Skull Session: The Huge Point Spread in Context, Penn State is Not Ohio State's Rival, and Metric Loves the Buckeyes

By Kevin Harrish on November 21, 2019 at 4:59 am
Justin Fields is ready in today's skull session.

Today I learned that Illinois is technically still alive in the Big Ten West title race. I don't even care what it does to Ohio State's strength of schedule, I want the Illini in Indy.

Word of the Day: Piquancy.

 BET THE MORTGAGE ON THE BUCKS. Ohio State is an 18-point favorite against a top-10 team this weekend. That's a bigger point spread than Ohio State saw against Cincinnati, Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

And you know what? History tells us they're probably going to cover with ease.

To help establish what to expect, I wanted a healthier sample size than seven games played in a 24-year span. So let's revisit the 99th-percentile concept to add a few more examples to the pile.

Over the past 25 seasons, I found eight instances of a team in the 99th percentile of SP+ favored by at least 14 points against an AP top-15 opponent late in the regular season (November or early December). There are a lot of qualifiers there, and we should be wary of "they're 4-1 ATS against teams with names that start with T when the temperature is below 50 degrees at kickoff" territory. But I think this batch of games makes a lot of sense for comparisons.


These are some of the greatest teams in recent history -- 1995 Nebraska, 1996 Florida, 2001 Miami and three recent Alabama squads -- taking on teams that are obviously good but not flawless. And in these eight games, the favorite covered seven times, and by an average score of 48-10.

I can't tell you how many times this season I've been forced to write the words "toughest game so far" only to watch the Bucks carpet bomb yet another hapless opponent into rubble.

Penn State is a good team, but Ohio State is a death machine, and there's not a damn thing the Lions or their Pumpkin King can do to stop it.

And to make matters even worse, you're getting a pissed off Chase Young coming off of three weeks of rest. Shit, they might have to call this game at halftime.

 UNREQUITED HATE. Penn State fans have long been trying to claim a rivalry with Ohio State that just doesn't exist outside of "they're a good football team and I would like my favorite football team to beat them."

I have no doubts that the Lion faithful hate the Buckeyes like a rival (peep the hashtag #OhioStateHateWeek if you don't believe me), but the reality is that the feeling is just not mutual, and now we've got a study that helps illustrate that.

A study from two professors, examining sports rivalries in professional sports leagues and college football, ranked Ohio State vs. Penn State as the second-most unbalanced rivalry in the Big Ten.

As part of their research, collected at, the professors asked fans to distribute 100 points among the rivals of their favorite teams.

Penn State fans allocated 37.43 points to Ohio State, making the Buckeyes their most-hated rival, but Ohio State fans used only 3.51 points toward the Nittany Lions, a disparity of almost 34 points. Among the Big Ten teams, only Michigan and Michigan State saw a greater imbalance.


According to the study, Penn State even trailed Wisconsin among Ohio State fans, who assigned 3.61 points to the Badgers

Ohio State's real rivalry kicks off the second Saturday's game ends. But Penn State fans, don't be jealous when you hear our melodious curses to Michigan belted as you file out of the 'Shoe following your four-touchdown loss. Your one true rival, Rutgers, awaits!

 MORE DOMINANCE, GRAPHED. You'll be shocked to learn that another metric spits out Ohio State as the pretty decided most dominant team in the country.

Expected Points Added (EPA) is a neat little metric that essentially gives an expected point value to every play, given things like position on the field as well as down and distance. If you've got a high EPA on offense or defense, that basically means you're consistently making plays when they matter most.

And folks:

If you need assistance with interpretation, up on the graph means good things are happening on defense and right on the graph means good things are happening on offense.

When you're damn near perfect at both, you end up about where Ohio State's logo currently sits, in that top right corner.

 GOOD TRY, GOOD EFFORT. As I'm sure y'all are aware from reading my typo-ridden word vomit every morning, I am far from immune to egregious mistakes when it comes to creating content.

I've published articles with a photo of the wrong player as the header image, I've published an article blatantly announcing the incorrect location for an upcoming game, and I've even published a prewritten commitment piece for the wrong player.

But I can now rest easy knowing someone else has made worse mistakes on a much grander scale.

They've got less than a week to figure out that Ohio State is the scarlet and gray team and Michigan is the maize and blue. I'm rooting for them.

 “WHAT'S YOUR NAME?” There are a lot of fantastic player success stories on this Buckeye team, but I don't think talk enough about the guy who went from a scrawny walk-on defensive back who was less familiar to his head coach than a tackling sled to a scholarship team captain at wide receiver.


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It seems a sixth year for Saunders is very much up in the air right now, but I'm praying he gets it and decides to come back. His journey has been too awesome to have what should have been the climax erased because of an injury.

Plus, there won't be a senior in that room next year otherwise. 

 NOT STICKING TO SPORTS. North Korea nuclear test was ‘17 times the size’ of Hiroshima... An owner is reunited with his cat found 1,200 miles from his home... Inside the bloody cartel war for Mexico’s multibillion-dollar avocado industry... A study finds that Esports gamers experience the same stressors as pro athletes... Lawyer dies after being shot by a gun presented as evidence in court... Inventor of cocktail with human toe garnish dies, donates all his toes to the cause.

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