College football win totals have been available at 5Dimes for a little while now as bettors have been pushing the juice around with low-limit max wagers. Heritage Sportsbook has a handful of win totals as well, but it was CG Technologies in Las Vegas that set the standard that most sportsbooks will now follow with their college football season win totals.
To date, the five power conferences have had win total numbers released and here at BangTheBook, we’re going to take a look at each team on a conference-by-conference basis with a little bit of schedule analysis, depth chart analysis, and some coaching thoughts.
The third conference to be covered in this 11-conference series that will include the Independent teams is the Big Ten Conference. The Big Ten had a somewhat surprising finish last season as Michigan State topped Ohio State 34-24 in the Big Ten Championship Game to end Ohio State’s 24-0 run of back-to-back perfect regular seasons.
Ohio State’s loss to Clemson coupled with the conference’s usual bad showing in bowl games has left the 14 teams with a big uphill climb to find a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff. How will the teams fare this year? Here’s a look at the Big Ten West Division. (The Big Ten East Division can be found here.)
5Dimes: 9 -140/110
Heritage: 9.5 -180/160
CG Technologies: 9.5 -135/105
Gary Andersen had a successful 9-4 season in his first year at Wisconsin after leaving Utah State. Andersen was victimized by a poorly officiated ending at Arizona State and his team dug too deep of a hole to climb out of against Ohio State. The entire front seven is gone from Wisconsin’s defense, as they return just three starters, and the offense loses its top four receivers and running back James White. The offensive line remains mostly in tact and quarterback Joel Stave should improve in the second year under Andersen.
Wisconsin opens the season with a neutral site matchup against LSU and wraps up the non-conference slate with three wins over Western Illinois, Bowling Green, and USF. Conference play starts with a tricky game at Northwestern and features a trip to Iowa on November 22. The Badgers outgained conference competition by an average of 176 yards per game.
Pick: Under 9.5 (+160) (Heritage)
The Badgers will be able to run the football, but the losses of Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen are big losses to that offense. Wisconsin will shorten games with a ground and pound style, but they have a lot of production to replace on defense as well. The Iowa road game could decide the Big Ten West and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wisconsin go 0-3 in their three toughest games given what they lost and the sites of the games.
5Dimes: 8 -130/100
Heritage: 8.5 -150/130
CG Technologies: 8.5 -140/110
The Iowa Hawkeyes offense returns eight starters from a group that improved by a touchdown per game on average last season. Unfortunately, they lose 322 tackles and 11.5 sacks worth of production from their linebacking corps. Their top cover corner, BJ Lowery, also moved on. Iowa’s defense allowed just 303 yards per game last season and a veteran-filled group won four out of five games on the road. Can the defense grow up in a hurry?
Iowa’s non-conference schedule has Northern Iowa, Ball State, Iowa State, and Pitt, with all but the finale at home. The conference schedule sets up nicely with Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska at home and none of the big three from the Big Ten East. Road games at Minnesota and Maryland may be tricky. Iowa only plays two games in October with byes on the first and last Saturday of the month.
Pick: Over 8 (-130) (5Dimes)
There has been a little bit of buzz for Iowa to win the Big Ten West because of their conference schedule and the toughest games at home. The Hawkeyes haven’t had a nine-win season since 2009 when they had Marvin McNutt and Darrell Johnson-Koulianos, the top two receivers in program history. In a rather wide open division where the top four teams could wind up beating each other, home-field advantage in those games is a big key.
5Dimes: 8 100/-130
Heritage: 7.5 -250/210
CG Technologies: 8 -130/100
For having a 9-4 season last year, it seemed like Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers faced a whole lot of criticism. Taylor Martinez’s various injuries limited him and the Huskers turned it over to freshman Tommy Armstrong around midseason. Four of the five offensive linemen are gone and the defense has to replace Stanley-Jean Baptiste and four other defensive starters. There’s a strong running game here and the second year of Armstrong will provide some optimism.
A couple of tricky games wrap up the non-conference schedule that will allow the Huskers to start 2-0 with wins over Florida Atlantic and McNeese State. A September 13 game at Fresno State and a September 20 game against Miami (FL) will be a nice barometer before conference play begins. Nebraska draws a road game at Michigan State in crossover play and goes to all three of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northwestern from the Big Ten West.
Pick: Under 8 (+100) (CG Technologies)
Bo Pelini has never won fewer than nine games in his six-season tenure at Nebraska. That said, he has won eight regular season games three times. With four tough road games on the schedule, Nebraska will probably have to run the table at home for a shot at nine wins. The only big stumbling block is that non-conference game against Miami. A revamped offensive line and some inexperience from Armstrong are concerns.
5Dimes: 6 -130/100
Heritage: 6.5 -120/100
CG Technologies: 6.5 -115/-115
The Golden Gophers were one of last season’s surprise teams as they jumped out to an 8-2 record before losing their final three games of the season. Continued health problems for Jerry Kill led to some shuffling in the coaching staff, but Kill is going to give it another go this season. Fifteen starters remain from last year’s team, but quarterback Philip Nelson and defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman are noteworthy losses. Many will look at Minnesota’s rush numbers from last season and see progress, but keep in mind that they only ran for 3.7 yards per carry in conference play.
The Golden Gophers have a miserable month of November with home games against Iowa and Ohio State followed by road games at Nebraska and at Wisconsin. Over bettors will need Minnesota to enter November at 7-1 and that seems really unlikely. Road tests at Michigan and TCU and an early home game against Northwestern are all tough games.
Pick: Under 6.5 (+100) (Heritage)
This might be the strongest play of this series to date. The Golden Gophers are staring at an 0-4 November in all likelihood, with 1-3 as a best-case scenario. There’s a good chance that the Gophers are only favored once in conference play, when they host Purdue. Kill has gotten a lot out of his teams, but they don’t have the same non-conference schedule that they had last season.
5Dimes: 6 -115/-115
Heritage: 6.5 -105/-115
CG Technologies: 6 -140/110
Pat Fitzgerald’s bunch had a 5-7 season last year, the worst season for the Wildcats since 2006’s 4-8 campaign. Ignoring the ridiculous ending to last year’s Ohio State-Northwestern game, the Wildcats had single-digit losses in five of their seven conference defeats. Fitzgerald returns 17 starters from last year’s team, including Venric Mark and Trevor Siemian on offense and all five offensive linemen. A couple big injuries early last season weakened the defense and those players return healthy this season.
The Wildcats have three non-conference games in September with their last non-conference challenge in South Bend against the Fighting Irish in mid-November. Northern Illinois doesn’t appear to be as dangerous as last season’s team without Jordan Lynch, so the Wildcats have a good shot at opening 3-0 before the conference schedule opens with tough games at Penn State and at home against Wisconsin. Despite avoiding Ohio State and Michigan State, this is a tough conference slate.
Pick: Over 6 (-115) (5Dimes)
Wins are difficult to find on the schedule at first glance, but a 3-5 conference record should do no worse than push this wager. The devastating Ohio State loss took a lot out of the Wildcats and their hangover lasted until the final week of the season. Some better fortune on the injury front will go a long way and the Big Ten West doesn’t seem to be separated by too many factors at the top.
5Dimes: 4 -140/110
Heritage: 4.5 -115/-105
CG Technologies: 5 -115/-115
After an unmitigated disaster in his first season at Illinois, Tim Beckman and his team had a two-game improvement in 2013. Nathan Scheelhaase is gone, which is a big blow to the offense, but Wes Lunt transferred in from Oklahoma State and he gives the Illini an interesting dynamic as a pocket passer. Josh Ferguson returns as the starting running back, which is big because few skill players return, but the offense can gel as a unit with Lunt in the picture. The defense, which was even worse last season than the year before, returns eight starters, but not top player Jonathan Brown.
Illinois will fulfill their part of the home-and-home series with Washington by going to the Northwest in Week 3. They should enter Big Ten play at 3-1 if they can beat Western Kentucky and Texas State. They get Ohio State and Penn State from the East Division and also travel to Nebraska and Wisconsin. November features Ohio State, a bye, Iowa, Penn State, and a finale at Northwestern.
Pick: Under 4.5 (-105) (Heritage)
Obviously the better play is under 5 at CG Technologies, but since most readers probably don’t have access to that, under at Heritage is the way to go. The swing game on the schedule looks like October 25’s home game against Minnesota. There’s your one-game hedge. Illinois could be a slight favorite at home for Homecoming, so Minnesota could likely be had at plus money. The Illini improved with Bill Cubit as the offensive coordinator and Lunt is an intriguing prospect at quarterback, but this defense will still give up 30+ per game and that’s hard to bet on.
5Dimes: 3 -120/-110
Heritage: 3.5 100/-120
CG Technologies: 3.5 -155/125
A major difference in opinion between the offshores and Las Vegas with the Purdue Boilermakers. Highly-touted true freshman Danny Etling did some nice things last season in his seven starts and the offense actually looked competent over the final four games, though they were all losses. The second year of Darrell Hazell’s tenure should generate better results. The Boilermakers will be young again with a lot of sophomores slotted as starters on offense and no safe jobs on defense.
The Boilermakers open the season with directional Michigan schools taking on Western and then Eastern in West Lafayette. A neutral site game in Indianapolis against Notre Dame precedes the most winnable game on the Southern Illinois Salukis. Purdue’s best chance to avoid 0-18 in conference is an October 4 matchup at Illinois. Michigan State and Indiana are the crossover games.
Pick: Under 3.5 (+125) (CG Technologies)
On principle alone, the Las Vegas number needs to go in this pick space because of the value. Purdue will be favored in exactly three games this season and there’s no guarantee that Purdue can easily dispatch of a MAC team after last season’s 20-14 win over Indiana State. The Boilermakers could manage four wins, but they were -241 yards per game in Big Ten play and things don’t look much prettier.
The win total analyses for the Big Ten East Division are posted here.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.