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September 26, 2018

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Countdown to college football: Picking every team’s win total in the Big Ten

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Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller plays against Penn State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

The South Point sports book currently lists 13 teams at 30-to-1 odds or less to win the College Football Playoff National Championship.

The Big Ten has more teams in that group than any other conference with five — Ohio State at 6-to-1, Michigan at 15-to-1, Penn State at 15-to-1, Michigan State at 30-to-1 and Wisconsin at 30-to-1. And the first four aforementioned teams all share a division — the Big Ten East.

The Big Ten hasn’t enjoyed a great recent run, at least not compared with its power-conference brethren. The conference, of course, was left out of last year’s College Football Playoff.

Big Ten teams went an impressive 7-1 in bowl games to call into question whether that should have been the case, but the conference still sits nine games below .500 in postseason play over the last decade. It’s never statistically rated out as the nation’s best conference in that span.

This could be the year where that changes.

Read below as Talking Points previews the Big Ten in the blog’s continuing series picking the win totals of every team in the nation.

Indiana

over/under: 5.5 (minus-105, minus-125)

Last Year: 5-7 straight-up, 3-8-1 against the spread

This total has shot up a half point, which signifies bettors’ faith in coach Tom Allen’s ability to mold a strong defense despite losing most of last year’s starters. He’ll also need to fix the offense, though, after it averaged a paltry 4.9 yards per play last year. Even if everything goes right, there are too many land mines in the Big Ten East to count on Indiana making a major leap.

Guess: Under 5.5 wins at minus-125

Maryland

over/under: 5 (minus-140, plus-110)

Last Year: 4-8 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

It feels impossible to handicap how Maryland will respond to the investigation and suspension of coach D.J. Durkin — not to mention how trivial it all seems after the death of Jordan McNair. The Terrapins had a lot looking up for them previously. They were ravaged by injury luck last season — including to both of their top two quarterbacks — to an extent almost impossible to repeat. Maryland also brought in offensive coordinator Matt Canada, whose stock couldn’t have been higher two years ago when he engineered an upset win over eventual national champion Clemson while at Pittsburgh.

Guess: Over 5 wins at minus-140

Michigan

over/under: 9 (minus-125, plus-105)

Last Year: 8-5 straight-up, 5-7-1 against the spread

The Wolverines have gone under their win total for two straight seasons, and the betting market has driven down the price on their under once again this summer. That makes it feel like a good time to buy low on Michigan. It’s easy to forget it was a controversial double-overtime loss to Ohio State away from a Big Ten Championship Game and possible College Football Playoff berth two years ago. And now coach Jim Harbaugh has the best quarterback of his tenure in Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson to go with a trio of defensive superstars in Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson and Chase Winovich.

Lean: Over 9 wins at minus-125

Michigan State

over/under: 9 (minus-105, minus-115)

Last Year: 10-3 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread

The Spartans return the most production of any team in the nation. And it’s not as if they struggled last year. On the contrary, Michigan State eclipsed its win total by 3.5 victories by going 9-3 in the regular season. The Spartans probably weren’t as great as their record indicated considering they went 5-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown and barely outgained Big Ten opponents overall. But even those strikes against them are outweighed by a favorable schedule. Michigan State gets both Michigan and Ohio State at home, along with avoiding Wisconsin out of the Big Ten West.

Lean: Over 9 wins at minus-105

Ohio State

over/under: 10.5 (minus-105, minus-125)

Last Year: 12-2 straight-up, 7-7 against the spread

On one hand, a rebuilding year looks like a possibility on the surface after the Buckeyes lost a glut of players from last year’s team. On the other, composite recruiting rankings indicate Ohio State edges even Alabama for the most talented roster in the nation. The time to bet on the Buckeyes was a couple weeks ago right after the suspension of coach Urban Meyer, as their future odds dipped slightly. Now that it looks increasingly likely that Meyer’s absence won’t be for an extended period of time, the market has stabilized.

Guess: Under 10.5 wins at minus-125

Penn State

over/under: 9.5 (minus-105, minus-115)

Last Year: 11-2 straight-up, 8-4-1 against the spread

How much can a great quarterback compensate for shortcomings elsewhere? The Nittany Lions’ season looks like a case study. They have one of the country’s best signal callers in senior Trace McSorley, but not much else left from the core that elevated them near the top of college football over the last two years. Bettors appear split or unsure what to make of Penn State, as it has the rare win total that has stayed almost entirely stable since opening a couple months ago.

Lean: Under 9.5 wins at minus-115

Rutgers

over/under: 3.5 (minus-155, plus-125)

Last Year: 4-8 straight-up, 8-4 against the spread

It’s hard for a team to win games when they can’t move the ball. Rutgers can’t move the ball. The Scarlet Knights ranked 128th in the nation in gaining 4.1 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents last year, and there’s nothing indicating imminent improvement this year. The win total sits so low — especially for a team with Texas State, Kansas and Buffalo on the non-conference slate — that over might be the play at decent odds. But there’s no reason to pay a big price on an overmatched program stuck in a suffocating division.

Guess: Under 3.5 wins at plus-125

Illinois

over/under: 4 (plus-140, minus-170)

Last Year: 2-10 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

The first upset has already occurred, as Virginia Tech transfer A.J. Bush beat out presumed starter Cam Thomas in a training-camp quarterback competition. Now Illinois will need to pull a couple more in order to go over its win total. The Illini project as favorites in their first two games, against Kent State and Western Illinois, and not again for the rest of the season. They’ve been too thoroughly outclassed in conference play — Illinois hasn’t had a winning Big Ten season in 11 years or even a profitable against the spread record in conference in eight years — to call for any confidence.

Guess: Under 4 wins at minus-170

Iowa

over/under: 7.5 (minus-135, plus-115)

Last Year: 8-5 straight-up, 6-6-1 against the spread

Iowa has won eight games in each of the last two seasons, and this year’s team arguably looks better than either of those two teams coming in. The Hawkeyes have a legitimate passing game for once, as not only junior quarterback Nathan Stanley returns but also his top two targets in receiver Nick Easley and tight end Noah Fant. There are far more questions on defense, but if coach Kirk Ferentz has proven anything in his 20-year tenure, it’s that he can keep his defenses at a relatively consistent level.

Play: Over 7.5 wins at minus-135

Minnesota

over/under: 6 (plus-105, minus-135)

Last Year: 5-7 straight-up, 4-7-1 against the spread

How much can a well-rounded roster compensate for the lack of a quarterback? Minnesota’s season looks like the opposite case study of Penn State’s. Freshman walk-on Zack Annexstad didn’t even start at IMG Academy in high school last year, but won the job for the Golden Gophers. Coach P.J. Fleck has more than proven a schematic brilliance offensively, and has some nice pieces in workhorse running back Rodney Smith and an experienced offensive line. But the thought of a freshman walk-on at the most important position is a scary one.

Guess: Under 6 wins at minus-135

Nebraska

over/under: 6 (minus-110, minus-110)

Last Year: 4-8 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread

Based on Nebraska’s play on the field and recruiting over the last few years, this number might be a little high, if anything. But that ignores the Frost factor. The hiring of former Cornhusker great Scott Frost received much praise in December, but it hasn’t translated to dollars at the betting window. Frost easily eclipsed his win total in both his seasons at Central Florida, and could do it again now that he’s back home. His spread option seems like it will fit well against the more typically burly West Division opponents.

Lean: Over 6 wins at minus-110

Northwestern

over/under: 6 (minus-125, plus-105)

Last Year: 10-3 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread

The Wildcats enter the regular season with the nation’s longest win streak at eight games, and a senior quarterback in Clayton Thorson who’s getting first-round NFL Draft buzz. In other words, there are high expectations at Northwestern for once. High expectations can be dangerous. Especially when living up to them will fall so much on Thorson, whom has scouts enamored more for his potential than his on-field production. He actually regressed last season, averaging 6.6 yards per pass attempt with 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

Guess: Under 6 wins at plus-105

Purdue

over/under: 6 (Even, minus-130)

Last Year: 7-6 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread

It took one of the best coaching performances in the country last season for Jeff Brohm to bring the Boilermakers to their first bowl since 2012 in his inaugural season. It might take an even better one to get them bowl eligible this year. Purdue rode a senior-laden defense to success in 2017. This year, it will have to rely on freshmen in the same spots. The Boilermakers also led the nation with an unsustainable 69 percent fumble recovery rate.

Play: Under 6 wins at minus-130

Wisconsin

over/under: 10 (minus-115, minus-105)

Last Year: 13-1 straight-up, 9-5 against the spread

Here’s a team with hardly any weaknesses. The Badgers might have the country’s best offensive line, which could pave the way for sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor to become the leading rusher in the nation. Junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook broke out as a capable passer as last season went on. Perhaps the only question mark comes in the pass defense, and the Big Ten West is a division that provides some respite for a team working on its pass defense.

Play: Over 10 wins at minus-115

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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