NCAA Handicapping: Big Ten Struggles in 2014
by Trevor Whenham - 9/10/2014
It has definitely been the worst of times for the Big Ten so far this season. It really couldn't have gone much worse. First, Wisconsin came from ahead to lose to LSU and ignited a really odd quarterback story in the process when it was very unclear why Joel Stave wasn't playing. Then the floodgates of disaster really opened wide last weekend. Ohio State, the slight favorite to win the conference even without Braxton Miller, was exposed at home by a Virginia Tech team that no one was taking very seriously this year.
Michigan State put up a valiant effort for a while against Oregon but proved to be outmatched later in the game, and their vaunted defense really didn't shine. Michigan ended their rivalry series with Notre Dame one game later than they should have as it turned out. They suffered a humiliating 31-0 loss - their first shutout loss since 1984 - and the game wasn't even as close as the score suggested.
The four highest-profile teams in the conference all lost their biggest nonconference tests of the season - and all in ways that made it really hard for even the fiercest of conference loyalists to do anything other than mock just how pathetic they are as a group. Even two higher-profile undefeated teams have not exactly been dominant. Penn State needed a miracle in their opener to get past a UCF team that doesn't have Blake Bortles anymore, and Nebraska really struggled against lowly McNeese State last week.
There is not a team in the Big Ten right now that you can convincingly say is better than people expected - at least not to an extent that actually matters. A once-proud league has become increasingly a joke, and it is obviously having a significant impact on their public perception - not to mention on the bankrolls of those who keep betting on them. So, what does this all mean for bettors going forward for the rest of the season? Here are five factors to consider when pondering that question:
Public negativity high: The public loves nothing more than to jump on or off a bandwagon with abandon. In this case the media storyline is that the Big Ten is awful, so the public will embrace that idea and really run with it in their betting decisions. If the reality of a situation differs to some extent from the black-and-white perspective that the public will have then value can often be created. That doesn't mean that you should bet on all Big Ten teams now because the public is overreacting in betting against them, but it does mean that there are likely going to be some spots where more value will be available than would otherwise be the case because the public is more generally negative about the league than they probably need to be.
Remaining nonconference schedule easier: In each of the teams that we mentioned as ugly losers, things only get easier for the rest of the way in nonconference play - and beyond in some cases. Wisconsin faces Bowling Green and South Florida and doesn't play a really challenging conference game until hosting Nebraska on Nov. 15. Ohio State has Kent State, Cincinnati and new conference foes Maryland and Rutgers before things get serious with a trip to Penn State. Michigan State gets to regroup with Eastern Michigan and Wyoming. Michigan won't be shut out again by Miami (OH) or Utah, then the Wolverines open conference play with Minnesota and Rutgers. All of the teams have a chance to work out some kinks, get healthy, recapture their mojo, and make people forget about how bad the losses were before they face a big game again.
Penn State is back: As suddenly as Penn State was banned from the postseason, they have been reinstated effectively immediately. It was odd timing but good news for both the conference and, obviously, the team. It doesn't change things dramatically - especially because Penn State still has depth issues on the offensive line and elsewhere that will likely get in the way - but it does give the conference another higher-level and currently undefeated team to make things interesting.
At least the losses were early: As we mentioned earlier, it's good to get these losses out of the way now instead of beating each other up later in the season in conference play. If one team in the conference is still capable of being elite then they have the best chance of getting over the loss and still remaining in the mix because they got their stumble out of the way early.
There are flaws galore: Ultimately, it's tough to be that surprised that any of these teams had some issues. Ohio State lost their Heisman candidate at QB and is dealing with plenty of changes. Wisconsin's quarterback situation is confusing, and they are still transitioning to a very different offense. Michigan State lost some key pieces to the NFL. Michigan was starting a true freshman at left tackle for the first time ever and has youth issues all over the offensive line and elsewhere. Perhaps the problem isn't that the conference disappointed so much as that people had unrealistic expectations of the conference in the first place.
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