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The Vegas Lines Matrix says goodbye for the year

For those of us constantly obsessing over how well Auburn would stack up against the rest of the SEC, I’ve created this handy table — the Vegas Lines Matrix. For more information on what the Vegas Lines Matrix is, how it works, and why you should care, check out a prior week’s column.

So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, adieu.

This is the last Vegas Lines post of the year, and as such I thought we could take a quick look back on how things have changed since the first Vegas Lines Matrix was released in Week 5. Back in early October, Alabama looked to be unbeatable. Every reference to Bama quarterback Greg McElroy included the phrase “never lost a game”. Two months later he’s lost two games, and Crimson Tide fans are staring down the face of a possible three-loss season. The horror.

In the SEC East, Florida was once again being anointed as the East’s chosen one. The Gators looked to be the (distant) second best team in the SEC, and with a 4-0 record and having dominated former “powerhouse” programs like Miami (of Ohio), South Florida and Tennessee, were about to run into a buzz saw when they visited Alabama. The Gators were 7.5 road underdogs in Week 5, and lost 31-6. They have gone 3-3 since and needed a win against Appalachian State last week to guarantee a winning record. This program has quickly fallen a long way since Tim Tebow departed.

The title contenders of Arkansas, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina have all performed remarkably well this season with virtually no big letdowns from week to week. The sole exception to this statement is South Carolina who followed a convincing with over No. 1 Alabama with a 31-28 loss at Kentucky. Cocky made up for things a bit following another disappointing performance at home against Arkansas (41-20 loss) with a bounce back 36-14 blowout over Florida in the Swamp. The Gamecocks have all the weapons to win in this league but have lacked the consistency of their title contender peers.

Auburn’s national championship aspirations were born the minute Cam Newton signed with the Tigers. The combination of his recruitment and a favorable home schedule set the stage for a show most teams can only dream of. Auburn is sitting at 11-0 heading into the biggest Iron Bowl in recent history. With the exception of Arkansas State, Ole Miss and Chattanooga, all of Auburn’s opponents this year will be bowl eligible. If Auburn wins out, it will have defeated six or seven teams ranked in the Top 25 — almost a fourth of the poll! Teams like Oregon and Boise State are lucky if they can put together such a resume over the course of two or three years.

If looking at Auburn’s performance and then revising projections each week has taught me anything, it is that a team with a leader like Cam Newton is a team with a destiny. Auburn continues to defy the expectations of the betting public, having covered seven of 10 lined games, including big games against ranked opponents and rivals. In fact, Auburn has covered every single game against a ranked opponent this season. If I were a betting man, I’d take Auburn to cover this week — not because the Tigers are an underdog, not because they are playing a ranked opponent, not because they are playing a bitter rival, and not because they are playing for a rare shot at a national championship. I’d take Auburn to cover this week because I believe in Cam.

Week 13

Changes this week

Based on how all teams played last week, I (acting on behalf of Vegas bookies) have adjusted the matchup lines you could expect if these teams played this week. A few things to mention first. In order to “improve” a team’s odds, one of three things needs to occur:

1) The team needed to improve on their per game statistics in the past week.
or 2) Their opponent’s per game statistics needs to get worse.
3) the team needs to move up in the polls.

In Auburn’s remaining games, we see the following changes:

Auburn @ Alabama: Line moves from Auburn being a 5-point underdog to a 5.5-point underdog.
Auburn vs. South Carolina: Line moves from Auburn being a 9-point favorite to an 8-point favorite.

How the Vegas lines Matrix compares to the actual Vegas lines

Matchup Vegas Lines Matrix prediction Actual Vegas Line (11/22/2010)
Auburn @ Alabama -5.5 -4
Kentucky @ Tennessee -3.5 -3
Florida @ Florida State OFF -2.5
LSU @ Arkansas -2.5 -3.5
Mississippi State @ Ole Miss +4 +3
South Carolina @ Clemson OFF +3
Wake Forest @ Vanderbilt OFF -5.5
Georgia Tech @ Georgia OFF -12.5

Probabilities Matrix

As with the above matrix above, the values are color coded relative to the home team’s chances of winning. The greener the cell, the more likely the home team is to win.

We can use these odds from the above color-coded Vegas lines matrix to impute the implied probability of winning in these matchups. These probabilities are calculated using thousands of prior games. For example, let’s consider the actual Auburn at Alabama spread, where Auburn is a 4-point road underdog. In the past 10 years (the period my data covers) there have been 112 games where the home team was a favorite by exactly 4 points. In these 112 games, the home team won 73 and lost 39, for an implied win probability of 65.2 percent. If the line moves “down” to -3.5 points, historically we observe: 159 games, 91 wins for a win percentage of 57.2 percent. If the line moves a half point in favor of Alabama to -4.5, we see: 119 games, 83 wins for a win percentage of 69.8 percent. Needless to say, a -3.5 point line is historically much friendlier to the road team than a -4.5 line.

By populating the above matchup matrix with these probabilities, we can “simulate” the remainder of the season and calculate such things as a team’s expected record or probability of going undefeated. Note that the probabilities actually displayed here are a 3-line moving average, so a 4-point home favorite would use all of the games mentioned above (lines at -3.5, -4, -4.5) to calculate a weighted average to smooth out inconsistencies from occasionally sparse data at certain line values.

As with the above matrix above, the values are color coded relative to the home team’s chances of winning. The greener the cell, the more likely the home team is to win.

Predicted Final Standings

The bowl picture has become a little clearer going into this week with teams like Georgia and Tennessee (each favored to win) needing a win to become bowl eligible. It is possible that a 5-7 SEC team could still go bowling, however, depending on how the bids and tie-ins shake out with the other conferences. At the top, an Auburn win in either of its next two games all but guarantees a BCS bowl bid. The conference could send LSU to a “home” game at the Sugar Bowl and Auburn to Glendale, Ariz., if things play out as Auburn hopes.

If the SEC places two in the BCS, the SEC’s next best team (most likely Alabama, unless Arkansas beats LSU this weekend) will be headed to the Capital One Bowl to face the Big Ten’s No. 2 team. The Cotton Bowl would love to grab Arkansas to face off against the No. 2 Big 12 team. The Chick-fil-A Bowl would likely pass over South Carolina (who will be visiting Atlanta a few weeks prior for the SEC championship) and choose either Florida or Mississippi State. The Outback Bowl would be lucky to get a 9-win team any year — this year they could end up with South Carolina. No one really cares who from the SEC East represents the SEC in the Gator Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Compass Bowl or Music City Bowl. No matter how many wins the SEC East gets in these bowl games, it is unlikely their big brothers from the SEC West will let them live down the season they have had anytime soon.

Current Week 12 Projections

Mac Mirabile is a 2002 graduate of Auburn’s economics and journalism departments. During his time at Auburn, he was a copy and photo editor with The Auburn Plainsman. He has a masters degree in economics from UNC-Chapel Hill and has written numerous academic publications on college football, the NFL and gambling markets. His previous column can be found here. He can be reached at [email protected]

About Mac Mirabile

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