College Football Futures: Big Ten Conference Win Totals Betting Picks (2021)

Jul 7, 2021 - 4:28 AM

Ohio State doesn’t have the most Big Ten titles in the conference’s history – that honor belongs to arch-rival Michigan – but the Buckeyes are closing the gap at a rapid rate thanks to their dominance in recent years and don’t look to be slowing down any time soon.

Since the Wolverines’ last conference title in 2004, the Buckeyes have rattled off 10 – including four in a row – to trim Michigan’s conference championship lead down to just three. Ryan Day’s team is poised to make it five straight as they enter the 2021 season as the betting favorite yet again. There aren’t many programs that can realistically challenge Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten standings, but there’s still a ton of value on future win totals for many teams.

Here are my picks for each Big Ten school’s season win totals.

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Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Over 3.5 wins: -150
  • Under 3.5 wins: +120

This is a really strange one right off the bat. A low total for a bad team with a brand new coach, heavily juiced to the over. Despite the juice, I’m going to take the over and rely on Illinois’ returning experience.

The Illini offensive line is actually pretty solid despite losing two starters last year, but their other three returning starters all graded out positively in 2020, per PFF. While not a headline-grabbing quarterback, Brandon Peters has been here before and can hopefully improve on some of his questionable decision-making from last season. Time in the pocket behind a good line will surely help him do so.

I don’t expect Illinois to make a bowl game, but four or five wins isn’t out of the question, and that’ll obviously cash this over. They play UTSA and Charlotte at home as part of their out-of-conference slate. They can easily win both, but even if they split, they get Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Maryland in Champaign and should be favored in more of those games than not. I can’t fathom a scenario where that six-game run produces fewer than four wins, so I’m locking in the over.

PICK: Over 3.5 (-150)

Indiana Hoosiers

  • Over 8 wins: +120
  • Under 8 wins: -150

I love what Tom Allen is doing in Bloomington, returning the Hoosiers to football glory for the first time in a really, really long time. They were ranked as high as 7th last year, their highest poll seat since 1969, and while they’re one of the most popular teams to fade heading into 2021, I’m doing just the opposite.

Indiana returns a lot of starters, and perhaps most importantly is their entire secondary. The Hoosier defense ranked sixth among Power Five schools in expected points allowed on pass plays, and their secondary was the driving force to that success. In a conference that doesn’t always feature the most explosive passing offenses, completely negating the aerial attack week in and out is a huge advantage.

One concern with Indiana is their quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., who could not finish the 2020 season after tearing his ACL. Last year was his third straight year with a significant injury, so durability at the most important position is an obvious concern. However, he’s experienced, he has Ty Fryfogle, with whom he developed a strong connection, and he’s an excellent football player. I believe in him and Coach Allen and think there are at least eight winnable games on their schedule.

PICK: Over 8 (+120)

Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Over 8.5 wins: +100
  • Under 8.5 wins: -125

I love the brand of football Iowa plays; in my book, hard-nosed football will never go out of style. However, I don’t think Iowa has the right pieces to dominate with their pro-style play. Plus, the schedule isn’t easy.

Iowa started 2020 0-2 and finished the regular year on a six-game win streak, but the stumble out of the gate cost them a spot in the Big Ten title game. A lot of the team’s ineptitude fell on the offense’s shoulders, and we’re going to see similar hiccups this year. Quarterback Spencer Petras struggled in 2020; he turned 245 pass attempts into just nine touchdowns.

The defense is good, per usual. They were second in the Power Five in expected points allowed per pass play, and they’ll return nearly all of their starters on the back end.

Iowa’s schedule is the main component holding me back from taking an even-money over on a very reliable program. They travel to Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska, and even if they go 2-2 in those games, they’re only afforded one more loss for this over to hit. That’s not going to happen. I’ll take the under despite a little extra vig.

PICK: Under 8.5 (-125)

Maryland Terrapins

  • Over 6 wins: +100
  • Under 6 wins: -125

I’d love to back the Terps, but this total is way too high. I can get behind over/under 5 and even consider 5.5, but 6 is too rich for my blood. Maryland played just five games in 2020, and by far and away, will be the rustiest team heading into 2021. Their schedule doesn’t exactly afford them time to knock the rust off, either. They’ll get West Virginia as a non-conference opponent – albeit at home – and in the conference, they’ll travel to Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State, where they’ll be heavy underdogs.

Their defense is a liability, allowing 32.0 points per game in 2020. Their offense really didn’t help last year despite having an Alabama transfer under center and two legitimate receivers in Dontay Demus Jr. and five-star recruit Rakim Jarrett. That Alabama transfer – Tua’s brother Taulia Tagovailoa – had just seven touchdowns to go along with seven picks last year and will really need to step up if this Terps team wants to contend for a bowl berth.

I don’t see it in 2021, so I’ll take the under here.

PICK: Under 6 (-125)

Michigan Wolverines

  • Over 7.5 wins: -150
  • Under 7.5 wins: +120

Before last year’s debacle that saw Michigan win just two of six games and post a dismal 0-3 home record, the Wolverines managed to win at least eight games in each of the previous five seasons. They’ll need to get back to that level of football to cash this heavily-juiced over, and I don’t think they will.

Given Jim Harbaugh’s track record against not only good teams but rivals, 2021 is going to be a challenging year in Ann Arbor. Michigan is nowhere near the talent level of Ohio State, and even when the gap was closer, they were run off the field. It’s hard to imagine the Wolverines winning more than one of three road games against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Penn State either.

Their defense is usually at the top of the conference, but it’s an area of concern heading into 2021 after the secondary ranked 57th of 65 Power Five schools in expected points allowed. Their offense is normally the team’s downfall, and for that to change this season, Cade McNamara has to be a lot better than he was in just 71 pass attempts in 2020. I’ve got no faith left in Harbaugh; this team is certainly bowl-bound, but eight wins is a stretch.

PICK: Under 7.5 wins (+120)

Michigan State Spartans

  • Over 4.5 wins: -140
  • Under 4.5 wins: +110

This program has taken a tumble in recent years, and last year was a rough one in Mel Tucker’s first year at the helm. Michigan State finished dead-last in the Big Ten East at 2-5, and inheriting a new coach during a pandemic certainly didn’t help matters. The Spartans offense over the last half-decade or so has been anemic. If they want to get back to national relevancy, Tucker will have to spend a concerted effort to recruit on the offensive side of the football. The pieces aren’t yet in place, but this is a proud program that will fight for a bowl bid, and I think they’ll cash this over.

The Spartan defense is always its strongest unit, especially on the defensive line. That holds true in 2021, as Michigan State will trot out two, maybe three, potential future NFLers in Drew Beesley, Jacub Panasiuk, and Jacob Slade. It’s not often you find a college football team’s biggest strength is the defensive line, but this unit should be able to win the trenches in most matchups this season, and they’ll do their part to keep games within striking distance. With so many Big Ten schools tightly packed in the middle of the conference in terms of talent, the Spartans have a chance to steal a few wins to go along with some non-conference cupcakes.

Michigan State plays Miami out of conference, which probably will end up in the loss column. Still, they’ll be favored pretty heavily against Western Kentucky and even heavier against FCS Youngstown State. Many of the Spartans’ toughest conference games are at home, raising the likelihood of an upset. It’s a low confidence pick, but I can’t see another disaster season in East Lansing.

PICK: Over 4.5 (-140)

Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Over 7 wins: -110
  • Under 7 wins: -110

This was the toughest call for me in the entire conference and is my lowest confidence bet. I’m putting a lot of faith in P.J. Fleck to turn around a surprisingly underwhelming 2020.

The Golden Gophers took a step back on both sides of the ball in 2020. Rashod Bateman played after initially opting out due to COVID but had a minimal impact with just two touchdown grabs in five games. Many of his struggles came down to Tanner Morgan regressing, but he was far too good in 2019 to expect another down year in 2021. If he lands somewhere in the middle of 2019 Tanner Morgan and 2020 Tanner Morgan, we’ll be just fine taking the over.

Minnesota’s defense was the most surprising unit in the conference last year to me, and not in a good way. They were second to last among Power Five defenses against the run, but there’s a glimmer of hope for those expecting a bounce-back. College offenses prefer to throw, not run, so Minnesota – thanks to having a great coach – can theoretically mask their run game struggles with lockdown pass defense.

The experience of Morgan, along with the intensity of Fleck, is hard to fade, so I’ll weakly lean with the over.

PICK: Over 7 (-110)

Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Over 6 wins: -140
  • Under 6 wins: +110

While most are in full-on Scott Frost optimism mode yet again, I’m in ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ mode. This once-proud program has been a Big Ten doormat over the last few years; they’ve had a losing record and no bowl appearances in each of the last four seasons – three of which came under Frost. They’ve won double-digit games just once since 2012 and have a winning record just once since 2014. This is now Frost’s fourth year. I haven’t seen a shred of improvement within the Cornhusker program, nor have I see any shades of what made him such a great coach at UCF. I’ll happily fade Nebraska at plus money.

In 2020, Nebraska’s defense ranked in the top five among Power Five schools in efficiency as a unit, and they still went just 3-5. A lot of that falls on Adrian Martinez, who seems prone to mistakes and isn’t protective of the football. Over the last two years, Martinez has thrown just 14 touchdowns but 12 interceptions on 402 pass attempts. That’s nowhere near close enough to back defenses off the ground game.

The schedule isn’t as brutal as it could be – many of their tougher matchups are at home – but they’re still overmatched from a talent perspective against many of the top teams in the conference. Their non-Big Ten schedule includes a probable win against Fordham, a tough matchup against an underrated Buffalo team, and a sure loss in Norman against the Sooners. Six wins seem like a pipe dream for the Huskers.

PICK: Under 6 (+110)

Northwestern Wildcats

  • Over 6 wins: -135
  • Under 6 wins: +105

As was the case with Minnesota and Indiana, I’m putting a lot of faith in a really, really good football coach to cash this over. Pat Fitzgerald has been the model of consistency with this Northwestern program since he arrived in Evanston in 2006, and it’s hard to imagine his team posting a losing record after marching to the conference title game in 2020.

I, and clearly the sportsbooks, don’t see a repeat appearance in the Wildcats’ future, but that’s ok. We need a bowl berth to cash, and I think that’s well within reach. Despite Greg Newsome II heading off to the NFL, the Wildcats will return the conference’s number one pass defense from a year ago. This program usually goes as far as their defense takes them, so losing Peyton Ramsey at the quarterback position doesn’t overly worry me, despite not being ideal.

There’s some competition in the QB room between South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski and former Clemson commit Hunter Johnson. Competition is always a good thing and should elevate the game of whoever wins the job.

Duke, Ohio, and Indiana State are the three out of conference battles for the Wildcats, and I expect them to win all three. They’ll be favored in enough games within the Big Ten for us to find four more wins and cash the over easily.

PICK: Over 6 (-135)

Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Over 11 wins: -125
  • Under 11 wins: +100

In a 12-game season, taking the over at 11 is a huge risk. The Buckeyes would have to go undefeated in the regular season to cash the over. I think it’s entirely possible; they’re the best team in the conference by leaps and bounds and one of the best rosters in the country to boot. But, they’ll have a new guy at the most important position on the field, and that’s cause for a little bit of pause.

In the Urban Meyer turned Ryan Day era, it seemingly hasn’t matter who’s been under center for Ohio State. The quarterbacks, from Cardale Jones to J.T. Barrett to Justin Fields, have all performed above expectation. But this year, C.J. Stroud will take over. He hasn’t attempted a single pass at the collegiate level, and no matter how good the pedigree or coaching is, there will be bumps along the way. I can’t put my money behind an undefeated season with a question mark – no matter how small – at the most important spot on the field.

Ohio State should roll to another Big Ten Championship Game berth, but it’s more likely that they’ll get shocked and upset once or twice along the way than they’ll enter that game 12-0.

PICK: Under 11 (+100)

Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Over 9 wins: +100
  • Under 9 wins: -125

This total is way too high, and despite the extra juice on the under, I’ll gladly take it. 2020 was a bad one for Penn State; they started 0-5 before rallying to finish the season at a more respectable yet still underwhelming 4-5. They’ll have a new play-caller on offense, but Sean Clifford struggled mightily in 2020, and without a ton of reliable options in the passing game in 2021, he could play below expectations again.

The Nittany Lions also play a brutally tough schedule, including road dates with Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. They’ll have to go 2-2 at minimum in those four games for the over to have a shot, and I quite honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they lost all of them. Penn State also plays Auburn, which is never an easy tilt.

The defense in Happy Valley also wasn’t great last year. They ranked 54th in the country in points allowed per game (29.8), and they’ve still got some holes to plug on that side of the ball before the season begins. Nine wins is too high. The under is the play here.

PICK: Under 9 (-125)

Purdue Boilermakers

  • Over 5 wins: -125
  • Under 5 wins: +100

Purdue’s low win total is tough to gauge, but even money on the under is the way to play this one. My confidence isn’t overly high, but a lot is working against Purdue in 2021.

Coach Jeff Brohm rallied the Boilermakers to a 7-6 record in his first year at the helm but is just 12-19 since, and the team has yet to develop a quarterback who can keep them near the top of the conference standings. They’ll have to decide between Jack Plummer and Aiden O’Connell, both of whom have attempted over 100 passes in each of the last two seasons for Purdue. As the old saying goes: ‘when you have two quarterbacks, you have none.’ I think that’s true in this case; neither player moves the needle for me, and neither player will have Rondale Moore in town to make things happen when the play breaks down.

Purdue’s defense was suspect in 2020 as well, and the recruits on that side of the ball don’t seem impactful enough to turn around a unit that gave up just shy of 30 points per game a season ago.

Oregon State is no pushover anymore in the non-conference slate, and Notre Dame is a brutal draw out of the conference as well. With Big Ten games at Ohio State and Iowa, it’s tough to see this team putting together a winning streak to push them over 5.

PICK: Under 5 (+100)

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Over 4 wins: -110
  • Under 4 wins: -110

Rutgers is back! The Scarlet Knights were just 3-6 last year, but Greg Schiano had this team looking like they actually belonged on a Division 1 field for the first time since he was in New Brunswick a decade ago. Now they’ve got three more games to find one more win for a push, two more for an over? I think it can and will happen for a program on the rise.

Quarterback play has always been suspect for the Scarlet Knights ever since Mike Teel’s run of dominance in the early 2000s, and even though it won’t be a strength in 2021, but I don’t expect it to be a liability. Noah Vedral should start again, and he’ll have Bo Melton on the outside to soak up targets. Rutgers also has a sneaky defense and finished 20th of 65 Power Five teams against the pass last year.

Their schedule, while not easy, also has a few breaks that should propel Rutgers to five wins. Temple, Delaware, and Syracuse are the non-Big Ten opponents for the Knights and don’t be surprised if they win two of them. Maryland, Michigan State, and Illinois are all winnable games as well, and only Illinois is on the road. Schiano knows how to win here, he’s got the fans excited, and five wins are there if they want them.

PICK: Over 5 (-110)

Wisconsin Badgers

  • Over 9.5 wins: -110
  • Under 9.5 wins: -110

One of the most reliable teams in the Big Ten is the Wisconsin Badgers. Excluding last year’s abbreviated seven-game season, Wisconsin hasn’t won fewer than eight games since 2008 and hasn’t missed a bowl game since 2001. They’ve got the pieces in place to rebound from last year’s 4-3 season to really be the only team to give Ohio State a run for its money.

Graham Mertz is back under center for Wisconsin, and he alone could propel this offense to be one of the best in the Big Ten. Paul Chryst will again call plays, which is big for Mertz, and the Badger defense should be back with a vengeance. Their linebackers were the best in the Power Five in blitzing success, and the entire defense was third in expected points allowed. They love to get after the quarterback, and with so many question marks under center across the conference, they could make life really difficult for opposing offenses.

The Badgers get Penn State, Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern at home, and they’ll play Notre Dame at a neutral site. The Badgers present a really tough challenge to Notre Dame with the way they love to blitz, and while they may not be favored, they could be poised for an upset.

PICK: Over 9.5 (-110)

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