8/27, 1:15pm ET: Big 10 Win Totals
Might as well just keep rolling through these, since I have serious writer's block (combined with apathy) with 2 other topics I wanted to work on today. Big 10! The conference with the most polarizing division in history, featuring 4 legitimate top-15 teams, maybe even 4 top-10 teams, and then...the rest. Don't need to re-hash what's been happening at some of those places, suffice to say it isn't great.
Purdue under 6 -130
What Jeff Brohm did last year still blows my mind. There's a Patreon content provider, @CFBMatrix, who has some pretty wild ideas about statistics and analysis, and tries to create metrics that explain things. He has something called Coach Effect, which is kind of exactly what you think it would be, the extent to which the quality of a coach helps or hurts his team within a given season. Some numbers make sense intuitively -- Pat Fitzgerald has a positive coach effect most years. Larry Fedora does not. You'll see a +1/+2, or a -1/-2 with some frequency. Last year, I think he gave Brohm a +6. It's just insane. He took a program from the toilet to...I dunno, somewhere else in the bathroom. The shower, to make it look better? Whatever. The problem is, in his 2nd year, when the logical expectation is "now let's REALLY do some damage and get moving upwards!" it's almost a start-over in a lot of ways. And the schedule is as brutal as possible.
Purdue's 3 non-conference games are vs Eastern Michigan (not at all a cupcake, but a win a reasonably high percentage of the time), vs Missouri, and vs Boston College. Mizzou and BC are 2 programs that really can go in all kinds of directions this year (I would say the most likely direction for BC is up and for Missouri is sideways), but that's a lot of volatility opposing you when you aren't fielding a very talented team to begin with. Purdue's recruiting minus attrition really just puts them behind the 8 ball compared to a lot of other Power 5 schools, especially in their own conference. Coaching and coordinators can only do so much. In conference play, after that slate, they draw Ohio State, at Michigan State, and at Indiana, 2 of which are very likely losses, and 1 is (at best) a toss-up. 5 conference road games this year too, and although one of them is at Illinois, it does tend to beg the question of where the likely wins are, or the pieces of wins, if you are someone who does the win-total addition that way based on spread. Minnesota and Nebraska would represent small advantage games, but now those are both on the road. Northwestern is a small dog Thursday night almost certainly because no one really knows if Clayton Thorson is 100 percent. Power ratings in that game with a healthy Thorson should be closer to a pk or NW -1.
All those scheduling factors aside, Purdue succeeded last year mostly with balance. They had a Top-40 defense in S&P, but they weren't really bad in any other areas (offense was top-70, special teams adequate), and they were extraordinarily well-coached. This year, they are almost dead last in the country in returning defensive production, a monster problem for a program that doesn't recruit at an elite level. They bring back a lot of offensive starters, but in terms of offensive stats that correlate positively to improved record and performance, receiving yards is actually a strong indicator. They lost both top wideouts from last year, and a projected starter, Jared Sparks, is starting the season injured. There just isn't a lot here past the coaches and quarterbacks, and that only gets you so far on this schedule.
Michigan State over 9 -105
A lot of your opinions about the Big 10 this year hinge on, in my opinion, your analysis of Penn State. I think analysis of Ohio State will almost always yield the same thing -- that they are close to #1 in the country. An analysis of Michigan will yield results that they are insanely talented (less so now at WR obviously) but the schedule is so rigorous that there is uncertainty in their possible record, hence 9 is a number that actually makes a lot of sense. But Penn State...what are they? Are they going to be a reflection of their dominant recent recruiting, combined with Trace McSorley has potentially the best college QB in the country this season? Or is this more of a bridge season, required because of the attrition from both sides in terms of real meaningful production. I think it's a bridge year, and while it may be a 9-3 bridge year, it means I think the other Big 10 powers are more likely to beat Penn State than not.
That's sort of related to Michigan State's win total, because the 2 teams play (duh). And at Penn State is the only remotely scary road game on the docket, unless Nebraska transforms itself by the end of the season (which is possible, just not likely in this short of a time frame. Nebraska's year is next year, and the year after). The schedule really does play out favorably. Michigan and Ohio State both come to East Lansing, only 4 conference road games, and at Indiana/at Maryland are 2 of them. It's not quite Illinois or Rutgers, but it's still favorable as a draw. They avoid Wisconsin. The non-conference is a feisty but generally less-talented Utah State team, at Arizona State (who I can't really be down on more than I am), and Central Michigan, who despite great coaching has a ton of production to replace. That's 3-0 a really high percentage of the time, and considering the conference schedule and their overall returning production, this is the right price to make this bet.
Not to get everyone too hyped about Michigan State, but the year they made the playoff, obviously a lot had to break right, but the recruiting rankings and the returning production were quite similar to what's coming back this year. Does that manifest itself in terms of the development of the top-end talent required? Unknown. Also the coaching staff will be a little less experienced. Still, playoff or not, Big 10 title or not, 10-2 (or better) is quite reachable given all factors involved.