Our college football conference preview continues as we take a deep dive into the Big Ten Conference.
The win totals, conference title odds and national championship odds for every FBS team have been released, and below our experts — Bill Connelly, David Hale, Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh and Tyler Fulghum — give their best best bets for the Big Ten.
Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
Big Ten best bets
Michigan Wolverines under 7.5 wins (+105)
Fortenbaugh: New year, new quarterback for the Wolverines, a troubling trend that has played a significant role in head coach Jim Harbaugh’s underwhelming results in six seasons in Ann Arbor. Compounding that issue this year is the fact that Michigan is breaking in a brand new defense under first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald, which is going to require time and patience in getting off the ground. I need five losses to cash this under ticket and I think three of them come in the form of road dates at Wisconsin and Penn State, not to mention the annual beat-down known as the Ohio State rivalry. Matchups with Washington, Northwestern and Indiana all pose issues and don’t overlook the Maryland game, which is your classic sandwich spot coming a week after Penn State and a week before Ohio State.
Penn State Nittany Lions to win the league (+800)
Hale: The worry with Penn State is its travel schedule. The Nittany Lions open on the road at Wisconsin, then travel for Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State. Add in home games vs. Auburn, Indiana and Michigan, and it’s a tough docket for Penn State. Still, there’s a lot to like about a veteran team floating a bit beneath the radar thanks to a disappointing 2020 record. Remember, Penn State finished strong, seemed to figure out its offensive issues, and had awful luck in two losses in which it outgained its opponent by 200-plus yards. Add in the largest year over year swing in points off turnover margin, and Penn State is due for an infusion of good luck that might help counteract that tough schedule. Given the low return on Ohio State and the relatively unlikely paths for anyone else in the Big Ten, getting Penn State at +800 is well worth the risk.
Michigan State Spartans over 4.5 wins (-140)
Connelly: Sparty isn’t going to be a darkhorse East contender or anything in 2021, but 4.5 wins? That’s a really low bar when you look at a schedule that features Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, Maryland and Nebraska at home, plus winnable road trips to Rutgers, Northwestern and Purdue. They also get Michigan at home after winning in Ann Arbor last season.
Indiana Hoosiers over 7.5 wins (-105)
Fulghum: Indiana was an absolute revelation last year. They went 6-1 SU and 7-0 ATS in Big Ten play. Tom Allen returns 17 starters from last year’s team. The schedule may not be easy but I think the Hoosiers are more than a one-year wonder under the guidance of Tom Allen and QB Michael Penix Jr. The loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl should provide Allen a great motivational tool to inspire his players throughout the season.
Indiana Hoosiers under 7.5 wins (-115)
Kezirian: With all due respect to Tyler, I am going to disagree with my buddy. One thing I love doing is fading the team that took a giant step forward the previous season, thanks to several fortunate breaks. Frankly, without calling it a fluke, I will just say that it’s going to be very difficult for Indiana to duplicate last year’s success. I recognize the appeal of head coach Tom Allen and I am right in line rooting for the guy. But as we all know, we must bet with our brain and not our heart. Am I really supposed to believe that the Hoosiers will only lose four games all season? They host Ohio State and face Penn State in Happy Valley. I realize James Franklin can be a knucklehead and he lost to IU last year but I am booking two losses. Road trips to Iowa, Michigan, Maryland and Purdue don’t exactly scream victory and Indiana also hosts Cincinnati and Minnesota. Good luck.
Iowa Hawkeyes under 8.5 wins (-130)
Kezirian: Iowa is such a solid program that usually surpasses expectations but an 8-4 campaign would still draw positive reviews. This number is just too high, as I see too many tough games for the Hawkeyes to notch nine wins. Conference games against Penn State and at Wisconsin should account for two losses. A trip to Ames to face 7th-ranked and rival Iowa State figures to be a loss but Iowa has won five straight meetings. The Cyclones are good but a rivalry is always tough and Iowa can win again if it dominates the trenches. Beyond that, Iowa has tough home games against Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota, while traveling to Maryland, Northwestern and Nebraska. If the Hawkeyes lose to Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa State, they cannot lose to any of those six schools I just mentioned. Just for context, the Hawkeyes are only 4-point home favorites to Indiana. This schedule will be a grind, even without having to face Ohio State. This is a very strong play for me and my second-favorite in all of college football (behind Auburn under 7).
Northwestern Wildcats under 6.5 wins (-120)
Connelly: Over the last 10 seasons, Northwestern has won 9+ games four times (and possibly would have made it five with a full slate last year) and finished under .500 four times. Granted, only one of those subpar seasons has come since 2014, but the Wildcats’ dreadful 3-9 campaign in 2019 is still a pretty recent reminder of how things can go awry when Pat Fitzgerald’s roster doesn’t have quite the right balance. This season, just about everyone returns far more of last year’s production than usual, but NU has to replace its starting quarterback (a particularly good one in Peyton Ramsey), top four receivers, top two linebackers and three of its top four DBs. Oh yeah, and steady longtime defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz retired. I have no doubt that Northwestern will have another awesome season soon, but SP+ projects them only 76th this season (dead last in returning production) and gives them only a 15% chance of topping 6.5 wins. I’m inclined to listen.
Minnesota Golden Gophers over 7 wins (-110); to win the league (+2000)
Connelly: The Golden Gophers’ defense fell apart last season, and they dropped from 11-2 in 2019 to 3-4; that’s twice as many losses in barely half the games. If nothing else, that creates a nice buy-low opportunity. An offense led by Tanner Morgan and Mohamed Ibrahim should still be stellar in Minnesota-ish ways, and the defense probably won’t be quite as dismal. SP+ projects them 24th overall this year and gives the Gophers a 58% chance of winning 8+ games and only a 19% chance of winning six or fewer. And their division title odds are just good enough, then, to justify a 20-1 conference title flier, too.