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2017 Big Ten Conference Breakdown

Date: Aug 1, 2017
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Ohio State Buckeyes (2016: 11-2 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: -115

Season win total: 10.5

Why to bet the Buckeyes: Motivation. Ohio St. made it to the College Football Playoff last season but was embarrassed 31-0 by eventual champion Clemson. Going 11-1 during the regular season meant nothing because of that loss to the Tigers and the Buckeyes will be out to return by going 13-0. They bring back quarterback J.T. Barrett and possess one of the best offensive lines in the country so the offense will thrive under new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Ohio St. is again strong on defense and the schedule is on its side with three of its four toughest games taking place at home.

Why not to bet the Buckeyes: There is certainly going to be a lot of pressure to make it back to the CFP for the third time in four years and the Big Ten is no pushover. The Buckeyes had some close calls last season with two overtime wins and two other wins by a combined five points and those could go the other way this season should there be close games. While the defense will have one of the best front fours in the nation, the back seven has to replace a lot of talent with the secondary taking the biggest brunt in the NFL draft. Ohio St. also has to replace its top three receivers on offense.

Season win total pick: Over 10.5

Wisconsin Badgers (2016: 11-3 SU, 9-4-1 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +300

Season win total: 10.5

Why to bet the Badgers: As is the case almost every year, the defense is the strength of Wisconsin and this year it has the potential to be one of the best units in recent program history. The Badgers lost only four starters on defense and while they are big losses, it is a reload and not a rebuild. They are even better off on offense with eight starters back including quarterback Alex Hornibrook who should be much better after getting thrown into the fire as a freshman. The schedule sets up great as they do not face Ohio St. and Penn St. and they get Michigan and Iowa at home.

Why not to bet the Badgers: Even though the offense returns a bulk of the starters from last season, it was a bad unit as the Badgers were No. 89 in total offense and No. 67 in scoring offense. Wisconsin scored 23 or fewer points seven times and two of those were overtime games. A year later, it will be better but how much better is the question as they relied on their defense too much. Wisconsin must replace another defense coordinator as Justin Wilcox left for the California head coaching job and in comes unproven Jim Leonhard. The defense needs some of the pressure taken off it.

Season win total pick: Under 10.5

Penn St. Nittany Lions (2016: 11-3 SU, 10-3-1 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +500

Season win total: 10

Why to bet the Nittany Lions: While motivation is a common theme for the top teams in the Big Ten, Penn St. should be the most motivated. The Nittany Lions defeated Ohio St. during the regular season and then beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship but was not considered for the CFP. There is enough talent in place on both sides of the ball to repeat as Big Ten East Champions but it of course will have to get by Ohio St. for a second straight season. The offense was one of the best in the country last season and will be better in 2017 while the defense will again be tough.

Why not to bet the Nittany Lions: That trip to Ohio St. could be a season killer as a loss there could make things tougher the next week when they travel to Michigan St. The offense was great last season but they had to play catch up on numerous occasions and not because of the defense but because the Nittany Lions were one of the slowest starting teams on offense in the nation. That put pressure on the defense which this year has to replace key pass rushers so that defense could not be as strong late in games. The Nittany Lions also have other tough road games at Iowa and Northwestern.

Season win total pick: Under 10

Michigan Wolverines (2016: 10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +600

Season win total: 8.5

Why to bet the Wolverines: There is plenty of motivation for the Wolverines as well after a brutal overtime loss at Ohio St. and a one-point loss to Florida St. in the Orange Bowl last season. Michigan recruited well once again and has some of the best incoming talent in the conference and already possesses an NFL caliber quarterback in Wilton Speight. The Wolverines have finished third in the Big Ten East in two seasons under Jim Harbaugh, both of which finished at 10-3, and now with this being mainly his recruits, it could be time for Michigan to take that next step.

Why not to bet the Wolverines: While the talent is there, it is very raw. Michigan is returning only five starters this season, which is the fewest in the country. Of this, only one starter is back on the defense which finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense. That is a lot to replace and success will not happen overnight. The Wolverines will be tested right away with an opening game against Florida in Arlington and must take on Penn St. and Wisconsin on the road later in the season. This could be the best team in the country, but not until 2018.

Season win total pick: Under 8.5

Northwestern Wildcats (2016: 7-6 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2000

Season win total: 8.5

Why to bet the Wildcats: The Wildcats defense last season was a bend-don’t-break unit as they finished No. 24 in points allowed and did not give up more than 29 points in any game. And this was with a secondary that was decimated with injuries. Northwestern brings back eight starters so the chance for improvement is there. The offense was far from strong however as it scored 21 points or less six times, all resulting in losses. Eight starters return on this side as well including running back Justin Jackson, a 1,500-yard rusher, and quarterback Clayton Thorson.

Why not to bet the Wildcats: While the offense brings back of bunch of starters from last season, that does not necessarily mean it will be much better. A lot of this comes down to the offensive line which allowed 39 sacks and improving an offensive line does not happen right away. This will continue to put pressure on the defense to again keep games close and that may not happen a second straight season. The Wildcats lost to Western Michigan and Illinois St. to open last season and facing Nevada, Duke and Bowling Green to start this season may look encouraging but they again could be traps.

Season win total pick: Over 8.5

Nebraska Cornhuskers (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-5-2 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2000

Season win total: 7

Why to bet the Cornhuskers: Nebraska has won at least nine games in eight of the last nine years but are projected well below that this season which creates some value. Neither the offense nor the defense all great enough to carry the team but both are adequate enough to keep the Cornhuskers in games. The loss of quarterback Tommy Armstrong is a blow but transfer Tanner Lee showed he is capable to make the offense better. The defense should be more physical with the hiring of former Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator and the return of six key starters.

Why not to bet the Cornhuskers: Nebraska brings back the third fewest starters in the Big Ten and that is not a good thing in a conference that is getting stronger overall. This includes just four returnees on offense with half of those coming from the offensive line which is not a strong unit to begin with. A total of 70 percent of the rushing yards, 63 percent of the receiving yards and 62 percent of receptions from 2016 will be gone and that is a lot to replace. A road game at Oregon in Week Two could set the tone and there are only five games on the schedule that can be counted as sure wins.

Season win total pick: Over 7

Iowa Hawkeyes (2016: 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2200

Season win total: 7

Why to bet the Hawkeyes: There in nothing flamboyant about the Hawkeyes but there never is. Iowa succeeded last season with a solid running game and strong defense which is usually a carbon copy of every year. It is imperative for the offense to have some sort of passing game as last year, the Hawkeyes finished No. 118 in the country in passing offense but they have one of the best offensive lines around and they should also improve with a new quarterback taking over. The defense returns eight starters that finished No. 23 overall and No. 13 in points allowed.

Why not to bet the Hawkeyes: Coming up with a downfield passing attack is easier said than done. The Hawkeyes have struggled with this for years and the offense has not been able to generate much to help the defense. Iowa was on the field for only 27 minutes per game last season on offense and that will be a problem again. The schedule is not easy with crossover games against Ohio St. and Penn St. and the three toughest games from the West Division coming on the road.

Season win total pick: Under 7

Minnesota Golden Gophers (2016: 9-4 SU, 5-5-3 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2800

Season win total: 7.5

Why to bet the Golden Gophers: Last season was a special one as Minnesota won at least nine games for only the second time since 1906. Was that just an anomaly or have the Gophers turned the corner? They have made five straight bowl appearances and bring in a great coaching prospect in P.J. Fleck that can jumpstart a pretty dormant offense. The offensive line is the biggest in the conference and opens holes for two great running backs so any sort of passing attack upgrade will do wonders. Five of nine Big Ten games are at home while three of the four road games are winnable.

Why not to bet the Golden Gophers: Minnesota has won eight or more games in consecutive seasons only twice since 1962 and it will have to do it again to surpass the Vegas win total. The defense was surprisingly good last season but there is a new defensive coordinator as well with Robb Smith so that could cause some issues. That means the offense has to get better and with two unproven quarterbacks battling for the starting spot, that may not happen for a while. The back end of the schedule is brutal with the last five games against teams that went bowling a season ago.

Season win total pick: Under 7.5

Michigan St. Spartans (2016: 3-9 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +3300

Season win total: 5

Why to bet the Spartans: Michigan St. is coming off its worst season even under head coach Mark Dantonio and its first losing season since 2009. The three wins were the fewest since 1994 and this coming after a berth in the CFP in 2015 but all of this means we can buy low. Both offense and defense were dreadful last season as the offense had too many turnovers and the defense could not get off the field. The Spartans return only nine starters overall so this can be considered a rebuild by some but this is more of a reload as top programs do not stay down long.

Why not to bet the Spartans: With Michigan and Ohio St. dominating the recruiting, the Spartans may not be getting the talent they once were which could be putting them on the decline. Turnovers were contagious but the Spartans also committed way too many penalties and that can go back to the coaching staff. Michigan St. could not win in the trenches, allowing 27 sacks while generating only 11 of its own. They have arguably the toughest schedule in the Big Ten as they are at Ohio St. and Michigan and host Penn St. and Iowa in addition to five other games against bowl teams from last year.

Season win total pick: Over 5

Indiana Hoosiers (2016: 6-7 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +8000

Season win total: 6.5

Why to bet the Hoosiers: Head coach Kevin Wilson left for Ohio St. but he did not leave the cupboard bare. The passing attack is potent led by quarterback Richard Lagow who threw for 3.362 yards and 19 touchdowns and he gets a great receiving corps back to pass to. The defense returns nine starters, the most of any Big Ten team, and while that normally would not lead to excitement, Indiana finished No. 45 in total defense, allowing 380.1 ypg, which is the fewest it has allowed since 2001. The schedule sets up well for making it to a third straight bowl game.

Why not to bet the Hoosiers: While the pieces are in place, the loss of Wilson is big considering he was forced to resign over philosophical differences. The coaching switch should be seamless but how much improvement will there actually be? This team was very solid last season yet still finished 6-7 for a second straight year and now they are being asked to up that this season. Lagow had solid numbers but to go along with his 19 touchdowns, he also threw 17 picks. Opening the season against Ohio St. seems unfair and could put the Hoosiers in a bad place before the season has barely started.

Season win total pick: Under 6.5

Maryland Terrapins (2016: 6-7 SU, 4-9 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +10000

Season win total: 3

Why to bet the Terrapins: The rebuilding process is taking shape at Maryland as head coach D.J. Durkin got the Terrapins back into a bowl game in his first season and he brought in a loaded recruiting class for this season. 14 starters are back, seven on each side of the ball, and both units are in good position. The offense has solid playmakers and quarterback Kasim Hill comes in as one of the most highly touted recruits in a very long time. The defense has plenty of experience back even beyond the starters and they should improve upon their No. 77 total defense ranking from last season.

Why not to bet the Terrapins: Hill is a blue-chip recruit but that does not mean a thing until he starts to produce and he may still not even start. Last season, three different Terrapins started, and four quarterbacks had at least 33 passing attempts so a quarterback to emerge is vital. After allowing 25 sacks in 2015, the offensive line gave up nearly double that as they allowed 49 sacks last season. The schedule was brutal last season and while they passed the test, the schedule is even more demanding this year with four tough Big Ten road games and home games against Michigan and Penn St.

Season win total pick: Over 3

Illinois Fighting Illini (2016: 3-9 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +20000

Season win total: 3.5

Why to bet the Illini: The first year of the Lovie Smith era did not go as planned but there was not a lot to work with. The offense had regressed each of the last four years and last season was the worst yet as it finished No. 123 in total offense and No. 122 in scoring offense. There is nowhere to go but up. The same can be said for the defense that underachieved last season and allowed close to 32 ppg. The second year of a new coaching staff usually shows progress and that is the hope here. The nonconference schedule is not bad and there are some winnable home Big Ten games.

Why not to bet the Illini: The best news coming into the offseason was the signing of JUCO quarterback Dwayne Lawson which was considered a savior for the inept offense. Unfortunately, he had academic issues and he did not enroll so the Illini are stuck at the quarterback position with little talent. Defensively, the Illini lost their entire front four and that is not good considering the defense allowed over 219 ypg on the ground. It is going to be at least another year until the rebuild starts to take shape and with the lack of talent on both sides, surpassing the win total from last year will be tough.

Season win total pick: Under 3.5

Purdue Boilermakers (2016: 3-9 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +20000

Season win total: 2.5

Why to bet the Boilermakers: Purdue has not been relevant since the Joe Tiller days as Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell could not turn things around with Hazell winning just nine games in his four years. Enter Jeff Brohm who led Western Kentucky to success and produced the top ranked scoring offense last season. Quarterback David Blough will fit well into this system and the offense will no doubt improve upon its No. 101 ranking in points scored. The Boilermakers were even worse on defense but they will improve there as well but the total rebuild will take some time.

Why not to bet the Boilermakers: Brohm may have the quarterback he wants but he is still lacking the talent to compete with the big boys so this is not going to happen overnight. Lack of receiver depth hurts and the offensive line is below average. The defense was so bad last season that even major improvement may not help. Purdue was awful at stopping the run and was one of the worst teams in the country in third down defense. Continuing to improve as the season goes along is the ultimate goal but anything more than five wins is unlikely.

Season win total pick: Over 2.5

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2016: 2-10 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +25000

Season win total: 3

Why to bet the Scarlet Knights: Rutgers is coming off its worst season since 2002 as it won just two games and one of those was against Howard of the FCS. The offense was so bad within the conference as it scored seven points or less in six of nine Big Ten games including getting shutout four times. Johnathan Lewis is a four-star recruit at quarterback which is a position that has been desolate for years. He may not have success right away but paves the way for a bright future. Defensively, 10 of the top 13 tacklers are back which given them hope to slow some teams down and stay competitive.

Why not to bet the Scarlet Knights: Turning around the worst scoring offense in the country is a tall task and it will take Lewis time to get comfortable at the next level, if he even gets a chance as a true freshman. Rutgers was outscored by 127 points in the first quarter last season and playing catch up was something it was unable to do and it will be unable to do so again this season. The Scarlet Knights were unable to even compete with the big boys, losing by a combined 224-0 against Ohio St., Michigan, Michigan St. and Penn St. and all are back on the schedule this year.

Season win total pick: Over 3

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