2018 Big Ten Football Predictions with Betting Odds and Expert Picks
In just two short weeks, college football will drop the curtain on what should be another season filled with many memorable moments such as upsets, instant-classic games, injuries, suspensions and everything in between. Based on the title of this article, the Big Ten will by my focus once again this year, and once again it may be one of the most competitive conferences from top-to-bottom. Last season, the Big Ten had as many as three teams in the Top 10 at several points with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State leading the way.
This year, the Big Ten conference opens up the AP Top 25 preseason rankings with all three of those teams amongst the Top 10, with Wisconsin leading the way at No. 5, followed by the Buckeyes at No. 6, Michigan State at No. 8 and Penn State at No. 10. Out of those four teams, I believe Ohio State and Wisconsin are best equipped to replicate last season's Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl victories. Penn State lost a lot of talent on the offensive side of ball, so a down year may be on the cards, while Michigan State is everyone's sneaky sleeper pick to potentially win the conference and sneak into the College Football Playoff.
As of writing this, the Ohio State Buckeyes are the current favorites to win the Big Ten Championship despite the whole Urban Meyer situation. They sit at +190, with Wisconsin checking in at +265, Michigan at +400, Penn State at +750 and Michigan State at +800. Behind that five-some of frontrunners is where you'll find Iowa at +2800, Nebraska at +4000, Northwestern at +6000, Purdue at +8500 and Minnesota at +9500. The remaining four teams are Indiana and Maryland at +25000 and Rutgers and Illinois at +80000.
All odds are courtesy of Bovada .
Games To Watch
Sept. 1, 2018: Michigan @ Notre Dame - This is a marquee matchup for a number of reasons. The first reason is the drawing power of these two massive programs. However, the main reason is Michigan's playoff hopes. The feeling surrounding Big Blue is that they finally have a solid quarterback in Shea Patterson to compliment the rest of the team. An 8-5 record was a miserable year for Big Blue last season, and under coach Harbaugh I don't expect that to happen again.
Sept. 29, 2018: Ohio State @ Penn State - What more can be said about these two teams over the course of the last two seasons? In 2016, Penn State shocked the world en route to an improbable Rose Bowl appearance. Last year, Ohio State returned the favor by mounting a late comeback to top Penn State in front of a raucous Buckeyes' crowd. The Nittany Lions may not have the firepower needed in this edition to keep up with the Buckeyes, but it should be an interesting game to say the least.
Nov. 24, 2018: Michigan @ Ohio State - Simply known as "The Game". Not much needs to be said about this epic rivalry, but this could be a very important game for the Buckeyes' playoff hopes if they can navigate the rest of the season against teams like Penn State and Michigan State.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes offense will be without J.T. Barrett for the first time in four years as the signal caller finally exhausted all his years of eligibility. Instead, the Buckeyes will be led by Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell under center, with Haskins holding the inside track to being named the No. 1 quarterback. Regardless of who is under center, the Buckeyes still have J.K. Dobbins toting the rock out of the backfield (1,403 yards as a freshmen) and Mike Weber to back him up. The Buckeyes also return seven receivers from a year ago, so the offensive is in good hands. Defensively, the Buckeyes will be fine, but the loss of Denzel Ward will be felt.
Wisconsin - The Badgers find themselves in a precarious position heading into this season. Normally known for their defense, the Badgers may need to rely on their offense to get the job done. They return 10 of 11 starters from last year's Orange Bowl squad, including Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor, who as a freshman ran for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns. Defensively, the Badgers have to replace eight starters, but the key cogs up the middle remain in place. If the Badgers want to get back to the Big Ten Title game then they may need to run the score up plenty in order to make up for a below-average defense.
Penn State - A team does not simply replace a talent like Saquon Barkley. Barkley was the driving force behind Penn State's offense, but the Nittany Lions may be able to compete without him. Quarterback Trace McSorley is back under center for one more year, and he completed 66.5 percent of his passes last year. His favorite target, Juwan Johnson, is still in the mix, so the offense should be able to produce. Defensively, the team needs to rebuild the middle, including two defensive tackles and inside linebackers. The Nittany Lions still figure to be dominant in getting to the quarterback after leading the Big Ten in sacks per game at 3.2.
Michigan - After a disappointing 8-5 season last year, the Wolverines are hoping a fresh face at quarterback can help bring the identity back to an offense that struggled mightily last season. The Wolverines finished ranked 105th in total offense, 91st in scoring offense and threw only nine TD passes. Shea Patterson - a transfer from Ole Miss -- will be tasked with calling the plays under center. Unfortunately, the O-line is a weak point of the team as is the inexperience on the outside with the receivers. Defensively, Big Blue return most of the key pieces that ranked third last year in the nation, including ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, who combined for 14 sacks.
Michigan State - The Spartans are everyone's sexy sleeper pick to make some noise this year in the Big Ten, and with good reason. They have one of the most experienced teams in the nations, returning 19 starters, including quarterback Brian Lewerke. Lewerke will look to improve on the 35th overall ranking in points per possession last year, and he has the pocket passing ability and mobility to do so. Defensively, the Spartans return nine starters from a defense that ranked No. 7 in the country in total defense and No. 2 in rushing defense. It's easy to see why MSU is being talked about as a team that can sneak into the CFP.
Northwestern - The Wildcats find themselves in a precarious position heading into this coming season. Sure, they were a 10-win team last year, but they will need to replace their all-time leading rusher and hope that their starting quarterback, Clayton Thorson, recovers from the ACL tear he suffered in last year's bowl game. If not, they will likely start junior TJ Green under center with a sophomore and a redshirt freshman backing him up. Defensively, the Wildcats should be in good hands, with All-Big Ten candidates scattered across each level of defense. The schedule is a bit easier than other Big Ten teams can say, but the season really depends on how good Thorson can be coming off the injury.
Nebraska - The Cornhuskers are one of the many teams in the Big Ten that have more questions than answers. They are undergoing a transition in scheme while potentially starting a true freshman at quarterback in Adrian Martinez, they need to fix up a defensive unit that gave up 436 yards and 36 points per game, and they have a tough schedule to deal with. There aren't many positives to talk about with Nebraska other than the fact that Scott Frost returns home to his alma-mater and has his work cut out for him.
Iowa - It's going to be a tricky season for the Hawkeyes to navigate as they will be without their leading rusher from last season, Akrum Wadley, who turned pro after his senior season. Instead, the onus will fall on quarterback Nate Stanley, who like his team last year was inconsistent at best. The Hawkeyes finished 8-5 last season but managed to finish the season with a Bowl win over Boston College. Unfortunately, without Wadley and several key pieces on the defensive unit, the Hawkeyes are going to be in for a long season. The only thing Iowa has going for them is the fact that they avoid playing Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Maryland - The elephant in the room is the uncertainty of whether or not DJ Durkin remains the coach of Maryland. Aside from that as a distraction, the Terrapins may be one of the more underrated teams in the Big Ten. Barring the same terrible injury luck the Terps suffered last year, they will have two decent quarterbacks running the system and with two capable backs and a solid set of receivers. Defensively, the Terps will need to improve significantly on the 37 points per game they allowed. Fortunately, they return a host of talented players who can help accomplish that feat.
Illinois - There aren't many positive things to be said about this Illini team. They went winless last year in the Big Ten and now figure to start one of three true freshmen at quarterback. Mix in the fact that the defense returns the majority of the starters that allowed more than 30 points per game, and the Illini find themselves in a lousy position. Not only will they not score enough points to win ball games, but their defense can't get any stops. It's going to be a long season for Lovie Smith and Co.
Rutgers - Rutgers is generally the laughingstock of the Big Ten, but they did improve from two wins in 2016 to four wins in 2017. Unfortunately, that's likely the ceiling for them again this year given the fact they averaged just 14 points per game last year while surrendering just fewer than 30. The one thing Rutgers does have going for them is the fact that six of the first seven games come against teams that were a combined 20-52. Not exactly a murderer's row of opponents. If the Scarlett Knights can make some headway early in the season then perhaps a bowl game will in fact be possible.
Indiana - The Hoosiers could be good this year or they could be bad. It all really depends on if a few breaks go their way and if they get solid quarterback play out of Brandon Dawkins or Payton Ramsey. Not to mention, the defense will need to improve slightly on the 25.3 points per game allowed but will have to do so without a few key pieces who've since moved on. The Hoosiers also have a terrible schedule this year, so getting to six wins might be a trickier task than most think.
Purdue - It was a positive year for Jeff Brohm and his Boilermakers as they managed to win the Foster Farms Bowl on the heels of solid QB play and a decent-enough defense. However, this year the defense must undergo a major revamp, so it'll be on the offense to lead the way to another Bowl Game. The defensive unit lost eight players from last year's team, and it will be on linebacker Markus Bailey to lead a defense that has to replace both corners and a handful of defensive linemen. It's tough to live up to expectations when you exceed them the year prior, which is why I believe regression is coming for the Boilermakers.
Minnesota - And, lastly, the Golden Gophers are a team with more questions than answers. They are counting on a freshman to win the starting quarterback role and improve on the team's seven touchdown passes in Big Ten play. If the Gophers can't score points then their defense, which was solid last year only giving up 22 points per game, would be wasted away in another mediocre season. Minnesota also missed a Bowl game for the first time since 2011 last year after finishing 5-7. Based on the schedule, they should get to six wins, but it all depends on if the offense takes a step forward this season.
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