College football was in rare form last weekend. With Texas being back (maybe), the Sun Belt Conference won three massive games (and got paid $4.5 million to do it) and there were countless overtimes. The weekend was a little more chaotic than usual, with FPI picking 67-15 (.817) and ZeLO going 62-20 (.757), but still good picking weekends all the same.
Before getting to my picks, there is one crucial thing to note about this week’s column. Last week I said I would be running the first four weeks of the season off of my original projections. I lied. Well, sort of.
After last weekend, I decided to try and blend the stats I had projected with the actual stats that the teams have generated. The main reason for this was USC (though I suppose ND contributed to the change negatively, but let’s not talk about that).
ZeLO had them as a mediocre team, but the Trojans are putting up some solid numbers, and deserve credit for them. So, from now until about Week 5, I will be operating with a mixed rating for each team, with the projections getting less weight as time goes on.
Florida State @ Louisville
FSU is a -2.5 favorite as they head on the road to face Louisville, and I honestly really like that line. I think Louisville is a good team as they won a good game against UCF last week on Friday.
However, ZeLO has Florida State as the favorite, though Louisville is expected to cover.
Florida State gets the win (52%) in a nail-biter.
No. 13 Miami @ No. 24 Texas A&M
While this matchup was originally College Gameday’s game of the week, they are no longer following Texas A&M after they lost to Appalachian State. Suddenly, Miami is the higher-ranking team heading into College Station, but still the underdogs, though the line has shrunk by a few points down to 5.5.
What was a game that ZeLO had been projecting Texas A&M to win comfortably is now a game that ZeLO has Miami winning by a razor-thin margin of .0073%. The spread ZeLO gave the game is -.5 Miami, so Miami should win the contest and, of course, beat the spread.
No. 12 BYU @ No. 25 Oregon
Last weekend BYU played one of the more exciting games against Baylor. A battle of top-25 teams that needed overtime to find a winner. BYU was able to get the narrow win at home but now faces what is arguably a tougher task, go on the road and beat another top-25 team.
BYU’s new ranking is due primarily to their win over Baylor (not to mention Oregon’s thrashing at the hands of Georgia).
BYU is favored to win their third game of the season (60.3%). Oregon will be a 3.5 dog at home, which certainly feels crazy, but their poor performance against Georgia hurt their rating. It will be up to the Ducks to prove they deserve a better ranking.
Toledo @ No. 3 Ohio State
This feels like a random add, but Toledo has been one of ZeLO’s favorite teams all preseason and off-season. Now, as the Rockets head to the horseshoe, 31.5 underdogs against the Ohio State juggernaut, all hope seems lost for Toledo. Or does it?
Do not get me wrong; this is the perfect storm for all the model’s biases, its tendency to pick underdog covers, G5 teams being more potent than they should and the model just randomly liking Toledo.
ZeLO currently has Ohio State as the favorite, with a 67.5% chance to win the game. Now Ohio State is still an 18.5-point favorite (the difference between the percentage and the spread is likely because I changed the spread formula).
Ohio State should undoubtedly win, but Toledo has a solid chance to cover, and as we saw last weekend, all the little Group of 5 teams has to do to have a chance is play the game.
No. 11 Michigan State @ Washington
I picked this game not just because I am a Michigander and, by proxy, a Michigan sports fan but because MSU is the underdog in this game. The Huskies are a 3.5 favorite against the Spartans, boasting two wins against Kent State and Portland State. I have no idea what these two wins tell us about Washington, but Vegas thinks they are significant enough to merit points on a highly ranked team.
Currently, ZeLO has MSU with a 50.8% favorite with a -.5 spread. I think that MSU should be able to take care of this game convincingly, but both ZeLO and Vegas are seeing something I am not, which might make the result worth keeping an eye on.
California @ Notre Dame
Last weekend I made a joke about ZeLO taking Notre Dame to lose against Marshall. Evidently, that joke aged about as well as an egg salad-tuna fish sandwich left out in the ND Stadium parking lot because, lo and behold, ND lost.
And yes, I made a joke about Notre Dame’s performance being so bad that it generated a change in the models operating procedure, but, jokes aside, that was a legitimate reason I made the change.
Originally Notre Dame was classified as a heavy favorite to beat California; it’s a home game for ND, they were a top-20 team and their opponent was a west coast team. Those are great reasons
for ND to easily win any game, especially California.
But given the uncertainty surrounding the team, acting like the team is living up expectations (which were already lower than average) was not an option.
So now, ND is currently averaging a 6-6 record. Luckily, California is one of those wins; ND has a 65.4% chance of winning this weekend’s matchup. And while that victory might be good news, Cal is currently expected to cover the 10.5 spread, with an expected ND margin of victory at 4.