Coming off a .500 weekend last week in college football. 2-0 on “Big Plays”, 2-3 on “Other Plays”, 1-2 on “MP Leans”. This week, for the first time, I’m doing a write-up of the big plays. Lines are widely available as of 11:30am EDT on Wednesday. As always, they are based on the M-P ratings and do not take into account injuries, situational analysis, or matchup factors. Without further ado, here are the plays for this week:
Big Plays (7-7 YTD)
Florida State -15.5 vs. Maryland
- Florida State (Overall/Off/Def: 3/4/9)
- Maryland (55/77/40)
That Maryland has managed to crack the AP Top 25 this week shows how outcome-based the polls really are. Massey-Peabody has them a full 30 spots worse at #55. But they are undefeated! So they must be good! (rolls eyes)
Where Maryland has excelled this season has been on the defensive side of the ball, where they have allowed just 10.3 points per game, third best in the nation. Florida State has given up slightly more points per game (15), but substantially fewer yards per play (3.86) than Maryland (4.97). Sure enough, Maryland is 3rd best this season in defensive scoring efficiency, one of the stats used in the Massey-Peabody model. This means that Maryland has done an excellent job of not letting opponents convert yards into points. However, given their defense’s standing in play value (13th), play success (16th), and fundamental rushing (22nd), the other M-P stats, it appears they’ve been lucky in scoring defense.
What really hurts Maryland in our model is their prior. They were below average on defense last year, and despite the improvement we’ve seen, we’ve found empirically that we can’t just wipe the slate clean and pretend last year didn’t happen. Often when a team exhibits such a drastic change from the year before, analysts and pundits form a narrative trying to explain the change–maybe it’s a coaching change, a culture change, the development of players… Maybe there are circumstances that cause a more rapid change (it makes intuitive sense that a coaching change could have that effect) but there aren’t any reasonable explanations readily available in the case of Maryland. Historical data show that last year’s performance– as well as recruiting and returning starters–are still meaningful in forecasting future performance. For that reason, we are selling Maryland here and taking a far superior Florida State team laying the points.
Akron +5.5 vs. Ohio
- Akron (Overall/Off/Def: 100/102/95)
- Ohio (104/97/101)
This lines was +6.5 when I wrote this yesterday, but there is still plenty of value at +5.5. Akron has yet to win a game against an FBS team. Ohio is 3-1 coming off three straight wins. But as we continually preach, outcome does not tell the whole story. Akron was a yard away from winning at Michigan (MP #22), lost on the road to UCF (MP #33), and lost by 5 to Louisiana-Lafayette (MP #75). Ohio was trounced by #11 Louisville before narrowly beating #89 North Texas and #68 Marshall at home (they also won handily over FCS opponent Austin Peay). But scores don’t tell the entire story either. Controlling for home field and opponent, Akron has been better than Ohio this season on both offense and defense for all four M-P statistics. Why is Akron an underdog? Because they are 1-4 and Ohio is 3-1. And because Akron went 1-11 last year and Ohio went 9-4 (including a blowout win in the Independence Bowl). In my write-up of the Florida State/Maryland game, I noted that performance the previous season still has a substantial impact on ratings, even five weeks into the season. If you look at the team’s ratings, you’ll see Akron is only marginally better than Ohio, despite outperforming them in every statistic we utilize. This is because Ohio’s prior was a lot higher than Akron’s. So for anyone who says our ratings rely too heavily on our priors, this game should be to your liking!
San Diego State -4.5 vs. Nevada
- San Diego State (Overall/Off/Def: 59/83/46)
- Nevada (103/58/114)
To call Nevada a bad defensive team would be a massive understatement. Controlling for home field, game situation, and opponent strength, Nevada’s defense ranks 116th this year in fundamental rushing, 120th in play value, 117th in play success, and 84th in scoring efficiency. They’ve been lucky to only allow 42.8 point per game to FBS opponents! Yet Nevada does have two FBS wins, winning at home vs. #110 Hawaii (who does not travel well) and #107 Air Force. On offense, Nevada’s strength is their run games, which is 0.1 standard deviations above average this year. Everything else has been subpar, but they’re still ranked 58th on offense due our prior being a little above average (the prior contributes +1.45 points on offense to their overall rating).
San Diego State lost their season opener at home to Eastern Illinois, an FCS team. Since that game is not considered in our rating system, their ratings is probably a little inflated. In games we can evaluate, San Diego State has played poorly on offense, but been solid on defense, ranking above average in every category except scoring efficiency. Their deficiency in scoring efficiency makes sense, given their turnover margin of -6, which ranks 118th in the country. In contrast, Nevada is +7 in turnovers, 9th in the country. As always, we are in the business of separating process from outcome–San Diego State has had some bad breaks, while Nevada has benefited from some positive variance.
Florida -10.5 vs. Arkansas
- Florida (Overall/Off/Def: 4/27/2)
- Arkansas (53/49/48)
Florida is ranked #4 in our ratings but only #18 in the AP poll. Why? They lost a game a close game a few weeks ago on the road to a good Miami team. If they had squeaked out the win, they’re at least 10 spots higher in the polls. This could also be a case of the market overreacting to the Travis Driscoll injury. The fact that Driscoll, not Murphy, was the starter is informative and causes us to downgrade Florida a bit, but the strength of the Florida team is its 2nd-ranked defense. Arkansas will play its 6th game in as many weeks, coming off of losses to Texas A&M and Rutgers. While there’s not doubt they’ve made strides with Bielema replacing Smith, their offense is mediocre and will have some trouble scoring against Florida. The only case I can make for Arkansas is if Florida struggles on offense with Murphy and goes uber-conservative. Florida is a much better team, and we’re comfortable laying the points here.
Notre Dame +6 vs. Arizona State
- Notre Dame (Overall/Off/Def: 21/31/17)
- Arizona State (25/17/43)
Notre Dame remains high in our ratings despite losses this season to Michigan and Oklahoma. Arizona State has impressed on offense, but if not for an officiating gaffe at the end of their Sept. 21 game vs. Wisconsin, would also have two losses. Notre Dame hasn’t really showed much in its wins, squeaking by Michigan State at home , coming from behind to beat Purdue on the road, and winning by only 22 in their opener vs. Temple. Why does Notre Dame remain so high? Because they were a darn good team last year, and despite the QB change, we expected they would still be very good. Arizona State has unquestionably been the better team so far this season, but by just a few points. Even if you throw out the priors entirely, there is value on Notre Dame here as a some dog.
Other Plays (8-20 YTD)
- Mississippi -2.5 at Auburn
- Temple +34 vs. Louisville
MP Leans (3-4 YTD)
- Miami (FL) -5 vs. Georgia Tech
- Louisiana Tech +0 at UTEP
- Central Michigan -3 at Miami (OH)
(note that this post was edited at 12:10pm EDT since it wasn’t categorized properly originally)