The Big 10 employs one of the two best coaches in college football (Urban Meyer), the most entertaining coach in college football (Jim Harbaugh), and it has four teams who are nationally relevant and can compete for a playoff berth (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin).
The coaching depth has improved across the league, and the top of the conference is as good as any in college football. The bottom of the league (looking at you Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers) is still abhorrent, but overall the trajectory of the conference is positive.
Bowl losses from the best three teams in the league didn’t help its image in 2016, but there’s still a lot to like about the Big 10 in 2017.
Editor’s Note: wagering on sports is illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada, so these lines and picks are for entertainment purposes only.
Big 10 Championship Pick
Trivia time: Without looking, how many conference championships has Urban Meyer won during his five years at Ohio State?
If you guessed one, you probably cheated and went straight to Wikipedia. Seriously though, it’s amazing to me that the Buckeyes have only won one conference title during his tenure in Columbus, and that was the year they won the national title. They were close several times, and they even made the playoffs last season without winning the Big 10. But this feels like the year when Urban and Co. win the league title again en route to another playoff berth. The schedule sets up nicely as they avoid Wisconsin from the West division, and they also get Penn State in Columbus. The regular season finale at Michigan could be difficult, but I think the Buckeyes will already have the division sewn up by then. I’ll take Ohio State over Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game. The Pick: Ohio State -115.
Big 10 Dark Horse Championship Pick
I know Michigan is expected to be a top 12 team, but things have been oddly quiet surrounding the Wolverines entering the season. Ohio State and Penn State have been getting the attention from the Big 10 East, and Michigan only returns five starters from last year’s team.
I don’t think Michigan will be a great team during the first half of the season. Florida has a good chance to beat them Week 1, and Penn State probably will beat them in Happy Valley. But by the end of the year, I think Jim Harbaugh will have this young team playing great football before the Wolverines travel to take on Wisconsin and host Ohio State. The 2018 season might be the year where Michigan actually makes the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Harbaugh has this team playing as well as anyone in November. The Pick: Michigan +575.
Big 10 Division Winners
Both of my division winners are status quo picks, which I normally hate making. I’ve already given my reasons why I like Ohio State, and I’m taking Wisconsin because the Badgers have simply been a consistent winner in the Big 10 and they return plenty of talent from last year’s Cotton Bowl-winning squad.
I will say that I hesitated a little before picking the Badgers. The Big 10 West is a pretty bad division, but I like Northwestern a good bit this year. If the Wildcats were hosting Wisconsin, I might lean towards picking them instead. Pat Fitzgerald’s team has back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Penn State, and they will be underdogs in both. But if they happen to win one of those two, Northwestern could be a 10-win team. The Picks: Ohio State -155 and Wisconsin -155.
Big 10 Overs
I could be boring and give out Ohio State over 10.5 (-190), which is a lock. Or even Michigan over 9 (even), which will at least push and likely go over. But you didn’t come here for boring picks and analysis that you can get anywhere. So I’m going out on a limb here with this over pick and taking a team I believe is a couple of years away from making some noise in the Big 10.
Maryland won six games in D.J. Durkin’s first season in 2016, but the Terrapins win total sits at 3.5 for the 2017 season. They lost some talent on the offensive side of the ball, and the schedule is absolutely brutal. But I like Maryland for the upside. They have plenty of young talent, and many would be surprised to know they were fourth in recruiting in the Big 10 in 2017. Durkin brought in the No. 18 overall class, which only trailed Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Unfortunately, those three teams are in the same division as Maryland, and the Terps are pretty much guaranteed to lose all three. They’ll also likely lose at Wisconsin and at Texas, and they’ll be underdogs in all but 2-3 games. They should beat Towson and Rutgers at home, so they’d need to find two more wins from the following: at Minnesota, vs. Northwestern, vs. Indiana, and at Michigan State. Look, I get that four wins might be a stretch for this team, and this is far from a lock. But I like the upside for this team, and I think Durkin gets at least four wins from this group before they have a bigger season in 2018. The Pick: Maryland over 3.5 (-160).
Big 10 Unders
I almost decided to take Nebraska under 7 (-135) here, but then I looked a little closer at Illinois. And then a little closer. And then a li—OH GOD MY EYES. Um, Illinois is going to be a terrible football team. As I mentioned in our Pac-12 preview, I think Illinois, Cal, and Kansas will be the worst three Power 5 teams in the country. Illinois is so bad, head coach Lovie Smith is practically begging students to try out for the team as walk-ons a week before the freaking season. Not great, Bob.
The schedule does the Fighting Illini no favors either. They should win at home against Ball State in Week 1, but their other two non-conference games are home for Western Kentucky and at South Florida. They will get pounded in both games. They have two winnable conference games vs. Rutgers and at Purdue, but they aren’t a lock to win either. I see three wins max for Illinois, which is how many they won last season. The Pick: Illinois under 3.5 (-170).
Big 10 Heisman Pick
A well known secret in college football over the last two years has been how much Ohio State’s offense has struggled without Tom Herman calling the plays. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who took over for Herman, has now joined Herman at Texas, and he was replaced by former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson. Wilson had success as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator from 2002-2010, and I believe he will be exactly what quarterback J.T. Barrett needs to get back on track this season.
As a freshman, Barrett threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns while running for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns before getting hurt. Cardale Jones then led the Buckeyes to a national championship, and there was a quarterback controversy the next season. That and the combination of Herman’s absence saw a dip in Barrett’s numbers, and they declined a little further in 2016. As a senior, I think Barrett makes drastic improvements with Wilson calling the plays, and I’m expecting the Ohio State offense to look drastically improved this season. If the Buckeyes make the playoffs and Barrett’s numbers improve, expect him to be in New York for the Heisman ceremony. The Pick: J.T. Barrett +1200.