2017 Big Ten Football Betting Preview: Odds and Expert Wagering Predictions
The 2017-18 college football season is already five games old, which means it's time for my second annual Big Ten preview report. The Big Ten was one of, if not the most, competitive conference last year from top to bottom (not including Rutgers). The Big Ten had as many as four teams in the Top 10 at several points during last season, with Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin leading the way. The biggest shock of the season was the Penn State Nittany Lions, who turned a 2-2 start into an 11-2 finish with nine straight wins, including a Big Ten title game win over a solid Wisconsin team. However, the Nittany Lions would fall short in a Rose Bowl thriller against a high-octane USC squad. The Buckeyes were the only Big Ten team to get into the playoff, but they were embarrassed 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl by Clemson, whom we know went on to win the National Title.
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But enough about last year. This year, the Big Ten conference has four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, all of whom are in the top 11. Ohio State leads the way in second, with Penn State in sixth, Wisconsin in ninth and Michigan checking in at 11. Out of those five teams, Ohio State and Penn State are best equipped to replicate last season's success.
As of writing this, the Big Ten odds are heavily skewed toward the Buckeyes to recapture the title. They are listed at -120 favorites, with Wisconsin (+375), Michigan (+550) and Penn State (+550) right behind them. Northwestern is (+1600) while Nebraska and Iowa check in at (+2500). The rest of the conference odds shape up like this: Minnesota and Michigan State (+3300), Indiana and Maryland (+10,000), Illinois and Purdue (+20,000) and Rutgers (+30,000).
Games to Watch
October 28, 2017: Penn State @ Ohio State - Penn State shocked the Buckeyes last year with an improbable 24-21 win in Happy Valley. The Buckeyes have revenge on their minds and will be coming off a bye week, while the Nittany Lions will be coming to Columbus after battling Michigan seven days earlier.
November 25, 2017: Ohio State @ Michigan - We all remember last year's thrilling conclusion to "The Game". Ohio State beat Big Blue 30-27 in overtime, which means Jim Harbaugh will be looking to extract some revenge. Ohio State is the more talented team, but a trip to Ann Arbor is their toughest road test.
September 9, 2017: Oklahoma @ Ohio State - The Buckeyes went into Big 12 country last year and emerged with a 45-24 victory. If you like points then this game has the makings of a high-scoring game played at break-neck pace.
Ohio State: J.T Barrett is back under center for the Buckeyes and has high hopes of building on his 24-6 record as a starter. The Buckeyes averaged 39.4 points and 459.2 yards per game last season but faulted down the stretch, leading to Urban Meyer being shut out for the first time in his coaching career in the playoff. The offense returns eight starters, including four of five offensive linemen. They also return seven starters from a defense that ranked third nationally with 15.5 points allowed per game.
The Badgers finished 11-3 last year and were the only team to beat the
Western Michigan Broncos in the Cotton Bowl. This year, they return nine
starters on offense, including QB Alex Hornibrook and four of five
offensive linemen. However, the defensive unit will be the one to carry
this team. Eight starters return on a unit that ranked fourth nationally in
scoring defense (15.6 ppg) and third nationally in run defense (98.8 ypg).
Penn State: After a 2-2 start, Penn State reeled off nine straight wins before falling to USC in the Rose Bowl. They return 10 starters from last year's 21 st-ranked offense, including Heisman hopefuls Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. They have a much tougher schedule this year than last, so another double-digit win season would be icing on the cake. They went 8-1 last year in the Big Ten, so a regression is very likely.
Michigan: Big Blue comes into this season with wholesale changes on both sides of the football. They return just one starter on defense and five on offense, including QB Wilton Speight. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has to find a way to get the most out of one of the youngest squads in in Ann Arbor in quite a while. If he falters, a single-digit win season could be the result.
Northwestern: Despite an inconsistent 2016 season, the Wildcats were able to make the best of 6-6 record by beating Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. This year, the team returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. They open Big Ten play at Wisconsin and then host Penn State, so we should find out if Northwestern are for real or not relatively early.
Nebraska: The Huskers improved to 9-4 in Mike Riley's second season in charge, but they were simply outclassed down the stretch. Those four losses came in the final six games, and the team allowed more than 1,600 yards to Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Tennessee combined. The Cornhuskers return five starters on offense and seven on defense. They'll be in tough this year to replicate a 6-3 Big Ten record.
For the many strengths the Hawkeyes have, they have just as many
weaknesses. On offense, Iowa had a very talented offensive line and a
running back, Akrum Wadley, that is a game-changer. The problem is that
they don't have any depth at receiver, and their QBs haven't started a
college game before. The schedule may be the biggest reason the Hawkeyes
falter this year with games against Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and
Minnesota: New head coach, P.J Fleck has his work cut out for him in his first year in charge of the Golden Gophers. Fleck came over from Western Michigan to a team that returns very little on the defensive side of the ball (four starters) and has more questions than answers on offense. The receiving corps is thin, and long-time QB Mitch Leidner is no longer under center. Fleck will need to get creative on offensive if Gopher nation expects to "row the boat" to a successful season this year.
Michigan State: After cracking the College Football Playoff in 2015, Sparty took a big step back last year by going just 1-8 in Big Ten play and 3-9 overall. This season they return only five starters - two on offense and three on defense. Expect Mark Dantonio to preach smashmouth football basics behind a capable offensive line with junior, LJ Scott toting the rock.
Indiana: The Hoosiers finished with a 4-5 record in the Big Ten last year for a 6-7 record on the season. They lost to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl and now return just five starters on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Richard Lagow is back for his senior season, but the team is undergoing a scheme adjustment after the firing of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Defensively, the Hoosiers return nine starts on a unit that was ranked 57 th nationally at 27.2 points allowed per game.
Maryland: The Terrapins got off to a quick 4-0 start last season but went just 2-7 down the stretch culminating with a Quick Lane Bowl loss to Boston College. The Terps return six starters on both sides of the ball, including their dynamic running back duo of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison. Unfortunately, they play in the vaunted East Division which means they have to deal with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Illinois: If the Fighting Illini dream of going bowling this season, they need to have drastic improvements on the offensive side of the football. The Illini ranked 127th in first downs, 123rd in total offense and 122nd in scoring offense. The schedule isn't as daunting as 2016's, but getting to six wins will still be a challenge for Lovie Smith and his group of underclassmen. The Illini have just six seniors on the projected two-deep depth chart.
Purdue: Head coach Jeff Brohm has his work cut out for him after replacing Darrell Hazell, who was fired last year after going 9-33 in three-plus seasons in charge, including 3-24 in the Big Ten and 0-14 in November. Unfortunately for Brohm, the Boilermakers schedule isn't forgiving with games against Louisville, Ohio University, at Missouri and home to Michigan. The Boilermakers return five players on offense and just six on defense.
Rutgers: Rutgers is typically the laughing stock of the Power 5 conferences, and there is very little reason to expect that to change this year. New offensive coordinator Jerry Kill has his work cut out for him to turn an offense (five returning starters) that ranked last nationally in total offense and next to last in scoring into a productive unit.The goal for Rutgers this year will be to double their win total (two wins last year) and not get shut out 224-0 by Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan Sate and Penn State combined.
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