Football will soon be upon us (SEVEN MORE DAYS, YOU GUYS; nine if you're using a Hawkeye-centric calendar), which means it's time to think about the season ahead. In particular, it's time to think about wins and losses and the predictions set by our favorite Vegas oddsmakers. So without further ado...
(NOTE: I'm going to use the 5Dimes over-under totals, mainly because that's what the mothership used for this similar article.)
ILLINOIS -- 6.5 WINS (-140/+120)
If this had been the line for Illinois a year ago and you'd taken the over, you would have been feeling pretty good about your pick in mid-October when Illinois was 6-0 and one of the surprise teams in college football. You would have been feeling much worse about your pick in December, after Illinois finished up a six-game losing streak to end the season, killing your chances of winning the bet. That ghastly collapse finally, sadly, inevitably cost Ron Zook his job, although Tim Beckman appears to be well on his way to living up to Zook's legacy of foot-in-mouth disease.
So are there seven wins for Illinois on this schedule? They have a favorable non-conference slate, with three home games (Western Michigan, Charleston Southern, Louisiana Tech) and one away game (Arizona State, another team with a new coach); they should be 3-1 by the time the Big Ten season rolls around. As far as that goes... road games at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State look daunting; let's chalk those up as losses now. Home games against Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue are essentially must-wins if they want to get to seven wins. That leaves two toss 'em games to go: Penn State at home and Northwestern on the road. The Penn State game is the B1G opener and should be very interesting; Penn State figures to be playing with a hell of a chip on their shoulder this year... and they've got a little extra motivation where Illinois is concerned. The jNW game is a rivalry game, though Illinois has won two in a row in this series. Still: this smells like a six-win team to me.
INDIANA -- 3.5 WINS (+160)
Four wins? That's doable, right? Oh wait, Indiana football... the same team that went 1-11 last year. Okay, this might be slightly more difficult than first anticipated. Indiana's non-conference schedule involves two road games (at UMass and at Navy), which is daunting for a program that lost every single B1G road game last year by at least 14 points and also managed to lose at North Texas. It helps that UMass is a jumped-up FCS team (literally), but it's unwise to assume any wins where Hoosier football is concerned. The non-conference home games feature Indiana State and Ball State; the latter opponent has beaten Indiana two times in a row.
B1G play doesn't make things any easier: their first three league games are a road game at Northwestern and back-to-back home games against Michigan State and Ohio State. The back half of the league schedule looks a little friendlier; outside of a home game with Wisconsin, they get Iowa, Illinois, Penn State, and Purdue. Unfortunately, all but the Iowa game are on the road, which reduces the likelihood of any upsets. This pick likely comes down to whether or not Indiana can go 3-1 in non-conference play. If they do, I can see them picking up the B1G win they need to hit the over; I don't see them picking up two B1G wins, though. Nor do I see them getting three non-conference wins.
IOWA -- 7.5 WINS (-105)
I'll keep this brief, since we've discussed Iowa's 2012 situation a lot and will do so even more over the next week. The schedule sets up for a 9-10 win team. The talent and depth situations project to something closer to 6-7 wins. Splitting the difference would give us 8 wins -- and the over. Call me a sucker, but I'm going to go with 8-4: Iowa takes advantage of their soft non-conference schedule, avenges losses to Iowa State, Minnesota, and Penn State, splits with Northwestern and Indiana, and retains rivalry supremacy over OMHR.
MICHIGAN -- 9 WINS (+170/-220)
Michigan's ability to hit the over on this bet comes down to five games: the neutral site opener against Alabama, road games at Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State, and a home game with Michigan State. They should win the other seven games on their slate (assuming they can reverse the hex Iowa has had over them recently), meaning they need to go 3-2 in those five games to win the bet. That looks challenging. Bama is (as always) loaded, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State will be spoiling for revenge after losing to Michigan last year (and The Game figures to have an added edge this year, since it will effectively be Ohio State's bowl game), while Michigan State is aiming to make it five straight over their big brother. I have Michigan going 2-3 in these five games (beating Notre Dame and Michigan State, losing to the rest).
MICHIGAN STATE -- 8.5 WINS (-125/+105)
Did you know Michigan State doesn't leave the state of Michigan for a difficult game until almost Halloween? It's true: they play at Wisconsin on 10/27, but before that their only road games are at Central Michigan, Indiana, and Michigan. That's not to say there aren't any tricky games, though: they open with Boise State, host Notre Dame and Ohio State, and (as noted) head to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines. That back-to-back-to-back stretch of at Michigan, at Wisconsin, home to Nebraska looks tricky, too; if they enter that run with more than one loss, their odds of hitting the over go way, way down.
I have Michigan State at 9-3, losing to Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Still, there's interesting potential for things to snowball in the wrong way for Sparty with this schedule; Boise State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State are challenging early season opponents and if things go badly there, it seems plausible that that three game stretch with Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska could torpedo their season. 9-3 seems more likely to me than 6-6, but... you never know. Also, there's some interesting trap game potential for Iowa here; getting Sparty before that three-game stretch (and, in particular, right before the always-big Michigan game) could be helpful.
THE PICK: OVER (just barely)
MINNESOTA -- 5.5 WINS (+165/-215)
Six wins for Minnesota? That's their season total from 2010 and 2011... combined. Just how much faith should we have in a senior MarQueis Gray and Year Two of the Jerry Kill Era? The non-conference schedule is manageable: they open at UNLV, then host New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse. FCS teams have given Minnesota no end of grief in recent years, but they do have one advantage as far as New Hampshire is concerned: they're not from the Dakotas. On the other hand, New Hampshire is a regular FCS playoff participant, so they don't figure to be a total pushover. Still, 3-4 wins from the non-conference slate seems doable.
What about B1G play? I think Iowa takes Floyd back after his two-year sabbatical in Minneapolis, and I think the usual suspects (Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska) take care of business against the Gophers. That leaves home games with Northwestern and Purdue and a road game with Illinois. I think they win two out of three there, but whether or not that's enough to hit the over depends on whether they can sweep their non-conference foes. I say no.
THE PICK: UNDER
NEBRASKA -- 8.5 WINS (-150/+130)
I think this bet comes down to Nebraska's ability to poach one of these four games: Wisconsin, at Ohio State, Michigan, at Michigan State. They should have little trouble sweeping their non-B1G opponents (Southern Miss, at UCLA, Arkansas State, Idaho State) and their other four B1G opponents (at Northwestern, Penn State, Minnesota, at Iowa) look manageable (though Northwestern did famously beat them a year ago and Iowa will hopefully put up more of a fight against Big Red this year). Nebraska went 2-2 against the Wisconsin-Ohio State-Michigan-Michigan State quartet last year; duplicating that feat this year would give them ten wins (and an easy win on the over) with my predictions. That seems plausible: I think an electric primetime atmosphere pushes them over the top against Wisconsin and they dish out a little payback against Michigan, but Ohio State and Michigan State get some revenge of their own on Big Red. Still, that would leave them at 10-2.
THE PICK: OVER
NORTHWESTERN -- 6.5 WINS (-165)
First off, props to just Northwestern: they're the only Big Ten team playing three non-conference games against BCS opponents. Granted, they aren't the highest caliber of BCS opposition (Syracuse, Vanderbilt, and Boston College), but it's still a definite improvement on the MACrifice-loaded schedules of their B1G peers. I have them at 3-1 after they wrap up that portion of their schedule, meaning they need to find four wins in-conference to hit the over.
I don't see them beating either Michigan team on the road and I see Nebraska avenging their loss last year... but the other five B1G games all appear to be up for grabs. If they do go 3-1 in non-conference games and lose the three games I just noted, though, they'd need to go 4-1 in the remaining games. I don't see that happening from a team with so many holes to fill. Like Illinois, this smells like a 6-6 team.
THE PICK: UNDER
OHIO STATE -- 9 WINS (-195/+155)
God forgive me, but I'm drinking the Buckeye kool-aid this year. Urban Meyer inherits a potentially dominant defense (especially up front) and a quarterback (Braxton Miller) ideally suited for his preferred offense. The bowl game ban seems to be giving them an added focus on the regular season this year, too.
Schedule-wise, things set up nicely for the Buckeyes, too. The season boils down to a pair of back-to-backs: at Michigan State and home to Nebraska at the start of B1G play and at Wisconsin and home to Michigan at the end of B1G play. I think they could go 2-2 in those games and still hit the over, but I actually think they'll go 3-1. They seem to match up well with Sparty and Nebraska; their defensive front should be able to bottle up the MSU and Nebraska run games and force their inexperienced and/or uninspiring passing attacks to win the games for them. (They won't.) I think the Badgers get a measure of revenge after last year and Ohio State ends their season with a rivalry win over Michigan.
THE PICK: OVER
PENN STATE -- 5.5 WINS (-140/+100)
This has to be the lowest over-under for Penn State in a decade, right? It's strange to see their over-under at 5.5 wins, but that may be the new reality for Penn State. Anyway. The more pertinent question now is whether or not Penn State can win six games this year. And the answer to that is... definitely maybe? Leaving aside the fact that we have no idea what Penn State's on-field reaction will be to the last ten months of horrific off-field news, the truth is they have a sneaky-tough schedule.
Their non-conference schedule features only one BCS opponent (Virginia), but Navy is rarely a pushover, Ohio is one of the MAC favorites, and Temple has given Penn State some difficulty in recent years. In addition to being a BCS team, Virginia also made a bowl last year and gets to host Penn State this season; all four of those games look very winnable, but it's hard to call any of them certain victories, either. There are some bright spots in the Big Ten schedule -- no Michigan or Michigan State and guaranteed games with the soft underbelly of the Rust Belt Division (Indiana, Illinois, Purdue) -- but, again, who the devil knows what to expect from Penn State this year? They're the mystery meat of the Big Ten. They're breaking in several new coaches (especially on offense) and their most productive returning offensive starter (by far) is Matt McGloin, who does not inspire great confidence. The defense should be pretty stout (assuming they can avoid getting Roofied), but can that carry them to 6+ wins? I'll tentatively say... yes.
THE PICK: OVER
PURDUE -- 6.5 WINS (-180)
I've liked Purdue as a potentially frisky team this year for a while -- they have some good players on defense (defensive tackle Kawann Short, cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen) and if they get a little bit of (deserved) good health on offense, they should be solid there -- but a closer look at their schedule gives me pause. Outside of a road game with Notre Dame, the non-conference slate doesn't look very scary -- home games with Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall should equal three wins.
But they have one nasty opening stretch to Big Ten play: home games with Michigan and Wisconsin and a road game at Ohio State, back-to-back-to-back. Things ease up after that, but they could easily be 3-4 heading into the home stretch. If that's the case, they'd need to go 4-1 against Minnesota (road), Penn State (home), Iowa (road), Illinois (road), and Indiana (home). I'm not seeing that.
THE PICK: UNDER
WISCONSIN -- 9.5 WINS (+140)
9.5 wins is a pretty gaudy over-under total for a college football team, but I have a hard time seeing how Wisconsin doesn't hit the over here. There are only three games they have any business possibly losing: a road game at Nebraska, and home games with Michigan State and Ohio State. They should roll through the non-conference schedule -- UNI, Utah State, and UTEP don't have the horses to slow down Wisconsin in Madison and while west coast road trips have been unkind to several Big Ten teams in the past, Oregon State figures to be lousy this year.
That just leaves Big Ten play. It's frankly hard to see them stumbling against Illinois (home), Purdue (road), Minnesota (home), Indiana (road), or Penn State (road); one of the main reasons they've been able to go to back-to-back Rose Bowls is their ability to ruthlessly dispatch the teams they should beat. That leaves the Nebraska, Michigan State, and Ohio State games and they would need to win just one of those three games to hit the over. That seems eminently doable.
THE PICK: OVER