Over/Unders for Wins Suggest Wide Open Big Ten
The over/under totals for regular season wins in college football have been posted. The good news for Nebraska fans is that the Huskers are tied for the best over/under total in the conference. The bad news is that the bar is only set at eight and a half wins and that Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all share the same total. Closer inspection is a bit more revealing.
Here are the over/under totals for some of the better Big Ten schools along with the additional betting odds:
Ohio State Over 8.5 (-180) Under 8.5 (+150)
Wisconsin Over 8.5 (-160) Under 8.5 (+130)
Michigan Over 8.5 (-160) Under 8.5 (+130)
Michigan State Over 8.5 (-140) Under 8.5 (+110)
Nebraska Over 8.5 (-125) Under 8.5 (-105)
Iowa Over 7.5 (+110) Under 7.5 (-140)
Penn State Over 6.5 (-150) Under 6.5 (+120)
Illinois Over 6.5 (-120) Under 6.5 (-110)
Taking the odds into account (the positive or negative number shown with the win total), it appears that bookmakers expect Ohio State to get the most action on the "Over" for 8.5 wins. This makes sense given the Buckeyes get four home games in the nonconference, none against teams that were ranked to end 2011. OSU should also be favored over Indiana, Purdue and Illinois. They'd need to go just 2-3 against the remaining slate of Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan to beat the 8.5 number. They certainly have the talent to compete with all of those schools.
Wisconsin and Michigan are tied for the next best odds. The Wolverines face Alabama at a neutral site and Notre Dame in South Bend. Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa should all be underdogs to the Maize and Blue. UM just needs to grab two wins against Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, or the aforementioned non-conference opponents to beat the 8.5 number. The Badgers will likely pick up 8 wins between the non-conference and the bottom half of their Big Ten slate. A single win against Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Penn State gets them to nine victories.
Michigan State is a hard team to figure out. People love that the Spartans return eight starters from an excellent defense from a year ago. But losing a standout starting pair of defensive tackles doesn't always spell continued excellence on defense. While the men of green get five of their tougher games at home (Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska) they still also must head to Michigan and Wisconsin. They have a fine head coach, but it still seems a bit optimistic to say the odds are over 50% that this team wins nine regular season games.
The fact that Nebraska has weaker odds than these other four teams seems like a slap in the face. But the Huskers have a non-conference schedule that doesn't guarantee four wins. UCLA has talent and Southern Miss and Arkansas State are coming off of very strong seasons. All four road games in the conference are tough (Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa) and three of the conference home games aren't a breeze either (Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State). No other conference team would be given better odds against such a slate. Take it as a compliment that the odds still tip to nine regular season wins.
The odds are leaning under 7.5 wins for Iowa. That's a bit surprising considering a very soft non-conference schedule and a Big Ten dance card featuring Purdue, Indiana, and Minnesota. Hold serve on that, and you need just one win against Michigan State, Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan, or Nebraska to beat the number.
Talk about resetting expectations in Happy Valley. The odds are saying seven wins for the Nittany Lions. The nonconference portion of the season looks tough but winnable (Ohio, Virginia, Navy, Temple). Penn State also gets Purdue, Illinois and Indiana. Just win those and you've got the seven wins. Beating Northwestern, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, or Wisconsin would just be gravy.
Illinois seems in line for seven wins as well. Six wins to start the season last year may have some convinced that the Illini are getting it together. There's reason to hold off on being too optimistic though. A night game early at Arizona State looks like a loser. Louisiana Tech at home may not be a gimme. Then comes Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan back-to-back-to-back. With games remaining at Ohio State and Northwestern, a three-win conference record seems very possible if not likely. So seven wins seems just out of reach.
The win totals for the other Big Ten schools were not presented (at least that we'd seen). Northwestern can either take offense at not being deemed odds-worthy or can perhaps take it as a sign that their alumni are too refined to be making over/under bets in Vegas. You probably won't hear many complaints from Minnesota or Indiana fans.