The Spread, Week Four: What Did You Expect?

The Big Ten took a beating this past weekend–again. As the favorites in six of the nine non-conference games on the slate, the conference was looking for a little bit of redemption. Instead, it was another massive letdown.

Only Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska managed wins, and each of those was against a significantly weaker opponent. Penn State also squeaked past Rutgers, but that’s a wash for the conference.

Personally, I don’t really like the conference unity mindset spawned by the BCS and only exacerbated by the assumption that strength of schedule will be the major factor in making the new playoff. (I’m trying to really hard to not launch into yet another anti-SOS rant here.)

But since we live in a perception-is-reality college football world, I thought we’d take a look at how the conference is faring so far in that department with my Performance Against Expectation ratings.

Quickly, PAE is a calculation I came up with last year which compares the final score of a game to the “public prediction” of the score, as indicated by the associated betting numbers (point spread and over/under.) Teams who win do not always do so as convincingly as we thought they would and teams who lose do not always do so as badly as we thought. PAE reflects that. (Keep in mind that games without published lines–usually the ones against FCS teams–can not be included in this rating.)

It may surprise you that the Big Ten as a whole has actually outperformed expectations in two of three weeks of the season so far, including this week. To be fair, those numbers are boosted by a few great performances like Nebraska’s big win over Florida Atlantic and Ohio State’s shutout against Kent State.

So let’s look at the teams individually. It’s important to remember here that most teams’ ratings right now are based on just one or two games. Still, it’s a good measure of just how disappointing most Big Ten teams have been so far this year.

Big Ten PAE Rating through Week 3 (as a percentage)

1. Nebraska, 193%
2. Penn State, 123%
3. Ohio State, 120%
4. Rutgers, 118%
5. Wisconsin, 97%
6. Michigan State, 96%
7. Illinois, 86%
8. Maryland, 86%
9. Purdue, 76%
10. Minnesota, 67%
11. Indiana, 65%
12. Michigan, 60%
13. Iowa, 60%
14. Northwestern, 56%

Note that a high number doesn’t necessarily mean a better team. For example, no one really expects Purdue to do much, and they don’t. But people expect more of, say, Michigan than they’ve been able to deliver so far.

We’ll get a better sense of who these teams are as they all play some more meaningful games, but for now, it’s tough to argue that the public perception of the Big Ten as a “weak” and disappointing league is inaccurate.

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