The NCAA-impacted situations at Penn State and Ohio State and the difficulty in projecting Michigan, arguably 2011's luckiest college football team, make handicapping the Big Ten's season win totals quite difficult. Here are my picks.
Indiana Under Wins 3.5 (+160), 5Dimes: Indiana must replace two of its top four receivers, but they were not difference makers. The losses at the tackle spots are more significant, as Indiana must replace both, and both were multi-year starters. The Hoosiers also suffer heavy losses at linebacker. Ultimately, though, this team simply lacks talent. The Hoosiers should be improved in their second year under Kevin Wilson, but getting plus money that the improvement will be from one win in 2011 to two or three in 2012, not four or more, is too good to pass up.
Northwestern Under Wins 6.5 (-165), 5Dimes: I see four, five or six wins for this Northwestern team, not seven or more. Quarterback Dan Persa is gone, as is leading rusher and second leading receiver, Kain Colter, who now takes over at QB full time. Other key losses include the top receiver and tight end, and the second-leading running back. Both guards and the left tackle also must be replaced.
Defensively, Northwestern must replace its best end and tackle, its WILL linebacker, one starting safety and its top three corners.
When teams that lack talent have big years, it's usually because they return a lot of experienced, multi-year starters. Northwestern must replace almost 70 percent of its starting lineup from a team that only won six games.
The schedule is also daunting, as the Wildcats only project to be clearly better than North Dakota, Indiana and Minnesota. They'll need to be perfect in those three and pull four upsets for me to lose this wager.
I was close to pulling the trigger on these leans, but the value was just not enough to warrant a season-long wager.
Wisconsin Over 9.5 Wins (+140), 5Dimes: Update: the line has moved to (-110) since I put these picks together, perhaps due to Danny O'Brien formally being named the starter. It would be a lean and not a play at the new price.
Wisconsin must replace its quarterback, top receiver, three offensive linemen (two of them first-team All-Big Ten), a defensive end, linebacker, corner and an excellent safety in Aaron Henry. Oh, and most of its coaching staff.
But that's OK. The only teams on Wisconsin's slate that are even close to its level are Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. Wisconsin has been very good about taking care of bad teams, and with an experienced defense and a new veteran QB, I expect that trend will continue. If Wisconsin takes care of business (8-1 or 9-0) against the teams over which it is clearly superior, it can go 2-1 or 1-2 against the trio of equals and still cash this wager. Plus money makes this attractive.
Iowa Over 7.5 Wins (-105), 5Dimes: This team might be worse than the 2011 squad that went 7-6. But the schedule is incredibly light. It's one of the worst (or best for betting purposes) in all of the BCS. Iowa is unlikely to win at Michigan or hosting Nebraska, but eight wins against Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, at Northwestern, at Indiana and at Purdue doesn't seem impossible.
Purdue Under 6.5 Wins (-180), 5Dimes: It's easy to talk yourself into this Purdue team. Two senior quarterbacks return on offense, and only the Nos. 1 and 3 receivers need be replaced, as well as the left tackle and right guard. Defensively Purdue loses both safeties, but returns both starting corners. Three of the top four 'backers are gone, as is one starting defensive end, but Purdue does return excellent nose guard Kawann Short.
Don't do it. Purdue's transition to a 3-4 defense should be very tough with the lack of experienced linebackers, and the offense should still be one of the worst in the Big Ten.
The schedule is not incredibly challenging, featuring five games against opponents that project to be clearly worse than the Boilermakers: Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Marshall, at Minnesota, Indiana. If Purdue takes care of business in those five by going 4-1 (5-0 is a bit unrealistic; this is Purdue, after all), it would still need to go 3-4 in the remaining games at Notre Dame, vs. Michigan, vs. Wisconsin, at Ohio State, vs. Penn State, at Iowa and at Illinois.
It's possible, particularly if Penn State is worse than expected or if Iowa or Illinois slide down the stretch, but it's tough to see this team getting to seven wins. Still, the price is too steep to warrant a play.
My numbers agree with the lines set for the following teams, thus I don't find value in them and will not play.
Nebraska Over/Under 8.5 Wins (-150/+130)
Illinois Over/Under 6.5 Wins (-140/+120)
Michigan Over/Under 9 Wins (+170/-200): I'm in total agreement that Michigan's expectations are out of whack given the talent on hand and the schedule, but this price is far too steep for an under play.
Michigan State Over/Under 8.5 Wins (-125/+105)
Minnesota Over/Under 5.5 Wins (+165/-215)
Ohio State Over/Under 9 Wins (-195/+155): The most popular teams often have the sharpest lines as they're the most heavily bet and present the greatest exposure for the casino. I believe that to be the case here.
Penn State Over/Under 5.5 Wins (-140/+100)
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