SPAM - NCAA Football 2021 - Week 7 Preview, Week 6 Recap



I felt unjustifiably confident about Iowa beating Penn State. To the point that I brazenly and openly spoke of a double-digit margin of victory. And, frankly, given the turnovers, even in hindsight that wasn't outrageous.

Let's just get down to it. There are a few storylines that emerged from this game. The biggest one is obviously that Penn State starting QB S. Clifford was knocked out of the game after what sure looked to me like a clean hit, and I've yet to see anybody claim otherwise. That sucks for everybody, honestly, but nobody more than Mr. Clifford himself. Rest and heal well, young man.

And let's be very clear: having your starting QB knocked out of a road game against a ranked opponent impacts what happens in the rest of the game, and usually not for the better. To the extent that anybody, Penn State fan or not, contends that Iowa's victory would be less certain if Clifford could have finished, well, duh. Of course it is.

Unlike many of you, I don't spend much time wandering the hallways of opposing fan boards. Or at least, not in participating in them much. But, I gather, a narrative is emerging that, had Clifford stayed in, Penn State was going to blow Iowa out of the water, and the Hawkeyes got lucky that he got knocked out. That's certainly possible, perhaps even likely. But, I don't think the game was quite as lopsided as some are claiming.

At half time, Penn State had outgained Iowa 192-139, had 12 first downs to Iowa's 10, and was losing the TOP battle 11:30 to an absurd 18:30 for Iowa (due in part to Iowa having three turnovers). The score was 17-10 when we learned that Clifford was not returning.

Now, I suppose you could argue that Iowa was barely hanging on despite those 3 turnovers, and if Penn State cleans up their game, they roll all over Iowa. Maybe. Certainly possible. But one might argue instead that there is an overlooked counternarrative: that in any normal, sane game of tackle football, when your team has a -3 turnover margin in a road game, you ought to lose by double digits and are fortunate to be in the game at all.

We can play this game all day. The bottom line is that none of these hypotheticals are the game we got. Clifford had to leave the game and Iowa won. It sucks for Clifford, for Penn State fans who will live with "what if" forever, and even a tiny bit for Iowa fans since the legitimacy of the win is under absurd scrutiny. But, if you go look up Ohio State's 2009 Big 10 Championship, it doesn't have an asterisk that says: "*barely won at home in OT vs. Iowa's backup QB." Because injuries are part of the game. You go into battle, and you win or lose the battle, with the army you've got, not the army you want.



The other narrative is the absurdity of Iowa being ranked AP No. 2. Look, it's an ordinal poll, ok? It's not about "deserve" and it's not even mostly team quality (unless you're a blueblood, in which case quality is presumed). You know how the AP Poll works. Win, go up. Lose, go down. Which is dumb, but that's how it works. You get high rankings in the AP poll based on which teams you beat, when you beat them, and how strong your brand is. Iowa beat a Top 20 Indiana (no longer ranked), a Top 10 ISU on the road (no longer ranked), and now Top 5 Penn State (who lost rankings after being beaten). If you reverse the order of Iowa's wins, to where Iowa's wins over Indiana and ISU were of unranked team and PSU was only #19, do you think those 6-0 Hawkeyes are ranked #2 ahead of 6-0 Oklahoma, 5-1 Ohio State, 6-0 Michigan, or even 5-1 Notre Dame? Probably not. We'd be getting the same treatment as 6-0 Wake Forest - languishing somewhere in the low teens.

And maybe that's where Iowa belongs. Who knows? This is why the AP Poll is a stupid game, though as a byproduct of emergent consensus, it's at least less transparently contrived to engineer compelling television programming. Whether they "should" be or not, your Iowa Hawkeyes are ranked #2. Next week Georgia plays undefeated #11 Kentucky. Who knows? If the Bulldogs lose and Iowa takes care of business at home vs. Purdue, we could be #1.

So shut up and have fun.

Elsewhere in the league, not much happened. Wisconsin will probably be tough by the time Iowa goes to play them in Madison, and I still think 10-2 is probably Iowa's most likely outcome this season, so there's a lot of season left to play here. Also, I've been warning you people for years that Nebraska is sneaking up on us. Well, they're not sneaking any more. Don't be fooled by their record, this team is dangerous. Everybody doing analytics sees it. The Nebraska fans see it. Despite the loss this week, they are constantly just a few plays away from winning these games. Also, of particular alarm, the gap between Iowa and Nebraska has been closing all year, and this week it flipped.

SPAM now has the Cornhuskers favored.

I'm going to keep posting this until it's a mathematical impossibility for it to be true:

Here's your SPAM prediction results for week 6.

Maryland @ #7 Ohio State
Vegas says: OSU -21.0
SPAM says: OSU -12.5
SPAM Picks: OSU win, MD cover (LOL, hit, miss)

#11 Michigan State @ Rutgers
Vegas says: MI -5.5
SPAM says: Rut -4.1
SPAM Picks: Rut win and cover (wtf...) (........................)

Wisconsin @ Illinois
Vegas says: WI -10.0
SPAM says: WI -5.2
SPAM Picks: WI win, IL cover (hit, miss)

#4 Penn State @ #3 Iowa (well, there's a sentence I never expected to write...)
Vegas says: IA -1.5
SPAM says: IA -7.5
SPAM Picks: IA win and cover (hey! ONCE AGAIN, SPAM has Iowa right, win AND cover)

#9 Michigan at Nebraska
Vegas says: MI -3.5
SPAM says: NE -2.1
SPAM Picks: NE win and cover (ooof)

This week, SPAM went 3-2 straight up and 1-4 ATS, again getting only the Iowa game right on the cover. This brings SPAM's season record to 22-37-1 ATS and 29-18 straight up. This continues to be SPAM's worse season ever, though after this coming week, it won't be at all based on 2020 data. While that might in theory make it more accurate, what I'm learning here is that this season is just plain bonkers.


Here's the updated SPAM projections for the rest of Iowa's season based on the season to date.

Game by Game

Opponent Margin Win%
Indiana 9.1 W (1-0)
@Iowa State -2.0 W (2-0)
Kent State 9.8 W (3-0)
Colorado State 15.7 W (4-0)
@Maryland 9.6 W (5-0)
Penn State 10.5 W (6-0)
Purdue 10.5 74.9%
@Wisconsin 2.6 59.0%
@Northwestern 4.7 63.6%
Minnesota 11.4 76.5%
Illinois 14.4 81.3%
@Nebraska -1.3 44.0%

The weird swing here is Nebraska, which moved BIGLY from Iowa having more than a field goal advantage to Nebraska being favored slightly at home. The gap also generally narrowed with Wisconsin and Minnesota, and for as bad as Northwestern is, the mere 4.7 advantage has me nervous. What this says is that Iowa in 2021 is actually not as good, relative to its peers, as Iowa 2020 was. That doesn't mean 2021 isn't a better team, but that, relative to its peers, it's not. Just get ready for the "Iowa is an Imposter" narrative until Iowa loses, which will, of course, prove the narrative.

Black and gold is sus.

Record Projection

Record Odds
7-5 n/a
8-4 7.6%
9-3 22.4%
10-2 34.7%
11-1 26.3%
12-0 7.6%

These numbers didn't move much because SPAM already expected Iowa to beat Penn State handily. In fact, SPAM shot Iowa's odds up to a double digit victory after factoring in Week 6 data. Huh!

Iowa's numbers actually regressed a bit this week, because Nebraska is now projected to beat Iowa.

Division Championship Odds

Big 10 West

Team Champ. Odds
Iowa 85.92%
Wisconsin 5.8%
Minnesota 2.0%
Purdue 1.3%
Northwestern 1.2%
Nebraska 0.9%
Illinois 0.1%

Iowa is 3-0 in conference play and no other B1G West team has more than 1 conference win. A heads-up win against any team in the West effectively knocks them out of the race. Likewise, any team that loses to a non-Iowa conference foe is adding to their challenge level. The Hawkeyes play Purdue next, followed by an idle week before a crucial matchup in Madison, which I will be attending.

A loss to Wisconsin leaves the door open for the Badgers to somehow claim this crown. Assuming Wisconsin and Iowa both beat Purdue, the Hawks would be 4-1 in conference play and Wisconsin would be 3-2. If Iowa loses another game after that, Wisconsin has the tie-breaker. But, that also requires Wisconsin to finish unblemished, and SPAM does not see that as a high likelihood. SPAM doesn't have Wisconsin favored by more than 4 points in any of its remaining games, and has Wisconsin the underdog against Nebraska, and favored by just 1.3 against Purdue and Minnesota, and 1.9 vs Rutgers.

Big 10 East

Team Champ. Odds
Ohio State 51.4%
Michigan 24.2%
Michigan State 8.7%
Penn State 8.5%
Indinia 0.5%
Maryland 0.1%

Is Rutgers mathematically eliminated already? In 100,000 simulations, there was NO scenario where Rutgers wins the east. Anyway, PSU's loss moves Michigan up to the #2 spot. MSU also continues to climb the ladder. Penn State isn't out of it yet but the road is awfully rocky now. Note that the margin of difference between MSU and PSU is small. I re-ran this simulation several times while trying to understand MSU's numbers (see below) and MSU and PSU both flipped around a few times.

[Edit: I wrote this post on Sunday but this weird hate for Michigan State was bugging me so I went in search of answers and I found them. I had to tinker with some of SPAM's code in 2020. The original simulator was written on the assumption that everybody plays a 12 game regular season, but in 2020, that didn't happen. It also tracks schedules by week number (week 0, week 1), but "week 1" for Iowa was like week 7 for everybody else. Tracking these games in code is already a nightmare and the pandemic made it even more frustrating. Those code changes are still in there and they were monkeying a bit with the numbers. Not much, though. After I cleaned up that little bit, I discovered the problem with MSU: it's the yards given up. SPAM is giving Michigan State an overall low defensive rating relative to its competition because of that. I'm not sure their rating seems so starkly at odds, but it might be the big gap between points given up (top 30 team) and yards (like ... 90th). You don't see such a big gap very often and it's making the "point-value" calculation really wonky.]


I'll update these once we get opening lines.

#10 Michigan State at Indiana
Vegas says:
SPAM says: Indiana -4.3 (seriously, why does SPAM hate MSU so much!?)
SPAM Picks:

Nebraska at Minnesota
Vegas says:
SPAM says: NE -5.8
SPAM Picks:

Rutgers at Northwestern
Vegas says:
SPAM says: Northwestern -4.7
SPAM Picks:

Purdue at #2 Iowa
Vegas says:
SPAM says: Iowa -10.5
SPAM Picks:

Army at Wisconsin (what? why?)
Vegas says:
SPAM says: Army -0.2
SPAM Picks:

Have fun! If you get down, get down with responsibility and caution. Only gamble what you can afford to lose. Disclaimer: I am not a gambler, bettor, picker, grinner, lover, sinner, joker, smoker, or midnight toker. I provide this data for fun and games only. You alone are responsible for all of the terrible and costly decisions you make resulting from your completely unjustifiable reliance on it.

Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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