Two conferences down, eight to go. We now head to the Midwest and the Big 10. Here are the Big 10 standings.
Jabrill Peppers returned a two-point conversion attempt for a score). In addition, the Spartans won their only conference game (albeit against Rutgers) in dominant fashion. We’ll come back to Michigan State in a bit. For Illinois, their case is a bit harder to crack. The Illini were not especially poor in close games (1-1 record) nor did they have a particularly dreadful turnover margin (-3 in conference play). The culprit appears to be their inefficient passing attack. In their final seven conference games, Illinois managed to complete just 44% of their passes! In the modern college game, that is simply unfathomable for a non-option offense to play that poorly. Even with a decent running game, the lack of any semblance of a passing offense confined the Illini to a 2-7 record despite poor, but not horrendous peripherals. How did Nebraska post such a great conference record despite numbers that suggested they should have lost more conference games than they won? The Cornhuskers were only 2-1 in one-score conference games, so we’ll have to look elsewhere. The answer lies in two of their defeats. While Nebraska was solid in most of their games, they were awful in two of their three conference losses. Ohio State and Iowa beat the Cornhuskers by a combined score of 102-13, and the per play numbers were also brutal. Those two losses more than wiped out the margin of victory in their six conference wins (outscored those teams by 72 points). Nebraska was good, but not dominant in most of their wins, and they played like Rutgers in two of their three losses.
Michigan State was one of the most disappointing teams in 2016. The Spartans, fresh off a Big 10 title and playoff appearance, began the year in the top 15 of the AP Poll, but won just a single conference game and finished 3-9 overall. However, while their won/loss record was abysmal, their actual play was mediocre.
Based on their YPP numbers, a team with Michigan State’s profile would have been expected to win about four of their nine conference games. That would have put them at about 6-6 on the year. That record is hardly cause for celebration, but it would have been quite similar to their 2012 campaign when they reset after multiple years competing for conference titles. As you may have noticed in the table regarding differences between predicted record and actual record, Michigan State undershot their projection by a significant margin. I use .200 as the arbitrary threshold of significance, but Michigan State missed out on their projection by nearly double that margin! Since I have calculated YPP data back through 2005, I decided to look at teams that had similar exaggerated discrepancies between their expected record based on YPP and their actual record. For this study, I looked at BCS/Power 5 teams that undershot their YPP projection by at least .300. Those parameters yielded fifteen BCS/Power 5 teams from 2005-2015 (and three teams from 2016, including Michigan State, Arizona, and UCLA). I then looked at how those teams performed the following season. Well, what can Michigan State expect in 2017? Take a look at the following table that summarizes the results.
Ron Zook for Michigan State not to be better in 2017.