It's getting closer. College football season, I mean. There is still a lot of summer left, but as the calendar turns to August thoughts turn towards what we can expect to see on the field during the next great season. That means that this is an excellent time to look towards futures to find any interesting value before the public pounces and really messes with things. Bovada has odds listed for each of the major conferences, so let's take a look at the Big Ten:
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The favorite: At this point we actually have co-favorites - hated rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both at +175. You can't really argue with either. Ohio State faces massive attrition - they had 12 guys drafted, including five in the first 20 picks. That would cripple most teams, but Ohio State is deep enough that they are confident that they won't miss a beat. Michigan is in Year 2 of the Jim Harbaugh experience. Last year went about as well as they could hope - though they still lost their two biggest rivalry games. They are much better on both sides of the ball this year, though, and they made a great hire in Don Brown as defensive coordinator. They haven't made a starting QB decision yet, but they have options. Both teams have a chance to be very good.
As always, the teams meet in the last game of the year - this time in Columbus. There is at least a chance that both teams could be undefeated in that game. Just imagine what that would be like with these two intense coaches running the shows. It would be one for the ages.
The biggest threat: Michigan State is the very distant third choice at +700. That's not a lot of respect for a team that has had the success they have lately. Sure, they lose some key pieces, and they don't recruit as well as their two rivals do. They have always found ways to make diamonds out of coal, though, and can't be counted out entirely. They seem to clearly be the third-best team in the league and probably well behind the other two if they are at the best. Are they four times worse as the odds suggest, though? They get both Michigan and Ohio State at home, and the rest of the conference schedule is straightforward.
Hard to judge: Iowa at +900 is very hard to figure out, in my eyes. Last year they went through the regular season at 12-0 but then were beaten in the conference championship game and beaten up in their bowl game. They've lost some big players but have both C.J. Beathard and, shockingly, Desmond King back. They play in a joke of a division, so the path to the title game is relatively easy. The schedule makers have really helped them on the crossover, too - they avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State and get Michigan at home. Those are a lot of positives. Before last year, though, Kirk Ferentz had looked like an outclassed and outdated shell of a coach. Was last year an anomaly, or can he keep it up? The last time Iowa rose up and had a big season they sunk right back into mediocrity the next season. And then there is the biggest factor - to win the conference they will almost certainly have to beat Michigan, Ohio State or Michigan State in the conference championship game. Can we really believe that that is possible?
No hope: Rutgers (+10000), Illinois (+5000), and Maryland (+5000) all made very good coaching hires in the offseason, but those guys all have a lot of work before them before they can even hope to be respectable. Purdue (+10000) has been awful for a long time and will likely be for a long time more. Indiana (+5000) has a football team - I say that only because it is easy to forget they even exist. None of that group will be winning any titles this year.
Best Value: Hard to find a lot of value in this group, but it has to be Michigan State for the reasons outlined above. The gap between them and the top two is much smaller than the rest of the teams, and the schedule works in their favor. The gap could get even wider as the public bets on those other teams heavily, so the value could even improve.
Sucker Bet: You should bet on either Michigan or Ohio State only if you don't respect yourself or your money. One of the two is very likely to win it all. It is tough to separate the two, though, and one winning over the other would not be surprising either way. You would have to tie your money up until early December on a bet that only returns less than twice your money and which could very easily go wrong. There are much better ways to use your money - even if you are a big believer in one or both programs.
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