I started this week off thinking great, the Maryland Terrapins have a bye week so what games do I have to look forward to now that I can't be disappointed? Well, that question answered itself when Michigan decided to show Northwestern just why they were an inferior football school. Now this week we have the Michigan Wolverines taking on the Michigan State Spartans. A matchup of 4-1 vs. 5-0. Number 12 vs. Number 7. Big Bro vs. Lil' Bro. All of the chips on the table, or Mark Dantonio's shoulder if you will. Then Vegas came out with their spread opening at Michigan (-7.5). What? How could Michigan be favored so highly over Sparty? After all, MSU has done nothing but win over the past two years, only dropping a game to national champion Ohio State.
I'll ignore the "rivalry" part of this for now, as I can't pretend to comprehend how these two schools feel for each other. Maryland and West Virginia certainly hate each other, but in-state rivalry? I'm sure that's on another level that's only taken higher when Ohio State plays Michigan. So what do the numbers say? Why are the Wolverines favored so much? Let's take a look.
Total Offense (Points Per Game)
This one should be simple. Michigan is awful on offense this year, anyone could tell you that. Naturally with Connor Cook at the helm, Michigan State should be loads better than Jake Rudock, who couldn't even keep his starting job at Iowa. Michigan's offensive line is awful, we all watched that play out last year and there wasn't really any new talent infusion while Michigan State's OL is much better and gives Cook time to carve defenses apart. RIGHT?! Well, stat's are telling us otherwise. Michigan may have a crappy offensive line but they find ways to make up for it with a total offense ranking of 29.5 ppg, which ranks 67th. Pretty average. Well, Michigan State isn't much better at 31.3 for a total rank of 56th. Who would of thought?
Perhaps it's the strength of schedule though? Has Sparty just been playing better teams than Michigan? I mean, after all, Michigan decimated the likes of Maryland, who is not exactly a juggernaut on defense. So let's take a look at efficiency....
Winner: Michigan State
Total Offensive Efficiency
Efficiency takes into account strength of schedule, point contributions based on the total margin of victory (or defeat), and down weights based on garbage time. This is an ESPN stat that I used. This makes things look like what we all think: Michigan is ranked 51st in efficiency with a rating of 56.9 out of 100. Michigan State on the other hand is ranked 16th at an efficiency rating of 74.6. That's a much clearer distinction that, in fact, Michigan State is the better offense.
Winner: Michigan State
Total Defense (PPG)
Now that we've looked at offense, let's take a look at defense. It's not exactly a mystery that Michigan has looked fantastic on defense this year and Michigan State has been known for stellar defense lately under Dantonio. So how's it looking? Well, let's just say Michigan wins here in a landslide. Michigan is ranked 1st overall in PPG, allowing a minuscule 6.3 PPG. Of course, Maryland and Northwestern were involved, and we all know how awful both of those teams are on offense this year. Michigan State on the other hand comes in at 43rd, allowing 21.3 PPG. That's right around what they allowed to the likes of Purdue....which is not good.
Total Defensive Efficiency
Are we going to see the same divide here as offense where Michigan State clearly pulls ahead? Uh, No. Michigan does drop a few notches, most likely due to strength of schedule and the MD/Northwestern games having a lot of what would be considered garbage time, but they still check in at 5th overall and a rating of 89.4. Impressive. Michigan State? They don't have the garbage time factor to worry about, but they still don't move up as they did on offensive efficency, checking in at 44th overall and a rating of 62.7.
Well, we have a tie. Michigan State is clearly better on offense while Michigan is clearly better on defense. So why did Vegas favor Michigan so much? Before we all jump to the conclusion that Vegas is just fapping over Jim Harbaugh, let's take a look. Michigan State might be better on offense, but they're still right in the middle of the FBS overall at 56th in terms of PPG, but adjusted they are in the Top 20 while Michigan is clearly middle of the pack offensively. On defense however, Michigan State is still in the middle of the pack as well and doesn't get the improvement when adjusted for efficiency. Michigan on the other hand is the top defense in terms of PPG allowed and a top 5 defense when adjusted for efficiency. One might say that is an elite level of defense.
I'm not saying that the Michigan Wolverines are elite...but they do at least have an elite facet of their team with the defense. Michigan State on the other hand is above average on offense while pretty average on defense. It's going to be an interesting Saturday to say the least, but at least the stat's tell us that there is a good reason that Michigan is favored over undefeated Michigan State.