Super Prediction Action Machine ("SPAM") is the name coined on BHGP for an algorithm I developed during the 2013 season of Iowa football to predict the outcome of football games. The algorithm does not look at winners or losers, nor national rankings. It considers only a few discrete statistics: (1) yard and points gained/scored and surrendered; (2) against who; (3) relative ranking of overall offense and defense compared to other FBS schools. By normalizing points-per-yard to a standard and applying that standard to upcoming opponents, the algorithm predicts how many points should be scored and given up by each team and, thus, who wins.
If you followed SPAM this year, you know SPAM did pretty well, overall, and I've updated it from week to week. This week I present the SPAM analysis of Iowa versus LSU in the Outback Bowl.
First, some data. LSU is ranked 14th in the AP and Coach's poll, but 16th in the BCS, whose computers are slightly less impressed with LSU than the pollsters. LSU is 9-3, with losses to then #9 Georgia, unranked Ole Miss, and then #1 Alabama. LSU dispatched Auburn 35-21 back in September, and handled TA&M 34-10 just before Thanksgiving. To compare, the Saban-led LSU team Iowa beat in the 2005 Capital One Bowl was 10-2. LSU '13 also presents a match-up problem for Iowa. The Tigers' defense (#30th in points allowed, 22.7 per game) is excellent and Iowa lost to every good defense it faced (MSU, Ohio State, Wisconsin). On offense, LSU is 22nd nationally, averaging 37.0 points per game, better than the Hawkeyes by more than a touchdown per game.
For our part, 2013 Iowa is a Frankenteam, a hastily stitched together patchwork offense interweaving two opposing and mutually exclusively philosophies into one incoherent mess that inexplicably works for about 14-18 minutes per game because Iowa has a steady hand at the wheel in Rudock, uncommon tailback depth, and just enough spit and gristle to squeeze out 20-odd points per game. That'll win you two-thirds of your games when you also come to town with the nation's 10th best defense swinging from your hip. Iowa also has an X-factor, which is the vitriolic sting of last year's 4-8 campaign. You need only look at the jubilation of KF's face when he held the Heroes Trophy up after the Nebraska game to understand how bad that stung him.
Speaking of Ferentz, let's talk about his post-season prowess. Kirk Ferentz loves two things: punts and pantsing collegiate bluebloods. You think Ferentz burns to conclude 2013 at 9-4 with a New Year's Day bowl win over a Top 20 opponent from the SEC? Ferentz lives for this kind of game. He's 4-1 against current SEC teams, with post-season wins over Nick Saban (then at LSU), Steve Spurrier (So. Carolina), Gary Pinkel (Mizzou), and Ron Zook (Florida). Ferentz has also had Mack Brown and Urban Meyer within reach in his bowl history. Also, recall that unranked 7-5 Iowa, with freshman Marcus Coker starting for the first time at tailback, upset #12 Mizzou (10-2) led by then-soon-to-be first round draft pick Blaine Gabbert. Granted, two of those wins have elements of destiny about them: Hyde's pick-six against Mizzou and The Catch at the Capital One Bowl in 2005. You can't count on that to win, but South Carolina and Florida were quality drubbings. 2013 Iowa is more akin to 2004 and 2010 Iowa, so I think if we beat LSU, it'll be more the LSU/Mizzou nail-biter than a thorough asskicking. Kirk Ferentz is the Tom Izzo of bowl games, and Iowa will need every bit of that post-season magic to win this game.
SPAM predicts 24.70 points for Iowa and 26.81 for LSU. The decimals are an artifact of how the points are calculated, using normalized points-per-yard. What this basically means is that the LSU defense should be expected to hold Iowa slightly below its season average on offense, and the Iowa defense should be expected to hold LSU well below its season average on offense. However, SPAM just doesn't think there's enough there to flip this to Iowa's side.
Now, bear in mind that this is a "neutral field" situation. If you run the model treating it as a home game, Iowa pulls ahead, but just barely. A big Iowa fan presence, combined with the Kirk Ferentz bowl game mojo we've come to expect, just might be enough to make this a Hawkeye win. Maybe!
I haven't seen what the spread is on this game yet, but I'm going to guess it'll settle in the high single digits. SPAM thinks this game will be closer than that and I'm inclined to agree. I'd take Iowa to cover almost regardless of what the spread is. My heart tells me this game keeps Iowa rolling and we come out and surprise LSU with a win, setting up 2014 beautifully, but I think Iowa needs some special teams and/or defensive scores, or some Nebraska-style implosion to make it happen.
Also, we can expect a lot of Tate-to-Holloway talk leading up to it, too. That'll be fun to relive.