By any approach, Week 11 in the 2014 College Football season appears to be one of the more impactful to the final rankings and playoff seeding. Based on our College Football Power Rankings, there are ten games involving two top 40 teams and four games involving two top 15 teams. That being said, while we started our analysis for Week 6 with a similar conversation, we expected chaos to reign at that time. Do not expect something similar this week. If anything, current favorites should strengthen their positions atop the college football landscape, further separating themselves from the rest of the FBS. One great example of this is projected to take place in East Lansing, Michigan, where Michigan State hosts Ohio State in what is almost assuredly a College Football Playoff and Big Ten Championship elimination game for the loser.
Michigan State is 7-1 straight-up and 4-3 against-the-spread versus the nation's 58th ranked schedule to-date. The Spartans have won six straight games, all by at least five points, since falling to the Oregon Ducks (our #5 team in the College Football Power Rankings) on the road in mid-September. Michigan State currently ranks seventh in our College Football Power Rankings. With stellar play from junior quarterback and NFL prospect Connor Cook as well as its typically dominant defense, Michigan State is the only FBS team that ranks in the top ten in offensive passing efficiency and defensive passing efficiency. Michigan State out-gains its opponents by more than three yards-per-pass and has a resounding national lead in sack margin, allowing a sack on eight percent fewer pass plays than its opponents (Michigan State #3 in sack rate allowed and #7 in defensive sack rate).
Ohio State is also 7-1 straight-up and is 6-2 ATS against the 67th ranked schedule in college football. The Buckeyes have won six straight since a loss at home to Virginia Tech by 14 points. They have won every game by at least a touchdown since, yet one of those wins was in overtime at Penn State. Penn State happens to be the toughest opponent that OSU has taken on before this weekend's contest. The Nittany Lions rank 56th in our current College Football Power Rankings. Ohio State has yet to play a single team that ranks in the top 55 in all of FBS (out of 128 teams).
One would expect utter dominance by Ohio State against the cupcakes, especially in an environment in which it seems style points matter. While that has been the case more often than not, the overall numbers are not incredibly impressive in context. The Buckeyes rank 12th overall in our Power Rankings, yet are outside the top 15 in each of our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics aside from pass defense. Like the Spartans, Ohio State has out-gained its opponents by three yards-per-pass and (though I did not mention it earlier) two yards-per-rush, while out-scoring the competition by 25 points-per-game, but that was against easier competition. Furthermore, sacks look like a major storyline for this game. Ohio State has allowed a sack at almost exactly the same rate as it has gotten a sack.
Though many of the overall numbers look similar, Michigan State has proven itself against slightly tougher competition, has a major advantage rushing the passer and is playing at home. With style points difficult to come by with two elite defenses and two top 15 overall teams facing each other, this game should be lower scoring than most expect, but look for a win by around a touchdown for the Spartans.
According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator at PredictionMachine.com, Michigan State wins over Ohio State 61.2% of the time and by an average score of 30-22 As 3.5 point favorites, the Spartans cover the spread 56.2% of the time, which would justify a $40 play from a normal $50 better. The total goes UNDER 58 57.4% of the time, which warrants a wager of $53 from a normal $50 player. There are three stronger totals and five stronger against-the-spread plays according to our Week 11 analysis.