The 2017 college football season is less than three months away with media days starting in mid-July to kick-start prediction season among college football writers and analysts. The sportsbooks, however, don't wait for expert picks or preseason previews to start setting the expectations for the fall, releasing title odds and win totals throughout the offseason.
We're going to be making individual team picks for all of the Power Five conferences using the full 130-team FBS list. Today, we turn our focus to the Big Ten.
Ohio State -- 10.5 (Under): I cannot stress enough how much I hate it when over/unders are set at 10.5 or 11. It's a sportsbook asking whether you think this team is only going to lose one game, and I don't care who you are, going 12-0 or 11-1 in any season is difficult. You're never getting the right kind of value on the over in these plays, but that's not why I'm taking the under. Ohio State is going to be good. It's an obvious favorite in the Big Ten and a reasonable preseason playoff pick. But it also has to play Oklahoma, Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan. Those last two will both be on the road. So are two losses within the realm of possibility this season? I have to say yes.
Wisconsin -- 10.5 (Under): Another 10.5 win total, but this time for a team without the same pedigree as Ohio State and one that plays in the much easier division. Even so, I can't reasonably go with an over here as Wisconsin's schedule just screams 10-2 to me. And if Wisconsin goes 10-2 this year, it should be thrilled about it.
Penn State -- 10 (Under): The truth is that I predict a push here, but I'm not making it the pick. So my choice now is whether I believe Penn State will have an exceptional year where everything goes right or if it will have a season where something goes wrong, be it a major injury or an unexpected loss. Well, I know how things usually go for teams in that regard, so I'm taking the under. A 9-3 record just seems more likely than 11-1.
Michigan -- 8.5 (Over): Many people consider this a transition year of sorts for the Wolverines, and I understand why. Michigan will have to replace a lot of key starters from last year's team, which is why it's number seems pretty low. I'm pretty confident in the over anyway. During his college coaching career, Jim Harbaugh has never been in charge of a team that won fewer games than it did the year before. It might finally happen this year, but even if it does, 9-3 will be good enough for me.
Northwestern -- 8.5 (Under): Michigan fans must feel wonderful about having the same total as Northwestern. Anyway, as far as the Wildcats are concerned, I believe this number is just a touch too high. I don't have enough faith in the Northwestern offense to be dynamic enough to have a special season, and when I look at some of the games on the schedule, I see a team that's going to finish the regular season at 8-4.
Minnesota -- 7.5 (Under): I think the make-or-break game in this scenario is Minnesota's early season road trip to Oregon State. The Beavers were only 4-8 last year, but they finished the season with two wins and played well in losses to Washington State, Stanford and UCLA. The Gophers could struggle on the road that early in the year, and the conference schedule is tricky as well. I'm predicting 6-6 for P.J. Fleck in his first season in Minneapolis with 7-5 as the ceiling, so the under feels like a safe play.
Iowa -- 7 (Over): Another case where the push seems like the likely outcome. Every time I look through Iowa's schedule, all I see is 7-5, but I'm going to go with the over here. It's more a gut feeling than anything because 6-6 is definitely in play, but I can't help but believe Iowa pulls off an unexpected win somewhere and gets to 8-4.
Nebraska -- 7 (Over): It's a situation similar to that of Michigan. Nebraska has a lot of starters to replace, yes, but this total just feels like an overreaction to that. Assuming Wisconsin is the best team in the West, I'd bet on Nebraska being the second-best before I would go in on any other team in the division.
Indiana -- 6.5 (Under): Indiana presents a difficult situation to assess. Initially, 6.5 wins seems too high, and it is complicated further by the fact I just don't know what Indiana is going to be in 2017. When Kevin Wilson was in charge, the plan was clear: Indiana was just trying to outscore you. Now Tom Allen, who was Indiana's defensive coordinator, has taken over, and I don't know exactly what changes he's going to make. So the under just seems a lot safer here.
Michigan State -- 5 (Over): Another situation that's difficult to figure out. Michigan State was awful last season, but only two years ago it was playing in the College Football Playoff, so you have to think it's better than it showed last year. The problem is that the Spartans have to replace a lot, but that may be a good thing seeing as how they went 3-9 last year. I'm banking on a bounce back, though I'm not sure how big of a bounce it'll be.
Illinois -- 3.5 (Over): Illinois' game against Western Kentucky is the make-or-break game here. If the Illini win that one, then they should be able to get to four wins as long as they find a couple of victories among games against South Florida, Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana and Northwestern. If they don't win against Western Kentucky, getting to four wins will be pretty difficult. I'm saying they make it there.
Maryland -- 3 (Over): I don't get this total at all. The Terps won six games in D.J. Durkin's first season, and I would expect improvement in his second year, not a giant step back. Looking at their schedule, I see plenty of opportunities for the Terps to get to four wins and probably to a bowl game as well.
Rutgers -- 3 (Under): I'm going with the under here, but I don't feel terrific about it. Don't get me wrong, Rutgers was awful last year, and I'm not sure how much better it can be in 2017. It's just that three wins is a rather low bar, so going under feels dangerous -- especially when two of the team's first three games are Eastern Michigan and Morgan State. So essentially, I'm hoping for another 0-9 mark in Big Ten play. With a home game against Purdue, that's no sure thing.
Purdue -- 2.5 (Over): I've made no secret of the fact that I'm Jeff Brohm's biggest fan, and I believe he's going to make Purdue football fun again. While that doesn't mean I'm expecting a huge leap in 2017, I don't think three wins is too much to ask for here. Purdue has plenty of winnable games against teams like Ohio, Minnesota, Rutgers, Illinois and Indiana. It will be favored in at least three of them, so the over seems like a rather safe play.