“Break their hearts, my pride and hope. Break their hearts and have no mercy.”
- Miss Havisham (Great Expectations by Charles Dickens)
At five weeks into the season now, the quality of competition begins to ratchet up in the sense that more games feature opponents that are in the same weight class. So notionally, fewer games are lapsing into garbage time midway through the second quarter, which spurs the accumulation of more statistics on a per game basis. To that extent, the influx of fresh, objective statistics diminishes the influence of the more subjective preseason ratings. So suffice it to say, the ratings at this point are more meaningful than not...
Schedules, Spreads & Win Probabilities
With the non-conference portion of the schedule behind us, the analysis here 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 4. 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.
It’s loss to the Sooners in the distant past, the Buckeyes remain on track to reclaim the B1GE title, topping all competitors now with 7.9 expected conference wins. The Buckeyes’ lead over the Nits has expanded to 0.9 wins. The Wolverines are holding steady at 1.4 wins behind the Buckeyes, showing a slight improvement to 6.5 expected wins. In the aggregate however, OSU remains favored in all of its remaining games, including by just over a field goal when they visit Ann Arbor. The other two contenders - Penn State and Michigan – remain underdogs, respectively, in one and three games apiece. PSU is nearly a double-digit dog to OSU, whereas all of M’s deficit margins are by less than one score, so there’s that.
Looking ahead, S&P+ shows Michigan favored by just under 15 points in its next game vs. Sparty, for a win likelihood of 83%, or about 1:5 odds.
Three others - Michigan State, Maryland and Indiana – are maintaining the bubble of bowl eligibility and claim the middle ground of the B1GE. At a whopping 4.7 expected conference wins, Sparty has a winning expected wins record in conference, which should be good for a mid-December, cold-weather, empty-stadium toilet bowl game. The Terps lag Sparty by another 1.2 B1G wins, and are on the outside trying to get back in. But, a salty performance by their 4th string QB to get a win over Minny bodes well for D.J. Durkin’s crew. The Hoosiers, who added a late season OOC game to make up for the one that got cancelled due to Hurricane Irma, may still be in luck even at 3.3 B1G wins. but could get screwed bowl-wise since their game at FIU was cancelled and could only get to 2-0 OOC. It could not be much worse for LOLRutgerz, who are underdogs in all but one of its remaining games.
The FPI results, as usual, differ considerably from those of S&P+, the most notable difference being that Ohio State is favored by more than one score in all its remaining games. OSU leads the B1GE with 8.1 expected conference wins, but its margin over next-best PSU has shrunk to 0.7 wins. The FPI results show U-M lagging by another 1.6 wins behind PSU at 5.8 expected B1G wins. Penn State has only one game with deficit margin: at OSU by just over 8 points. The Wolverines, meanwhile, have a deficit margin in 3 games (PSU, Wisconsin & OSU), all in the one-score to double-digits range.
Looking ahead, FPI shows Michigan favored by 16.5 points in its next game vs. Sparty, for a win likelihood of 86%, or about 1:5 odds.
Not looking ahead, but I’m just sayin’… UM is favored by under a TD when it visits Indiana, which has “trap” written all over it should UM manage to get by Sparty and risk looking ahead to Penn State.
FPI has the same teams on the verge of bowl-eligibility, just in a different order: Maryland, Indiana and Michigan State. FPI concurs that LOLRutgerz can be left for dead.
Power Rank Results
The Power Rank concurs with S&P+ & FPI in putting OSU at the top, but makes things a little more interesting with a good number more losses in the mix. PR puts the Buckeyes at only 7.1 expected B1G wins, with Penn State is only 0.2 wins behind. UM is in the three-spot with about 6.1 expected B1G wins. So, the three contenders are within 1 expected win of each other. Moreover, PR has no team favored in all of its remaining games. Indeed, PR has OSU as an underdog (OK, it’s really a toss-up) to your ever-lovin’ Maize’n’Blue. PSU is an underdog to OSU, and UM is an underdog to PSU (with another toss-up with Wisconsin).
Looking ahead, Michigan is favored by just under 13 points in its next game vs. Sparty, for a win likelihood of 80%, or about 1:4 odds.
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 show a clear separation among the three contenders at the top. OSU maintains sole possession of the 8-win mode, however, Michigan has nudged up to share the 7-win mode with PSU. However, Michigan still shows a strong lean back toward 6 wins. As of now, the likelihood of the Buckeyes winning out in the B1G has increased to 28.0%. The likelihoods of Michigan and PSU winning out stands at at about 3.0% and 6.1%, respectively.
As for the others, after edge the Hawkeyes last week, Sparty is gain some separation from the others to claim sole possession of the 5-win mode. The Terps and Hoosiers share the 3-win mode, as well as nearly identical distributions that are leaning strongly toward 4 wins. 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 still appears to lead at the 8-win mode, with a strong lean toward winning out. However, PSU also shares the 8-win mode, but with a lean toward the 7-win mode with a strong lean toward 8 wins. Meanwhile, Michigan is on an island at the 6-win mode. OSU registers a 36% chance of winning out. Yet, PSU’s chance of winning out is close to 11%, but Michigan’s chances of doing the same are negligibly small.
From there, the next closest teams (Indiana, Michigan State and Maryland) are in a 3-way pile up balanced on the 3- and 4-win modes. Indiana, has sole possession of the 4-win mode, followed by the Terps and Sparty sharing the 3-win mode.
Power Rank Results
Meanwhile, the Power Rank continues to predict the tightest race of the three ratings in the B1GE. OSU and PSU show nearly identical distributions with 7-win modes that lean slightly toward 8 wins. UM is still close behind with a 6-win mode that leans strongly toward 7 wins. UM has less than 3% likelihood of winning out, PSU almost 7%, and OSU, 9%. Maryland has sole occupancy of the 5-win mode, with a nearly identical distribution as Sparty, who has a 4-win mode.
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.
Watching the B1GW feels like being Chairman of the Bored
watching paint dry grass grow. Like a broken record - next rotation, same groove. In the B1G West, the S&P+ results show the Badgers’ death grip on the top position. The Badgers are in a sense in contention with only themselves for the B1GW title. The Badgers are the only team in the West 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 may well have already locked up its bid to Indy. Anyway, the only notable change is a slight erosion of the Badgers margin to 2.8 expected wins over the next closest competitors, now Nebraska, after the Badgers vanquished the Wildcats, and Minnesota screwed the pooch in front of its home crowd versus Maryland. An invitation to the B1GCG in Indy seems nearly a foregone conclusion for Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa within one expected B1G win of each other. Purdue continues to bubble up from the bottom despite dropping a game to Michigan. Purdue is now 1.3 expected wins ahead of the Illini and is less than two games back of Nebraska, who faces Wisconsin and OSU next. Further coalescence in the middle of the B1GW can be anticipated.
The FPI results for the B1G West show the Badgers with and even wider lead than does S&P+, now with better than 7.9 expected B1G wins. With a margin in excess of 3.3 wins over next-best Northwestern (who it just beat) at 4.6 expected wins, the Badgers only risk may be
stooping getting down on its hands-and-knees 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 10 points. As for second tier, less than 1.3 expected wins separate the middle five teams in the B1GW. The biggest margin therein is between the ‘Cats and Gophers at 0.6 wins.
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, but with only about 6.5 expected B1G wins. Wisconsin’s lead over next-best Nebraska is by a much narrower margin of 1.7 expected wins. Like the other ratings, PR expects the Badgers toughest match will be when it hosts Michigan, which as mentioned earlier, looks to be a toss-up at this point. The Hawkeyes lag the Huskers by just 0.5 at 4.3 expected B1G wins, with the Gophers just another 0.1 behind Iowa. PR’s love for the Boilers, or perhaps its disdain for the Illini, appears to be growing, as the Boilers are now 1.4 expected B1G wins better than the Illini.
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 in the 8-win mode, with only the slightest lean back toward the 7-win mode. As such, Wisconsin is the only team in the B1GW with any prospect for winning out, which now stands at 21.3%.
Nebraska is next-best, claim sole possession of the 5-win mode. The next four teams are clustered between the 4-win and 3-win modes, not the least of whom is Purdue. Dropping out of the bottom is of course, Illinois, standing alone the 2-win mode.
FPI tells a similar story as S&P+ regarding the Badgers’ separation from the rest of the B1GW. The Badgers are holding steady in an 8-win mode, with the best and only prospect for winning out, at nearly 31% (only 5 points less than OSU). The next-best is Northwestern showing a 5-win mode that leans heavily toward 4 wins. From there, the next four are in a jumble between the 4-win and 3-win modes. FPI shows the Illini heading toward rock bottom with a 1-win mode.
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 balanced in the 7-win mode and leaning heavily toward 6 wins. This creates an opportunity for Nebraska, when it meets Wisconsin next week, to knock the Badgers off their pedestal and blow the whole race wide open. The door is open for next three - Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern – who all share the 4-win mode to at least keep pace. Meanwhile, the Boilers remain firmly balanced at a 3-win mode, 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 winning out at about 4%, about half of OSU’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 5 charts, which includes a few bonus nuggets not presented in the diary.