Devils Den Blog

Week 5 Margin Call


Now that the fourth week of the season is in the books, let’s look to see how well the Pac-12 Conference did against the betting line, specifically against the non-conference opponents and the point spreads established for those games. So far this season, the Pac-12 teams have play 33 non-conference opponents. Of those 33 games, the Pac-12 teams won 29 of them, while only losing four. That is impressive in winning 88 percent of the non-conference games, however, it takes a little of the shine off the results when you consider that the Pac-12 teams were favored in 31 of those 33 games. That’s right, Pac-12 teams were favored in 94 percent of their non-conference games this year. Only California against Northwestern and Utah against Michigan were non-conference games in which a Pac-12 team was the underdog. The good news is that in both of those games the underdog won!

Let’s see how overmatched the non-conference opponents were against the Pac-12 teams this year. Below is a table showing the average point spread per game that each of the Pac-12 teams had against their opponents. For all 33 games, the Pac 12 teams were favored by an average of 20.5 points per game, that’s almost a three-touchdown margin. This does indeed show some disparity in the overall non-conference opponents for the Pac-12. Maybe we shouldn’t bag on the SEC so much for their weak non-conference schedules.  (Note: even though the graph shows all teams with a 16.0 margin, it’s actually 20.5)


NOTE: In the first week, there were five games in which no betting line was assigned, because of the big differences in the talent level of the teams playing each other. For this analysis, I assigned a 40-point spread for each of those five games. That is nearly a six-touchdown margin. Three teams beat the 40-point spread and two did not.

ASU, Stanford and Oregon combined for a 7-0 record against non-conference opponents; however, each team had a 30+ average point margin on their seven opponents. Even at the lower end of the per game margins; notice that Colorado and CAL both had an average margin of more than a touchdown over their five opponents. Clearly, few of the Pac-12 teams had evenly matched non-conference opponents. Even more striking is that twenty-five of the 33 non-conference games had double-digit spreads in favor of the Pac 12 teams. That’s over 75 percent of the games.

NOTE: there are still four non-conference games left for the year; ASU, Stanford and USC all play Norte Dame, while CAL plays BYU. Obviously, those four games should improve the disparity in the spread a bit.

So then strictly measured by the point spreads, how did the all the Pac-12 teams do playing their non-conference opponents? The first column below is each Pac-12 team’s record in trying to beat the spreads established for their games. The second column is the cumulative difference between how well each team actually performed vs. the spread that was expected. For instance, UCLA was expected to win by a combined 52.5 points in their three games, but only won by a total of 18 points, which accounts for the 34.5 deficit.

Week 5 Margins Graph 2

In the 33 non-conference games, the Pac-12 teams were only able to beat the spread 45 percent of the time (15-18). Utah did the best in beating the spread because in two of its non-conference games it beat the spread by more than 20 points (Fresno State +21.0 points and Michigan +20.5 points). UCLA and Washington State did the worse against the spread, both going 0-3. They were the only two conference teams not able to beat the spread at least once against a non-conference opponent.

Putting the point spreads aside, how well did the Pac-12 do against some of the other conferences? Actually, not bad! Notice how the Pac-12 leans heavily on the Mountain West, because over one-third of the non-conference games so far this year were against Mountain West opponents.

  • BIG10 (3-1)
  • ACC (1-1)
  • Mountain West (10-2)

During the first four weeks, there have also been four conference games played.

  • Stanford was favored by three points over USC and lost by three
  • ASU was favored by 16 points over Colorado and won by fourteen.
  • Arizona was a nine-and-a-half point favorite over CAL and won by four.
  • Oregon was a 23.5 point favorite over WSU and won by seven.

So far in the first four conference games this year, none of the favorite teams have been able to cover the spread. In the game this coming Thursday night, UCLA is initially favored by three points. We’ll see how that goes.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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