Now that Turkey Day is behind us, it is time to start turning our collective attention to The Game on Saturday — as if that hasn’t already been occupying every single thought that we’ve had for the past month. We have had a ton of conversations with college football experts in the podcast feed this week (and we will have more before kickoff), discussing everything from the sign-stealing scandal to how the talent stacks up to how much J.J. McCarthy misses Jim Harbaugh to the emergence of TreVeyon Henderson to why Marvin Harrison Jr. is a legit Heisman contender and much more.
But sometimes, all of that talking can get to be a bit much. So, we are going to dive into the hard numbers here by looking at what some of the analytical models across the college football landscape are saying about the game.
What Does SP+ Predict for The Game?
SP+ from ESPN’s Bill Connelly is considered by most to be the gold standard in the CFB analytics game, but like all analytical systems, there’s no real way for SP+ to take into account the impacts of sign-stealing or the offensive struggles that the Corn and Blue have had over the last two games. Therefore, considering the season as a whole, the SP+ model has the Harboys at No. 1 and the Buckeyes at No. 3.
Clearly, the OSU offense is not nearly as highly ranked as it has been in recent years, where Connelly’s metrics routinely had it as the top unit in the country. So while Ohio State’s 19th-rated offense is a bit of a stumble, the fact that SP+ has Jim Knowles’ defense as the top-performing side in the country this season is mindboggling, especially for those of us who have lived through the last few seasons where that side of the ball robbed the Buckeyes of legitimate chances to win multiple national titles.
SP+ Rankings for The Game
Special Teams Ranking|
Special Teams Ranking|
While the Mitten Men are ranked higher in both offensive and special teams metrics (how in the hell is OSU No. 13 in special teams?), the scoring margin and win probability that SP+ is spitting out are fairly close. If the absence of their head coach matters at all, that very well could erase any advantage that the home team in tomorrow’s game comes in with.
SP+ Score Prediction: TTUN 26, Ohio State 20
SP+ TTUN Win Probability: 64%
What Do the College Football Nerds Predict for The Game?
On the podcast on Thanksgiving Day, we released an episode in which I spoke with Josh from the College Football Nerds who have been doing great analytical breakdowns of the biggest game in college football for years. This season, they have opened up their model to the world on their website collegefootballnerds.com.
Before we got into the metrics of the game, Josh dipped into his day job knowledge as a high-powered lawyer to explain just how ludicrous much of the reaction to TTUN’s blatant cheating scheme has been, especially when people whose only insight into the law is “A Few Good Men” and Judge Judy.
But once we dove into the numbers, Josh admitted that the model is not built to take into account the obvious changes that the Skunk Bears have gone through since the sign-stealing operation was exposed. So, while the metrics might be pointing to the Meerkats, the trends are clearly in Ohio State’s favor.
So much so that both he and Daniel actually went against their model in their 41-minute video breakdown of The Game and picked the Buckeyes to win.
College Football Nerds Score Prediction: TTUN 23.9, Ohio State 17.1
Daniel’s Prediction: Ohio State 27, TTUN 17
Josh’s Prediction: Ohio State 24, TTUN 21
College Football Nerds Stat Projections
Yards Per Play|
Watch the College Football Nerds breakdown The Game:
What Does the NCAA Game Simulator Predict for The Game?
I have been including the NCAA Game Simulator in our Saturday morning “Tailgate” podcasts for five years. Since it allows people to run multiple simulations, it provides a detailed analysis of every game sim. While most models only tell you the score projection, this one tells you percentages of how all of its sims played out.
As of publishing time, the Simulator has run 10,834 simulations and things are looking pretty good for the Buckeyes, even without taking into account all of the hullabaloo around their blatant cheating tactics.
NCAA Game Simulator Prediction: Ohio State 24.1, TTUN 21.8
Ohio State won 6,063 times (56.1%)
Michigan won 4,747 times (43.9%)
Ohio State won by >20 pts 1,438 times (13.3%)
Michigan won by >20 pts 843 times (7.8%)
Number of games that went to overtime: 415 (3.8%)
Number of games decided by < 5 pts 2,781 times (25.7%)
What Does FPI Predict for The Game?
ESPN’s Football Power Index doesn’t technically pick games, but in a head-to-head matchup in a regular season finale in which the winner is the division champion, they kind of do. Even though the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in FPI’s rankings and have the best chance to win the national title of any team in the country, they are actually not favored to win the game according to the metrics. FPI is giving TTUN a 54.5% win probability in this game.
Because Ohio State’s schedule includes a road win over Notre Dame, the model is giving the Buckeyes a great chance to make the College Football Playoff even if they lose The Game. For context, I have included the national rankings for each percentage for non-Big Ten-specific metrics.
FPI Standings for The Game
Win Out Including Conference Championship|
77.1% (No. 2)|
61.5% (No. 3)|
Make Title Game|
44.9% (No. 2)|
35.1% (No. 3)|
Win CFP Title|
26.1% (No. 1)|
19.8% (No. 3)|
What Do the Oddsmakers Predict for The Game?
And while Las Vegas is not technically an analytics system, oddsmakers do curiously set lines pretty dang close to what most of the high-quality models do. So, let’s take a look at what our friends at DraftKings SportsBook are saying about the game.
When the official odds came out for The Game on Sunday, the Muskrats were favored by four points, but that has come down a bit since then, and it now sits at 3.5. This means that Vegas is essentially projecting that this game is a pick ‘em if it were played on a neutral site, since most home teams get 3 to 3.5 points for playing at home.
Line: TTUN -3.5
Over/Under: 47 points
Ohio State Moneyline: +142
TTUN Moneyline: -170
Implied Final Score: ≈TTUN 25, Ohio State 22