The 2016 Big Ten season featured a changing of the guard with Penn State winning its first conference title since 2008. The even bigger surprise, however, came out of East Lansing, where Michigan State — a preseason top-25 team — went 3-9 overall.
The Nittany Lions figure to stick around the upper echelons of the conference for the foreseeable future, and Sparty will need another year or two to get back to its former glory. Otherwise, however, we’ll see a lot of familiar storylines in the 2017 Big Ten season.
Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes enter the year as the favorites; Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will continue to push for their first crown since 2004; and Wisconsin will remain the class of the lesser West division.
At the other end of the spectrum, Rutgers, Purdue, and Illinois will be able to count their wins on one hand.
The rest of the bunch lies somewhere in the middle.
Where exactly? Find out with our Big Ten over/under win totals for 2017.
Over/Under: 2017 Big Ten Win Totals
The following O/Us only pertain to the 12-game regular season schedules
Ohio State: 10.5
Three games stand out as potential Ls on the Buckeye schedule: Oklahoma, Penn State, and Michigan. Only the tilt with the Wolverines is on the road and Urban Meyer will be extremely disappointed if he doesn’t get two of three.
Penn State: 10.5
The Nittanies, the defending Big Ten champs, are back in a big way. If the defense can overcome some major subtractions and be above average, Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley will give the team a chance every Saturday. They have an easier schedule than the Buckeyes and Wolverines: their trip to Columbus should be the only time they’re an underdog in 2017. Hosting Michigan will be another supremely tough test, of course.
The Badgers have a big advantage playing in the Big Ten West. They avoid both Penn State and Ohio State this year. They’ll be a decent underdog when they travel to Ann Arbour late in the year, and back-to-back early meetings with Northwestern (home) and Nebraska (road) won’t be easy, but they’re the class of the West and have a decent shot at double-digit wins and a return to the Big Ten title game.
The Wolverines have the toughest schedule among the Big Ten powers. They lined up intriguing non-conference games with Florida, Cincinnati, and Air Force. Plus, they have to travel to Penn State and Wisconsin before hosting the Buckeyes. Throw in the loss of first-round NFL talents Jabrill Peppers and Taco Charlton (plus three more defensive standouts who went in the third round) and you have a recipe for at least a small step back, despite strong incoming recruits.
The Huskers, the first team I deemed non-picture worthy, have it pretty good on the schedule front. Yes, they face Ohio State and Penn State in crossover games, but they also get Rutgers, and host West rivals Northwestern and Iowa. A strong ground game and improving defense will help ease the loss of QB Tommy Armstrong and should keep Nebraska bowl-eligible come season’s end.
The pros: QB Clayton Thorson and RB Justin Jackson return to a burgeoning offense. The cons: the defense, which was the strength last year, loses LB Anthony Walker and DE Ifeadi Odenigbo to the NFL. They lined up an easy non-conference slate (Nevada, Duke, Bowling Green) and don’t have to play Ohio State or Michigan. Only Penn State (home) and Wisconsin (road) stand out as likely losses.
In all likelihood, one of Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa will have a losing season. Recent history says it won’t be Kirk Ferentz’s bunch, but an extremely tough schedule makes me think otherwise. The Hawkeyes have to travel to Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. They also face Ohio State and Penn State at home in crossover play.
Michigan State: 6
It’s not a good time to be an MSU fan. Sparty won’t be as bad as their 3-9 record last year, but bowl eligibility will be a tall order. After a non-conference tilt with Notre Dame, they have to travel to Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State, while hosting the Nittany Lions.
That said, if Mark Dantonio gets more from the passing game, the defense will keep his team competitive, even though DT Malik McDowell and S Montae Nicholson are off to the NFL.
Gopher fans will be disappointed to see this so low after a nine-win season last year, especially with red-hot coaching commodity PJ Fleck coming to town. But the reality is that replacing QB Mitch Leidner will be difficult. Road games with Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern are probable losses, while home games with Nebraska, Wisconsin, and MSU will be stiff tests.
The Hoosiers went a respectable 4-5 in conference play last year and could be a little better this season with their key players a year older and more experienced (see QB Richard Lagow; LB Tegray Scales). Home games with FIO, Georgia Southern, and Rutgers should be gimmes. The schedule is otherwise pretty daunting, beginning with Ohio State in Week 1.
The Terps have a tough road to hoe and a new QB to work in. They’ll need a lot out of the running game if they’re going to muster five wins from a schedule that includes road games with Texas, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, in addition to home dates with Penn State and Michigan.
Illinois will challenge for last in the West. There’s not much to get excited about on offense, especially under center, and the defense is being pilfered by age. Winnable non-conference games (Ball State, Western Kentucky, South Florida) and a home game with Rutgers give the Illini a chance at four wins.
It’s hard to find wins on the Purdue schedule outside of hosting Illinois. There’s a decent chance the Boilermakers (3-9 in 2016) even get nipped on the road at Rutgers. An early non-conference game against Ohio is a must-win if they are going to hit the over.
Poor old Rutgers went winless in conference play last year and 2-10 overall on the year. After non-conference games with Eastern Michigan and Morgan State, you might be looking at nine straight losses. There’s a better chance that Chris Ash notches his first Big Ten win this season, though. There are other bad teams in the Big Ten, like Purdue, whom they’ll host in October.