In less than three hours, Boise State will take on Michigan State in a Top-25 battle in East Lansing. Playing a ranked opponent in the first game is a risky proposition, especially when it’s Boise State. Just ask Georgia. Still, the Michigan State team that won a share of the Big Ten championship last season (and should have gone to the Rose Bowl as a result) is without quarterback Kirk Cousins and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, and their strengths– defense and the running game– are somewhat diminished. This isn’t the same Boise Broncos team either, though, especially in the absence of quarterback Kellen Moore, which is why I think MSU will handle their visiting opponents tonight. (Field color may also be a factor.)
As my favorite ESPN.com feature illustrates, the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, agrees with me. By now your eyes have been drawn to a few exceptions, of which there are two kinds. The first is less interesting for sports purposes. These are usually low-population states, and their apparent bucking of the trend usually is the result of a near-even split of a very small number of participants. Here, those states are Alaska (23), Vermont (20), and Rhode Island (45). Social scientists probably have something to say about this interactive map as a tool to measure things like local awareness of broader issues and the availability of internet access.
The second sort is more interesting for sports purposes. These are the states where participants reject rational objectivity and choose the team they want to win the game, rather than the team they think will win the game. Their team could be a 7.5-point dog on the road and they’d still pick them. The overall vote could be two-to-one against them, and they’ll swing even harder in the opposite direction. (Yes, there are some remote reasons why people in Idaho, Montana, and Utah might rationally believe Boise State will win tonight, but please be quiet Mister Social Scientist.)
The truth, of course, is that all voters are of the second type. Or, at least, we all approach the extreme of the second type in positive correlation with the strength of our emotional connection to at least one of the teams involved, and I’m really ok with that. In fact, I love it.