The Big Ten has seen its reputation improve in recent seasons, but it's coming off a year in which it failed to put a team into the College Football Playoff. Now the conference enters the 2018 season with at least three teams -- and maybe as many as five -- that could be considered playoff contenders.
Not surprisingly, the one team that's won a national title from the Big Ten in the CFP era, Ohio State, enters the 2018 season with the highest . The Buckeyes are followed by Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State.
But will these teams beat expectations? What about the rest of the conference? Let's break down the best bets for every one of the 2018 Big Ten win totals.
|3.5 wins: There are some reasons to be optimistic that Illinois can improve in 2018. Last year's team was very young and gained plenty of experience. Plus, the defense performed relatively well. It was the offense that kept this team back, and Illinois has made a change at offensive coordinator by bringing in Rod Smith from Arizona. The problem is that this is still going to be a young team with a lot left to prove, and it will face a schedule that doesn't do it any favors. Even if Illinois goes 3-0 in nonconference play (no guarantee with South Florida on the schedule), it's hard to find a Big Ten game where the Illini will be favored. They'll likely pull off an upset somewhere, but can they get two? -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
|5 wins: Essentially, we're trying to figure out if Indiana is going bowling or not with this number. The Hoosiers went 5-7 last season and lost a lot of production from that team, particularly on defense. Brandon Dawkins has transferred to Bloomington from Arizona and has a good shot at winning the starting quarterback job. But he was inconsistent at Arizona, so I'm not ready to consider him a savior. Considering all this, a nonconference schedule that includes a couple of challenges and a Big Ten East schedule, and I think we've got a push here. Even then, I'd side toward the Under before the Over. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
|7.5 wins: I'm liking Iowa's chances to get Over in 2018. This is a team that should go 2-1 at worst in nonconference play, and could in fact go 3-0. In the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes get Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska (likely the biggest threats to them in the West) at home. There's a tough road game against Penn State, but the rest of the road slate (Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois) is navigable. Eight wins seem like a realistic expectation. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
|4.5 wins: I know I'm going to regret this, but it feels like an easy Over. I cannot stress enough the number of calamities that have befallen this Maryland program in recent seasons. I'm pretty sure the Terps used no fewer than 25 QBs last year because of injury. So assuming this team stays healthy in 2018 (a major assumption!), it's one of the more talented teams in the Big Ten. No, it cannot compete with the teams at the top of its division, but it can find five wins on the schedule. -- Over -110, Under -110|
|9 wins: I'm a little hesitant on Michigan this season. Shea Patterson has transferred in from Ole Miss and is seen as some kind of savior. It's a natural reaction for a fan base that has watched subpar QB play the last few years. Still, while the QB position was a problem last season, Michigan had other issues on offense -- mostly its offensive line, and I don't know how improved that unit will be in 2018. So when I look at this team, I see one that should probably go 9-3, but if I'm forced to pick between whether 8 or 10 wins are more likely, I can't help but lean toward eight. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
|9 wins: Last year, the Spartans won nine games during the regular season, but it always felt like their record was a little better than the team itself. Of their seven wins against Big Ten teams, only one of those (a 23-point win against Rutgers) came by more than 10 points. Of course, it was also a young team and should improve a bit in 2018, but I'm still skeptical of this team's ability to go 10-2 in the regular season when it has to play a schedule that will provide plenty of challenges. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
|6 wins: Maybe I'm rowing the boat a bit too much, but I like Minnesota's chances to go Over here. Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is a team that's going to be competing for a division title, but its schedule sets up nicely. The Gophers should go 3-0 in nonconference play, and they get manageable home games against Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern. While it's hard to imagine the Gophers winning road games against Ohio State and Wisconsin, they could grab a couple of wins during trips to Maryland, Illinois and Nebraska. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
|6 wins: This is a hard situation to read. Given Scott Frost's history at UCF, where he took a program from 0-12 the year before he arrived to 13-0 in his second season, you have to think there's a real shot Nebraska could see a major improvement from a 4-8 campaign in 2017. Still, this is also a program that's now had three head coaches in the last six seasons. Further complicating matters, Nebraska has gone from Bo Pelini's spread offense to Mike Riley's more pro-style attack and now back to a different spread with Scott Frost. I can't help but feel like there's some kind of adjustment period coming, and it's hard to know how that'll impact the Huskers in 2018. I think 6-6 is the most likely outcome, but with so much uncertainty, I have to lean toward taking the Under if forced to go a direction. -- Over -110, Under -110|
|6 wins: The Over almost seems too obvious here. After all, we're talking about a Northwestern program that has won 10 games in two of the last three seasons. It's a Northwestern team that may have lost its workhorse running back, but one that returns most of its production on both sides of the ball, as well as four starters on the offensive line. Of course, it's also a Northwestern team with a QB coming off a torn ACL in its bowl game that might not be 100 percent at the start of the season. It's also a Northwestern team with a difficult schedule to get through. Still, seven wins seems like a lock depending on the health of Clayton Thorson. -- Over -120, Under EVEN|
|10.5 wins: I have a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to season win totals with teams over 10 wins. I tend to lean Under simply because it's hard to go 12-0 or 11-1 during the regular season no matter how good you are. That's especially the case with Ohio State in 2018, as it breaks in a new QB and has regular season games scheduled against TCU, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska. It's not crazy to think the Buckeyes go 3-2 in that span. So while Ohio State is the favorite in the Big Ten for a reason, and is certainly capable of going 12-0, the value on the Under at even odds is too much to pass up. -- Over -120, Under EVEN|
|9.5 wins: I have questions about Penn State in 2018. The obvious one is how this offense will go about replacing Saquon Barkley, who was a unique and special weapon on both offense and special teams. Then there's replacing offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead with Ricky Rahne. All that said, the Nittany Lions will have the talent advantage nearly every week, so I think this all comes down to whether or not they can go 2-2 or better against Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Considering the only one of those four games on the road is Michigan, I'm thinking they can. -- Over -110, Under -110|
|6 wins: Purdue was one of the best stories of the 2018 season and a team I thoroughly enjoyed watching. It also happens to be a team dealing with unrealistic expectations based on last season's results. I love Jeff Brohm's playcalling, and Purdue returns most of its production on offense. That's good. Where I foresee problems is on the defensive side of the ball where the Boilermakers lost a lot of key players, particularly on a defensive line that was a key to last season's improvement. Also, last year's schedule had Purdue playing Michigan, Rutgers and Indiana from the East. This year, they replace Michigan and Rutgers with Ohio State and Michigan State. I expect a small step backward for Purdue in 2018. -- Over -110, Under -110|
|4 wins: Looking at Rutgers' schedule, I don't think it's insane to believe this is a team that could get off to a 5-1 start to the 2018 season. While it's not going to beat Ohio State, games against Texas State, Kansas, Buffalo, Indiana and Illinois (only Kansas is on the road) are all winnable. It's the back half of this schedule that's murderous, but even then it's not crazy to think Rutgers could pull off an upset on the road at Maryland or home against Northwestern. So, even though it feels strange to say it, I think five wins are more likely than three for Rutgers. -- Over -110, Under -110|
|10 wins: Wisconsin is the pre-eminent program in the Big Ten West. It has dominated its divisional counterparts under Paul Chryst, and there's a good chance that trend will continue in 2018. When analyzing Ohio State, I said that I tend to lean under when it comes to win totals this high, but I'm making an exception here. The Badgers have to play both Michigan and Penn State on the road this year, and those are the only two games where they'll likely be underdogs. I don't think anybody would be shocked by Wisconsin winning in Ann Arbor, though, and the Badgers will be favored in every other game on the schedule. 11-1 is certainly in play, and I think it's more likely to happen than 9-3. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|