Hot Reads: What the Early Big Ten Win Totals Are Telling Us
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: What the Early Big Ten Win Totals Are Telling Us

May 21, 2018

Late last week––an Antigua-based online sports book that should probably enjoy days of publicity like this as they are likely coming to a close––released a batch of updated 2018 win totals for college football.

Nebraska wasn't included in that group, but five other Big Ten teams were. Here's what those odds, in my opinion, are trying to tell us about the 2018 conference race.

Ohio State – 9.5: The Buckeyes return most of the key pieces on offense, minus a quarterback, but only have four returning starters on defense (two on the line, two in the secondary). For a normal team that would be decent enough reason for pause. Urban Meyer's 47-3 record in Big Ten play indicates this isn't a normal team. TCU presents a tricky game (at a "neutral" site in Arlington) in Week 3, but the big hurdle here is at Penn State. FPI makes the Nittany Lions a slight favorite in that game, but the Buckeyes could lose that one and still have a game in hand for the over. (Gut Reaction: Over)

Wisconsin – 9.5: The Badgers have some holes to fill on defense, but should be loaded offensively with a returning quarterback and Jonathan Taylor, one of the best running backs in the game, not to mention all five starters back on the offensive line. Also, the nonconference schedule is tailor-made for a 3-0 start. Seems like a recipe for another classic Wisconsin run to 10 wins, and that seems likely. But it must be mentioned that the road schedule (Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue) offers no easy outs. (Gut Reaction: Pass, but if forced I'd take the under and be sweating it all season.)

Penn State – 9.5: Like the other two nine-plus teams in the conference, the Nittany Lions return a lot on offense, not a lot on defense. (This feels noteworthy in a conference typically defined by defense.) The former does include a giant, Saquon Barkley-sized hole in the backfield but quarterback Trace McSorley is still there. Unless the Week 2 trip to Pitt becomes a throw-out-the-records type of brawl, the question here as I see it is this: Can Penn State at least split its four toughest games (Ohio State, Michigan State, at Michigan, Wisconsin). Given that three of those are at home, I like Penn State's chances. (Gut Reaction: Over.)

Michigan – 8.5: Everyone has Jim Harbaugh in prove-it territory headed into 2018, but I still have a hard time looking at 2017 as a major failure. The Wolverines return virtually everyone from that young, injury-riddled team and add a pretty talented transfer quarterback. Michigan faces Notre Dame in the opener. The Irish will be favored, but that's the time to play as a slight underdog because Week 1 games always have the potential to get wacky. Even with a loss there and to Ohio State at the end of the season, the Wolverines could split against Penn State and Wisconsin (both home games) and still hit the over provided they beat Michigan State. (Gut Reaction: Over, assuming Shea Patterson adds something to the passing game.)

Michigan State – 7.5: Well, well, well. Michigan State brings back 19 starters and is coming off a 10-3 season, yet this book has the Spartans at 7.5? Plenty of people may rush to take the over––other places put the number at 8.5––but I'm not that bullish on the Spartans in 2018. While Mark Dantonio deservedly ranks among the conference's best coaches, the Spartans have shown the tendency get derailed for a year (3-9 in 2016, 7-6 in 2012) in the middle of highly successful stretches. Also, the 2017 slate was full of close wins (including one over Penn State, which can't be discounted) and two of the three losses came by a total of 65 points. So how good was that 2017 team? If you just look at record and what Michigan State returns, there's no way you take the under. I'm less convinced. (Gut Reaction: Pass. I can't find five losses on the schedule, but I can get to four. Under if I had to, and I virtually do given that I lean towards over with the other three East teams here.)

Ohio State and Wisconsin will be clear division favorites, but those totals paint a picture of an up-for-grabs Big Ten. Based on that, where would you put Nebraska's total?

My guess is 6.5. The Huskers play seven home games, the toughest of which appears to be Michigan State. Give me the over if that's the number for Nebraska.

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