Ohio State's run of four consecutive Big Ten titles came to an end last season once Michigan beat it in the falling snow of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Wolverines would win the Big Ten Championship and reach the College Football Playoff.
It was a season that might not have come from nowhere, but you had to squint to see it coming. I know I didn't expect it. In this same post last year,.
Worst wager -- Michigan (+1000): Wow, what a wonderful post this is for Ohio State fans so far. Not only do I have the Buckeyes as the best bet, but now I'm kicking the Wolverines in the face and calling them the worst wager. Well, let's make one thing clear: I think Michigan's being a little underestimated heading into 2021. I don't think the team is as bad as it looked in a strange 2020 season, and it's likely to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten.
The problem is that Michigan has a massive fan base, and they all want to believe. Sportsbooks know this. So they have to skew the odds a bit to protect themselves in case Michigan does get its act together and put together a magical season, toppling Ohio State and winning the conference. Can it happen? Yeah, but not often enough to justify the +1000 (9.1%) price.
Now, I could give a tedious explanation about what I wrote still being accurate, but instead, I'll put my pride aside and stick with "whoops! My bad! I'll try to be better this year." Once again, the Ohio State Buckeyes are the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten according to Caesars Sportsbook, but while the Wolverines had the fourth-best odds last year, this season, they're second; a healthy margin behind the Buckeyes. Is either of them the best bet? Is one the worst? Which team presents the best value? I'll get to that momentarily, but first, let's look at the Big Ten title odds for all 14 Big Ten schools.
Best Bet -- Ohio State (-280): Yes, just like last season, I'm saying Ohio State is the best bet. The Buckeyes are even heavier favorites this season. Last year the odds were at -170, meaning they were expected to win 63% of the time. At -280, the implied odds are 73.7% of the time. That's a significant increase, but it's also a realistic one.
The Buckeyes might have the best quarterback in the country in C.J. Stroud. They could have the best receiver in the country in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and the offense is loaded with talent. The team's problems last season were mainly on the defensive side of the ball, and Ryan Day hopes he's fixed those problems by hiring Jim Knowles away from Oklahoma State to be his defensive coordinator.
Also, while Michigan beat Ohio State to win the East last season, it's important to remember that on the season as a whole, Ohio State's point differential of +229 in nine Big Ten games was 94 points better than Michigan's +135. That's a difference of nearly 10 points per game. They don't hand out trophies for winning the point differential war, but it's a better stat to predict future performance, and when you consider everything Michigan lost from last year's team, I don't know that there's a genuine threat to the Buckeyes in 2022.
Worst Wager -- Nebraska (+1800): When I say Nebraska was the best three-win team in history last year, people assume there's a mocking tone because, honestly, who the hell is ranking the greatest three-win teams of all time? But I'm not mocking Nebraska! The Huskers went 3-9, but they were a much better team than their record said, and if not for some foolish mistakes -- particularly on special teams -- this is a team that probably finishes 7-5. Not what Nebraska fans want, but certainly a step in the right direction.
So, in my eyes, if the Huskers improve to 7-5 or even 8-4 this year, it won't be as significant a jump as the win-loss record says. Scott Frost has done as much as he can to bring that jump. There's a new offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple, who helped turn Kenny Pickett into a Heisman finalist last year. There are new quarterbacks as Adrian Martinez has moved on, and Nebraska was active in the transfer portal. So if this team improves in 2022, I certainly won't be surprised, and you shouldn't be, either. All of that said, there's no way this team takes a large enough leap to win the Big Ten 5.3% of the time, which is how often it would have to justify this price.
Value Pick -- Penn State (+1400): The Nittany Lions entered the 2021 season with the second-best odds to win the Big Ten behind Ohio State at +800. I didn't think that was a great bet, but I see some value on them this season at +1400. The Nittany Lions are 11-11 over the past two seasons, which isn't good enough considering the program's talent. But those lackluster results are causing the public to be too dismissive of them in 2022.
Penn State has an experienced QB in Sean Clifford, who will be playing under the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons for the first time in his long Penn State career. They put together another solid recruiting class in 2022 and have added a few transfers expected to have an immediate impact and help overcome some losses. They also have a potential game-changer waiting in the wings in five-star QB Drew Allar. Finally, while they'll have to go on the road to face Michigan, they get both Ohio State and Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. To be clear, I don't think it's likely Penn State will win the Big Ten, but when comparing its odds to the other programs with a realistic shot of doing so, they present the best value for the price.
Longshot -- Minnesota (+3000): Truth be told, I wouldn't bet on any of the "longshot" teams in the Big Ten this year, but if I'm being forced to bet on one, Minnesota is the choice. I considered Michigan State, but asking the Spartans to get through Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State is more difficult than asking Minnesota to survive the Big Ten West.
It's not crazy to think a Minnesota team that went 11-2 in 2019 and 9-4 last season could put together a season strong enough to win the West. Last year's team went 6-3 in the Big Ten despite the absence of a passing attack. Kirk Ciarocca returns as the offensive coordinator, and he ran the offense with Tanner Morgan in 2019 when the team won 11 games. Suppose they can rekindle a more balanced and explosive attack on offense. In that case, the Gophers could challenge for the division title, and getting to Indianapolis is crucial for winning the conference!