named. Now is the time when this Team 138 finds its character … and goddamit, it’d better be one with some serious Steel in the Spine!
Schedules, Spreads & Win Probabilities
So, with that, it’s on to the analysis here, which now focusses on the all-important in-conference slate, so as to make a closer examination of the prospects for the teams to make it to the B1GCG in Indy the first Saturday of December.
B1G East Schedule Rundown
The tables of schedules below shows the overall schedules for all seven teams in the B1G East based on the ratings following week 6. The last table in each set simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GE teams based on their expected in-conference win totals - it’s not a projection of divisional standings based on projected wins, losses, and tie-breakers.
The confidence with which the Buckeyes expect to reclaim the B1GE title continues to grow week-by-week. For the first in over a month, its expected conference win total exceeds 8 wins. Although, the Buckeyes’ lead over the Nits has narrowed to 0.8 wins. Such are the spoils of the Wolverines’ loss to MSU, who have relinquished its 3rd placed position to Sparty. Sparty now stands at close to 6.0 B1G wins (up from 4.7 last week), while the Wolverines have dropped to 5.2 B1G wins. In the aggregate, OSU remains favored in all of its remaining games, the smallest margin being 9.3 points when they visit Ann Arbor. The other contenders (and the definition of the term is being stretched here) – PSU, MSU and UM – remain underdogs, respectively, in one, two and three games apiece. PSU is a double-digit dog to OSU, whereas all of M’s deficit margins are by less than double-digits score, so there’s that.
Looking ahead, S&P+ shows Michigan favored by just over 6.5 points in its next game vs. the Hoosiers, for a win likelihood of 67%, or about 1:2 odds.
Two others – Indiana and Maryland – are maintaining the bubble of bowl eligibility and claim the middle ground of the B1GE. The Hoosiers, who added a late season OOC game to make up for the one that got cancelled due to Hurricane Irma, vanquished Charleston Southern and raised its expectations 3.6 B1G wins.The Terps lag Sparty by another 2.0 B1G wins, and are on the outside trying to get back in after being pummeled by the Buckeyes. It could not be much worse for LOLRutgerz, who are underdogs in all of its remaining games.
The disparity between the S&P+ and FPI results appears to have narrowed this time around. FPI also has Ohio State favored by more than one score in all its remaining games, and leads the B1GE with 8.3 expected conference wins, and a similar margin of 0.8 expected wins over next-best PSU. The FPI results still show Michigan hanging in there at third-best, but lagging PSU by a whopping 2.8 margin at 4.8 expected wins. Penn State has only one game with deficit margin: at OSU by just over 9 points. The Wolverines, meanwhile, have a deficit margin in 3 games (PSU, Wisconsin & OSU), all in 10 to 12 point range.
Looking ahead, FP has Michigan favored by 6.5 points (nearly identical to the S&P+ margin) in its next game vs. the Hoosiers, for a win likelihood of 67%, or about 1:2 odds.
Suffice it to say at this point, UM is firmly ensconced among the other teams in the middle tier, many of whom are on the verge of bowl-eligibility. MSU, Maryland and Indiana are all within a margin 1.2 expected wins. FPI concurs that LOLRutgerz can be left for dead.
Power Rank Results
The Power Rank has taken a tack that mixes things up a good bit, coming out with Penn State on top of the B1G East at 7.6 expected conference wins, yet PSU remains an underdog in one game, at OSU, by about 1 point. The Buckeyes still trail the Nits by about 0.4 expected wins, but OSU is still favored to win out, albeit by the thinnest of margins (including by only 1.4 points at Kinnick Stadium, and 3 points at the Big House). Things could get interesting. PR puts the Buckeyes at only 7.2 expected B1G wins, with Sparty lagging another 1.4 expected wins behind. UM, now in the four-spot, is riding bitch in the B1GE at about 5.0 expected conference wins. So, the three-maybe-four contenders are within 2.6 expected wins of each other, with half the season remaining, more or less.
Looking ahead, Michigan is favored by just under 5 points in its next game vs. the Hoosiers, for a win likelihood of 63%, or about 3:5 odds.
A narrower range of 2.3 wins extends from UM to next-to-last place Indiana. The Hoosiers, at 3.5 expected B1G wins, are sitting on the bubble boundary for bowl eligibility. If it can manage to steal one of its next four games in which its less than a double-digit dog and close with a win over the Boilers, the Hoosiers will likely be bowl-bound.
B1G East Expected Conference Wins Distributions
The bar plots below show the expected total conference wins distributions for teams in the B1G East, in alphabetical order. Noted above each bar is the probability for that number of wins (you may need to click & embiggen to read it). The bar with the highest value is the most likely outcome (the mode). Also flagged on each plot is the expected overall win total (the mean). The last multiline plot (bottom right) is just an overlay of the same data from the other seven bar plots.
The S&P+ distributions for conference wins now shows a growing separation not only among the three or four contenders at the top, but for the entire division all the way down to lowly LOLRutgerz. OSU maintains its position 8-win mode, however, PSU has also popped up for a share of it. The difference is that OSU leans strongly toward winning out, while PSU still has a significant lean toward a 7-win mode. Now third-best, MSU has grabbed sole possession of the 6-win mode, leaving Michigan behind in a balanced, 5-win mode. As of now, the likelihood of the Buckeyes going undefeated in the B1G has increased to over 40.0%. The likelihood of PSU running the table stands at just of 9%.
As for the others, the Hoosiers have also popped up to grab the 4-win mode, separating themselves from the Terps who still occupy the 3-win mode. Meanwhile, S&P+ woe begotten LOLRutgerz is peaking at the 2-win mode leaning toward the worse.
As expected, the FPI results show a broader separation at the top. OSU, the #2 team in all the land, has pressed its lead to the limit, and its distribution now exhibits an 9-win mode, but still with a lean toward 8 wins. Right behind OSU is PSU occupying the 8-win mode. From that point, a 3-game separation follows before picking up Michigan and Sparty, who both exhibit 5-win modes. OSU registers a better than 44% chance of winning out. PSU’s chance of going undefeated ticked up slightly to nearly 14%. From there, the next closest teams (Indiana and Maryland) have nearly identical distributions with 4-win modes with strong leans toward 3 wins.
Power Rank Results
As noted above, the Power Rank continues to predict the tightest race of the three ratings in the B1GE. The difference is that here PSU claims the highest mode of 8 expected B1G wins. Close on the Nits’ heels are the Buckeyes with a 7-win mode leaning strongly toward 8 wins. Back one notch from there is Sparty, balanced on a 6-win mode, and likewise Michigan is balanced on a 5-win mode. PR show PSU with a slightly better than 17% chance of winning out, followed by OSU at just over 10%. Maryland has sole occupancy of the 4-win mode, followed closely by the Hoosiers nearly split between the 3-win and 4-win modes.
B1G West Schedule Rundown
The next two tables of schedules shows the overall schedules for all seven teams in the B1G West based on S&P+ and FPI week 1 results. Again, the last table in each figure simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GW teams based on their expected win totals - it’s not a projection of divisional conference standings per se.
No big news in the B1G West. The S&P+ results still show the Badgers’ more than 3 expected wins ahead of next-best … Purdue? That’s what passes for excitement in the B1GW these days. The Badgers are in a sense in contention with only themselves for the B1GW title. The Badgers are the only team in the West – in the entire Big Ten, even - expected to win all of its games, with its toughest matchup still expected to be when Michigan comes to Camp Randall. Michigan remains the only Wisconsin opponent that is less than a one-score underdog. At that point, of course, the Badgers should have already locked up its bid to Indy. Anyway, the only notable change is an expansion of the Badgers margin by a half win to 3.3 expected wins over the Boilers. An invitation to the B1GCG in Indy seems nearly a foregone conclusion for Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota are all within 1.6 expected B1G wins of each other. Purdue as mentioned has percolated to the top of the bubble after Nebraska getting pummeled by the Badgers. Further coalescence in the middle of the B1GW can be anticipated.
To summarize, here are the final B1G standings as projected by S&P+:
The FPI results for the B1G West show the Badgers with and even wider lead than does S&P+, now at cool 8.0 expected B1G wins. With a margin now in excess of 3.6 wins over next-best Northwestern (who it has already beaten) at 4.4 expected wins, the Badgers only risk may be
stooping getting down on its hands-and-knees prostrating itself to the level of its competition. As with S&P+, FPI expects the Badgers toughest match will be when it hosts Michigan, yet even then the Badgers are favored by nearly 10 points. As for the second tier, less than 1.2 expected wins separate the middle five teams in the B1GW.
To summarize, here are the final B1G standings as projected by FPI:
Power Rank Results
Like in the B1G East, the Power Rank results for the B1G West show a much tighter and more competitive race to Indy. PR shows the Badgers at the top, with 7.2 expected B1G wins. Wisconsin’s lead over next-best Iowa has expanded to a margin of 2.2 expected wins. Contrary to the other ratings, PR expects the Badgers toughest match will be when it hosts division rival Iowa, with a margin of just over a field goal. The Boilers and Huskers both lag the Hawkeyes by about 1.1 wins at 3.8 expected B1G wins, with the ‘Cats just another 0.2 further back. PR’s love for the Boilers continues to grow.
To summarize, here are the final B1G standings as projected by the Power Rank:
B1G West Expected Conference Wins Distributions
The S&P+ chart shows the expanding void between the Badgers and the morass that is the remainder of the B1G West. The Badgers are firmly ensconced in a balanced 8-win mode. As such, Wisconsin is the only team in the B1GW with any prospect for going undefeated, which now stands at just over 28%.
Purdue is now next-best, and claims sole possession of the 5-win mode, but leaning heavily back toward 4 wins. The next four teams are clustered between the 4-win and 3-win modes, not the least of whom is Nebraska – but that may change this week after OSU hangs another half-a-hundred on the Huskers. Dropping out of the bottom is of course, Illinois, standing alone the 1-win mode.
FPI tells a similar story as S&P+ as to the Badgers’ separation from the rest of the B1GW. The Badgers are holding steady in an 8-win mode, with a strong lean toward going undefeated. It has the best and only prospect for going undefeated in the B1GW, at just over 33% (about 11 points less than OSU). The next-best is Northwestern, who shares a 4-win mode with Purdue, Nebraska and Iowa, but leans strongly toward 5 wins. On the lower side of that jumble in the middle is Minnesota, popping out in a 3-win mode. FPI shows the Illini sinking toward rock bottom with a 1-win mode, worse than even LOLRutgerz.
Power Rank Results
Trying to make things at least a little interesting as noted earlier, the Power Rank predicts a slightly more competitive B1GW race. PR has the Badgers in a 7-win mode, but now leaning strongly toward 8 wins. The door is beginning to close for next-best Iowa, who stands alone as the closest competitor with a balanced 5-win mode. The next three – Purdue, Nebraska and Northwestern – all share the 4-win mode trying to at least keep pace and hoping for some calamity. Meanwhile, the Gophers had dropped down into a balanced at a 3-win mode, but managing to stay ahead of the Illini, who have regressed into the 1-win mode. Wisconsin still has the best and only prospect in the B1GW for going undefeated at about 11%, about equal to OSU’s chances, and 6 points less than PSU’s chances.
Just to wrap things up with a quick visual summary, here are the combined overlays of the total wins probabilities broken out by division, sized for download and quick-reference on your smarty-pants phone.
Power Rank Results
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
P.S. As a bonus for scrolling this far, here’s a link to the complete volume of 2017 week 6 charts, which includes a few bonus nuggets not presented in the diary.