College football season gets going a month from now, but if you’re serious about handicapping the Power Conferences, your research needs to start now. Last week, I looked at the ACC. This week, the Big 10 is in the spotlight. Should you go searching for a massive payday with Rutgers? Even though I’m the one who posed the question, I won’t dignify that with a response. Let’s look at the legitimate Big 10 contenders and find the best betting value for 2017. Then, if you’re inclined and can do so responsibly, head to one of the sites on our list of best online sportsbooks to make a wager.
2017 BIG 10 TITLE FAVORITES
Ohio State Buckeyes: 5/4
The Buckeyes got blown out in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson last year (31-0) after going 11-1 during the regular season, including a double-overtime win to wrap up the slate at home over Michigan. They won at Wisconsin in overtime (30-23), at Michigan State (17-16), and fell on the road against Penn State (24-21). Urban Meyer’s crew has a favorable schedule this year, avoiding Wisconsin during the regular season and hosting Penn State. If the beat Oklahoma in September, they may be able to lose a conference game and reach the playoff. The Buckeyes have 15 starters back including senior signal caller J.T. Barrett. The defensive line is perhaps the best in the country. If a wide receiver or two emerge, and the back end of the defense is even average, OSU will be tough to beat.
Wisconsin Badgers: 7/2
The Badgers lost three times last year. The three L’s came against powerhouse competition in tight games. They fell at Michigan 14-7, against Ohio State in overtime, and to Penn State 38-31. This year’s slate is as good as it gets in the Big 10. They miss Ohio State and Penn State during the regular season, and host Michigan and Northwestern. Fifteen starters are back for the Badgers including sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who should take a step forward. Replacing left tackle Ryan Ramczyk could be a challenge. The defense should be strong, though impact players at linebacker must step forward. There is little reason Wisconsin shouldn’t be in the Big 10 Title Game for a third time in four years.
Penn State Nittany Lions: 23/4
Last year Penn State finished just outside the College Football Playoff despite beating Ohio State. The Nittany Lions might have been the best team in the country from October on last season, but a Week 2 loss at Pitt, and a 39 point defeat at Michigan killed their National Title chances. This season PSU faces a monster stretch in October and November, playing at Northwestern, and then after a week off taking on Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State, the last two on the road, during a three week span. They do not face Wisconsin in the regular season. Sixteen starters return with Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley among the best one-two punches in the country. On defense, the Lions linebacker are strong, but they must get pressure up front. They are 0-7 over the last two years when going an entire game without a sack.
Michigan Wolverines: 6/1
Jim Harbaugh should never be counted out. That said, his last regular season conference championship at the college level came while heading the University of San Diego program in 2006. The Wolverines have gone 10-3 each of the last two seasons. However, his three L’s last year were by a point at Iowa, in double overtime at Ohio State, and in the Orange Bowl against Florida State 33-32. Only five starters return this season, but QB Wilson Speight is one of them, and he’s a good one. The Wolverines have put together back-to-back Top 10 recruiting classes, but they must travel to Penn State and Wisconsin, plus they host Ohio State. It’s a tough road to ho in a good league, but not completely impossible.
THE BEST BET
From a betting perspective, this is as much about eliminating as choosing. Michigan is too young and unpredictable to bet on, and Penn State’s schedule makes the Nittanies seem unlikely. Wisconsin should be in the Big 10 title game, and that’s good enough when you are comparing 7/2 against 5/4. No doubt Ohio State is probably the best team, but if you take Wisconsin now, you can hedge later on and give yourself options.