2014 Big Ten Conference Predictions and College Football Futures Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 8/19/2014
The Big Ten has become a football behemoth. The 14-team mega-conference has absorbed programs from the Big 12 (Nebraska), ACC (Maryland) and Big East (Rutgers) in recent years and is now a true national powerhouse.
But as I look at this league this year I have a very simple question: are any of these teams as good as everyone thinks and has this league actually improved or has the Big Ten simply gotten more convoluted?
There are a lot of teams in the Big Ten now. But there is a lack of talented coaches, talented players, and overall talented teams when you compare the league to the SEC and Pac-12.
One thing that the league does have going for it is experience. Five of the Top 20 most experienced teams in the nation hail from the Big Ten. However, the five most storied programs - Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan are rated No. 75 or worse in terms of lettermen returning. So talent vs. experience will be a theme all season long around this topsy-turvy conference.
Here is a look at my 2014 Big Ten football predictions and futures odds, with the college football odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag:
The Favorite: Ohio State (+140)
I was not buying into Ohio State's national championship hype even before the Braxton Miller injury. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not in a hurry to bet against Urban Meyer. But the fact is that the Buckeyes have become vastly overrated compared to their actual production the past two years. Yes, the Buckeyes won 24 straight games and are 24-2 the last two seasons. But last year they went 2-2 against fellow Top 25 opponents, and one of those wins came against a Northwestern team that finished the year 5-7. Ohio State hasn't beaten a Top 10 team in over five years, they are just 8-6 against Top 25 teams the past four years, and if you knock out a 2011 win over Nebraska their Top 25 wins have come by an average of 5.7 points per game. Ohio State has just one team in the preseason Top 25 on the schedule this year (at Michigan State), so they could stay overrated. But be careful trying to make any money betting this group.
The Challenger: Michigan State (+300)
Mark Dantonio remains one of the most underrated coaches in America and led Michigan State to one of its best-ever seasons in 2013. The Spartans utilized an absolutely punishing defense, which allowed just 13.2 points per game and held over half of its opponents to season lows in points, to a 13-1 record. They went 10-4 against the spread, and their win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game knocked the Buckeyes out of the national title game. What can Sparty do for an encore? The defense will again be stout. But this year it all starts with quarterback Connor Cook, who had a breakout season in 2013. They have 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford and six of their top seven receivers back. The Spartans have a huge tussle with Oregon on Sept. 6 that will have national title implications this year. And win or lose they will be a major factor in the Big Ten.
The Dark Horse: Northwestern (+1200)
It's been a wild 18 months for Northwestern football. They were a couple tough breaks away from going unbeaten in 2012. They started out 4-0 before bottoming out in 2013. And then the 2014 offseason was marked by a national controversy surrounding the players' attempts to unionize. Lost in all the discussion about Pat Fitzgerald's group is the fact that they are a pretty good football team. Northwestern has 17 returning starters, including 10 three-year starters that keyed that 10-3 team in 2012. They are one of the most experienced teams in the nation, and they open with four of five games at home. Northwestern hasn't been able to get over the hump against Top 25 opponents, going just 2-7 the last four years versus the best of the best. If they are going to break through in the Big Ten they need to show that they can rise up to that level and knock off the best of the best.
The X-Factor: Michigan (+1500)
It's time for Brady Hoke to get up or get out. He's entering his fourth season in Ann Arbor and his team has seen its record decrease in each of the last three seasons. Hoke is on the hot seat, and he needs to show some progress. He has 15 starters to work with, including eight on a defense that allowed a full touchdown more last year than in 2012. But the Wolverines' hopes may hinge on the development of senior quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner is like a worse version of Denard Robinson, who also stunk and was a poor fit in Hoke's pro-style offense. And if Gardner can't find a way to beat good defenses then Michigan, and Hoke, are in trouble. The Wolverines have a huge hurdle in Week 2 at Notre Dame. But if they can win that game the schedule is set up for a potential 7-0 start and a bye week heading into a marquee game against rival Michigan State. But a loss against the Irish, or a potential upset by Utah or Rutgers, could throw things off kilter.
The Disappointment: Wisconsin (+300)
I feel as if the Badgers have overachieved the past two seasons. They didn't post any wins of significance in 2012 until a 70-31 rout in the league title game. Last year they went 1-2 against the only Top 25 teams they played, and, like Ohio State, that one win came versus Northwestern, so it doesn't really count. The Badgers are just 2-7 in their last nine games against Top 25 opponents. Wisconsin has just 10 starters back this year. And just three on defense. Gary Anderson is going to try to play tough, hard-nosed, physical, run-first football. But with such little depth, that could be a problem. Don't worry: Wisconsin won't fall off the map. They're in the Big Ten, so their schedule is loaded with softies. In fact, they could be headed for a double-digit winning season. But I think comparable competition will smoke them, and I think they'll be a money burner for overzealous backers. I don't see the Badgers living up to their No. 14 preseason billing, and I don't know that they will beat their Las Vegas season win total (9.5).
Iowa (+1000) - Iowa is not a good team this year. But at the end of the season they will look like they were a good team. Iowa has the easiest schedule in America . They play next to no one, and their league opponents posted a combined 23-41 conference record last year. Their soft slate should give a very young (five starters, four seniors) defense an opportunity to figure some things out early in the year. It seems like every season Kirk Ferentz is coaching for his job. And it seems like every season Iowa goes 7-5 or 8-5 and Ferentz somehow dodges the axe. If he can't get to eight wins this year, with this schedule, then he should never coach another game. I think Iowa could be a sleeper in the West, and the Hawkeyes are a perfect candidate to play their way into a much better bowl game than they deserve and lose by 27 to some second-tier Pac-12 team.
Penn State (NA) - New coach James Franklin will try to continue the solid work that departed Bill O'Brien did in the post-Paterno era in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions, despite sanctions, bans and scholarship reductions have gone a respectable 15-9 SU and 14-10 ATS the past two seasons. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the real deal and will have to play like it to lead an inexperienced offense. Franklin did an amazing job at Vanderbilt. But his arrival means the Nittany Lions are learning their third system in four years. And right about now is when those scholarship losses will start to erode the depth of this program. Penn State has an interesting slate. They open in Dublin against Central Florida. They also have their bye weeks clustered together and play only one game between Sept. 28 and Oct. 24 (27 days). I think this team is going to struggle , but they should be able to scrape together six wins - even though they are not bowl eligible.
Rutgers (+50000) - The Scarlet Knights have bounced around from the Big East to the American Athletic and now to the Big Ten. The generally-held belief is that they have been facing inferior competition the last few years. That is wrong. And if you think that these Jersey boys are going to be the least big scared of the big, bad Big Ten teams then you're crazy. Rutgers teams are always physical and aggressive. They will bang some heads, and they won't back down from anyone. The Scarlet Knights had only 10 returning starters last year and went 6-7, their second-worst record in nearly a decade. They have 16 starters back this season, including senior three-year starter Gary Nova at quarterback. The back end of their schedule is simply too much, though, with four of six road games against some of the best teams in the league.
Maryland (+4500) - Like Rutgers, Maryland is a newcomer in the Big Ten. And like the Scarlet Knights, the Terps are bringing a load of experience on both sides of the ball and a chip on the shoulder into this new conference. Again, Maryland wasn't playing in the Sun Belt. They played Top 10 opponents in the ACC. And in his fourth year this is by far Randy Edsall's best team in College Park. The key for Maryland is health; they have been among the nation's leaders in starts lost to injury the past three years. Another similarity between Rutgers and Maryland this year: they were both given the shaft by Big Ten schedule makers and have brutal schedules. But I think that Maryland will acquit itself well and earn bowl eligibility.
Indiana (+6500) - This Hoosiers are in the wrong conference. Indiana plays like a Big 12 team - up-tempo, high-scoring offense and absolutely no regard for defense at all. IU averaged an eye-popping 38.4 points per game last season. The problem is that they surrendered 38.8 points per game. Indiana missed a bowl bid by just one game. And while their schedule is brutal this year, this might be the Hoosiers' last best chance to get back to the postseason for just the second time since 1993. Coach Kevin Wilson had 17 total starters back, including all five offensive linemen and 12 of his 13 top tacklers from last season. Indiana isn't going to win anything in the Big Ten. But they are definitely quirky enough to spring an upset somewhere along the way.
Minnesota (+6500) - Jerry Kill has overcome a disturbing amount of in-game seizures and off-field struggles while turning Minnesota back into a respectable Big Ten program. He has increased his win total in all three seasons in Minneapolis and Kill is riding high after back-to-back bowl appearances. Despite another experienced, upperclassmen-reliant roster, Kill's crew should take a step back after last year's eight-win campaign. Their schedule stiffens considerably. And unless they can duplicate the turnover luck that they've had the past two years the defense will be susceptible to a regression from last year's Top 25 ranking. They do get seven of their first 10 games at home. But November is a bear.
Illinois (+10000) - Tim Beckman brings all the cache that one would expect from a former Toledo coach with a career 27-34 record. After a 2011 chock full of hilarity and four-touchdown losses, Beckman stepped his game up with a 4-8 campaign last year. Now the Illini are hoping that Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lundt can inject some life into an offense that has averaged just 22.9 points per game over the past three years. Illinois could actually match last year's win total by early October. But anything beyond that will have to come via league upset.
Purdue (+50000) - In an unsurprising development, first-year head coach Darrell Hazell was in charge of Purdue's 1-11 dumpster fire of a season last year. Hazell squandered one of the more experienced rosters in the Big Ten. And apparently his brand of football features a whole lot of getting blown out by powerhouses like Northern Illinois and Indiana. But somehow this clown, who got the Purdue job on the strength of one completely fluke season at Kent State, is back for more and has 15 returning starters to lead off a cliff. Purdue opens with five straight home games and only leaves the state three times in 12 games this year. So the locals should get more than their fill of Hazell Ball this year.
2014Big Ten Conference Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
6. Penn State
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Robert Ferringo was the top football handicapper in the country last year, earning nearly $8,000 in total football profit in 2014-14 and posting one of the best seasons in America. He hit 62.1 percent for the entire NFL season (95-58) and was amazing down the stretch, closing with 11 of 14 winning NFL weeks and 12 of 15 overall winning football weeks. Robert has posted 3 of 4 winning football seasons, 6 of 7 winning NFL seasons, 30 of 44 winning football months, and 6 of 7 winning NFL preseasons. Also, Robert's proprietary KING College Football Betting System posted another winning season (now 2-for-2) and is 83-58 over the last two years (58.9 percent).
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