While the Big Ten is stronger than the ACC overall, the two conferences have one thing in common: there's a large imbalance between the conference's best team and everybody else. This is reflected in the odds to win the Big Ten in 2020 that were recently released by William Hill Sportsbook.
Ohio State is the clear favorite atop the conference at -240, while the second favorite is Penn State at +600. That's a significant gap, but one that has been reflected in recent history. Ohio State has won the Big Ten for three years running, and last year the Buckeyes were the only team in the conference that didn't lose at least two Big Ten games. They went 9-0 against Big Ten teams in the regular season, winning by an average margin of 35.6 points per game.
Just because they're the favorite, though, does that truly make them the best bet? Which other team provides value, and who should you ignore at all costs? I'm glad you asked those questions because, strangely enough, I just sat down at my computer with the intention of answering them.
*Rutgers is not available for betting at William Hill Sportsbook since it is located in New Jersey
Best Bet -- Ohio State (-240): Yes, it's boring, and the return isn't great given the price (you get back 42 cents for every dollar), but it's the best bet anyway. For this play to have a positive expected value (EV), Ohio State would need to win the Big Ten 70.6% of the time. Given what I wrote up top about Ohio State dominating the Big Ten last year, it's hard not to think that the Buckeyes wouldn't win the title at least that often if they played the 2020 season 1,000 times.
It's not just the talent gap overall between them and everybody else either, but the quarterback gap as well. Penn State has a talented roster, too, but the difference between Justin Fields and Sean Clifford is immense. Plus, while there are some legitimate questions about the Buckeyes -- they have to replace just about their entire secondary -- this is a program that's had to reload plenty of times and has come out the other side more than fine.
Worst Wager -- Michigan (+650): This isn't to say that Michigan isn't capable of winning the conference, because it is. The problem is that there's nothing to suggest Michigan is capable of winning the Big Ten in 2020 enough times to only get +650 as the price. To break even at this price, Michigan needs to win the conference 13.33% of the time. That feels like a lot to ask of a program that hasn't won the Big Ten in 16 years and hasn't won outright in 17.
When you consider Michigan has to replace almost everybody on both sides of the ball, it makes the task even more difficult. Plus, given the size and loyalty of Michigan's fan base, it's almost impossible to find the right kind of value on them in props like these. Books have to protect themselves just in case.
Value Pick -- Wisconsin (+1000): I'm not all that enthusiastic about Wisconsin heading into 2020, but the facts are the facts. Wisconsin has won the West four times in the six seasons the division has existed. You can't win the Big Ten without winning your division, and given that history, it's reasonable to believe Wisconsin can do it again. Replacing Jonathan Taylor may be a concern to some, but it's not as if he's the first productive running back Wisconsin has had to replace. The Badgers have made a habit of doing so.
Assuming Wisconsin gets to Indianapolis, likely against Ohio State, it may may pull off the upset. At +1000, we're making money if Wisconsin wins the conference 9.1% of the time. It's been eight years since it happened last, but the Badgers did win the Big Ten twice in the last decade. So, there's value here based on history.
Longshot -- Minnesota (+3000): Ohio State is the right bet, but Minnesota is my favorite play at these odds. We're talking about a Minnesota team that went 11-2 last season and finished the year by beating Auburn in the Outback Bowl. A lot of key players from that team are back, and while I don't know if Minnesota's going to win 11 games again, these odds suggest that most people expect them to take a further step back. I mean, do you think Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa all have a better shot of winning the Big Ten this year than Minnesota does? Enough to justify the difference in prices on them?
At +3000, Minnesota only needs to win the Big Ten 3.23% of the time for us to break even. The Gophers can do that. The odds are very much against it happening, but at this price, turning down a shot on the Gophers is a mistake.