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Explaining Ohio State's 2014 college football odds using advanced stats

The Golden Nugget Games of the Year were released yesterday - why were the Buckeyes favored in (just?) five of six games?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State was featured in six Golden Nugget games of the year, against Navy, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati,  Penn State, and Michigan State.

While these lines are the equivalent of a "way-too-early top 25" post, the Vegas oddsmakers are usually fairly accurate. Their income depends on their accuracy in things like this, afterall.

So how did they come up with the betting lines and do advanced statistics imply a different win probability for our Buckeyes? Thanks to Bill Connelly's early S&P+ projections for the 2014/5 season, we can take a look:

Team Line Proj. S&P+ Proj. Off. S&P+ Proj. Def. S&P+
Ohio State N/A 238.0 126.6 111.4
Navy +14 195.9 104.2 91.8
Virginia Tech +18 226.5 91.1 135.4
Cincinnati +21 203.3 102.0 101.4
Penn State +9 213.4 91.7 121.7
Michigan State -1 233.4 96.4 137.0
Michigan +8 217.6 108.7 108.9

* Note: All lines are from the point of view of Ohio State's opponent, i.e. the Buckeyes are favored in all games except against MSU.

So, right off the bat we can tell that Ohio State has a higher projected S&P+ score than all of their opponents, including MSU (where they are one-point dogs in the books). Ohio State has a significantly higher projected S&P+ score than these six opponents, especially in projected offensive S&P+, where they are projected third overall.

In fact, the order of Ohio State's most difficult opponents changes using advanced statistics, too. The lines suggest that the order of most difficult to least difficult games looks like: MSU, Michigan, Penn State, Navy, Virginia Tech, and Cincinnati. Using S&P+, it's: MSU, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State, Cincinnati, and then Navy.

All of these lines and the projected S&P+ scores are early and struggle to include personnel turnover, player development, coaching changes, and anything that happens between now and the matchups themselves. So what to make of all of that?

  1. Vegas generally awards around 3 points for home field advantage in their lines, meaning that the MSU game is more or less a push at this point. Just like the Big Ten Championship, we're supposedly looking at one of the best offenses against one of the best defenses. However, while the numbers don't include this, the key will likely be in the other matchup - the MSU offense versus the Ohio State defense.
  2. As Luke mentioned yesterday, the 18 point line for Virginia Tech seems steep, even if this is a less talented group than normal for Frank Beamer. Going by S&P+, the Hokies are the second-toughest game of the season and look nearly identical to the Spartans when you breakdown their projected offense and defense scores.
  3. The projected S&P+ scores do not say good things about Navy (Toledo and UTSA are ranked higher, for instance), but the line is only at OSU by 14 points. What explains that? Again, Luke is on the money with it being the first game of the season and against a unique offense. While the Buckeye defense struggled more with short passes (or seemingly any forward pass) than any kind of option or read-based play in 2013, it's always difficult to spend fall camp preparing first for an offense you will never see again during the season.
  4. The line for the Michigan game seems just about right after looking at the projected S&P+ scores. Ohio State has the edge on both offense and defense this far out from the season.

Overall Ohio State is in a good position according to both Vegas and the advanced statistics. While the matchup against the Spartans will be a tough one, we knew that already, didn't we?