2011 wasn’t a banner year for Big Ten backers, with only 3 teams out of 12 producing a profit. The good news is that number can go nowhere but up. I expect a significant increase in performance from Ohio State, Nebraska, and Iowa while Penn State is the only program who’s likely to see the bottom drop out. Interested in a long play? If Illinois (22:1) or Purdue(40:1) can unseat Wisconsin, you’re looking at a pretty nice payout for a one game playoff in Indy.
Ohio State (2011 Record ATS: 6-7)
Betting Jim Tressel’s last two years was like going to a free ATM machine, and if any man can provide the same type of fortune it’s Urban Meyer. With 4 home games in September against unranked teams the Buckeyes could be one of the hotter plays of the season’s 1st quarter. The defense should be a rock – it allowed only 323 yds/game in a down season and 7 starters return. Braxton Miller looks like he could be ideal for the Meyer spread and will have a chance to ease into the role. I’ll re-calibrate once conference season starts, but I’m feeling good about Ohio State football again.
Illinois (2011 Record ATS: 6-7)
Here’s your sleeper, folks. Little is expected nationally or locally from this team, and it’s still hard to disassociate this bunch from the absolute collapse from last season or even from Ron Zook for that matter. But if you look at the roster, the heart is beating. The under-appreciated defense (ranked 7th in the country giving up 286 yds/game) returns 7 starters and should be among the best in the conference once again. Nathan Scheelhaase’s may have struggled in his sophomore campaign but he’s a gifted player who could benefit from a change of scenery. We don’t know enough about Tim Beckman yet to get a feel for his coaching chops, but things are tee’d up and if can pull it together and get a few breaks, the Illini could produce serious money for backers.
Iowa (2011 Record ATS: 5-8)
2011 was a major disappointment for Hawkeye backers and a major cash drain on my wallet. The defense was the worst in recent vintage (giving up 378 yds/game), and it’s hard to say whether we can expect improvement with only 3 starters returning. The offense was inconsistent and seemed to play its best when little was on the line. All that said, it’s time to hit the reset button in Iowa City. Vegas expectations should be lower than a year ago and Kirk Ferentz always seems to come up with a competitive team when nothing is expected. Ferentz hasn’t forgotten how to cover – the Hawkeyes went 16-8 ATS in ’08-’09 – and I really wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull a rabbit out of his hat this fall.
Nebraska (2011 Record ATS: 4-8)
It was a down year for Nebraska last season and the record ATS is clearly indicative of that. If the Huskers are going to be better than a borderline top-25 team, it’ll be because of the defense, an enigmatic unit a year ago that looked like world beaters against Michigan State and Iowa, yet had no answers for Braxton Miller or Denard Robinson. I have to believe Bo Pelini won’t accept that again and the Huskers will be back in the top-20 nationally on defense again. If this plays itself out then Nebraska is on the way up for bettors. If he asks Taylor Martinez to throw seam routes, I take it all back.
Minnesota (2011 Record ATS: 7-5)
After seven games in 2011, the Gophers were leading the charge for cash drain of the year at 2-5 ATS. The tides turned quickly however,and the Gophers covered 5 in a row to finish the season,providing momentum heading into this year. Their success probably depends on MarQueis Gray, who has the skills to be a very good quarterback but has been plagued by inconsistency. It’s always good to have Jerry Kill in your corner too – this is man who is 17-8-1 ATS over the last two years. Could the Gophers be a force? Home games against Syracuse, Northwestern, and Purdue already look like games where I’m assuming I’ll play Minnesota.
Michigan State (2011 Record ATS: 10-4)
It’s a lot to expect the Spartans to match last year’s profit, especially with face-of-the-program Kirk Cousins taking snaps for the Redskins. Yet MSU’s program is as stable as any in the conference right now, Mark D’antonio is my guy, and the conference’s best defense returns 8 starters. Hard not to expect more of the same from East Lansing. Keep your eye on Week 1 against Boise State – a game in which I LOVE MSU to cover (-6.5)
Wisconsin (2011 Record ATS: 7-7)
On my list of favorite teams to bet over the last few years, the Wisconsin Badgers have been second to none. In games involving them I’m an astonishing 13-2, so thank you, Bret Bielema, for keeping me in business. What can we expect of the Badgers now that all-world college QB Russell Wilson is gone? It seems like folks are expecting a drop-off from the Badgers after back-to-back Rose Bowls, and maybe that means Vegas will drop those spreads a bit. Still, Wisconsin is a known commodity at this point and Utah State, UTEP, Indiana, and Penn State won’t come cheap. They’ll be a timely play but won’t sneak up on anyone so it’s hard to find a ton of value here.
Purdue (2011 Record ATS: 6-7)
At least Joe Tiller was predictable. I’ve had no clue what to make of the Boilermakers since Danny Hope took over, this coming from a guy who has watched almost every game. It’s mediocrity defined, meaning they’re capable of upsetting an elite team (Ohio State in 2009) or losing to a bad mid-major (Rice 2011). It looks to be more of the same this season. The defense should be a little better with enough good players in place and if a quarterback steps up the offense will be competent. Other than that, I don’t know what to tell you. Someone out there knows how to bet Purdue and I need to find that guy.
Northwestern (2011 Record ATS: 5-8)
I’ll make this easy – just don’t f**k with Northwestern. This is the program that will win games you’d never thought imaginable (at Nebraska) and lose to anyone (Army) in the same season. It’s been like this for years. As long as Pat Fitzgerald is ignoring his greater judgement and sticking around Evanston, just leave them alone. The best you can hope for is a hot start, then a visit from a good but not great team. In this scenario, bet against the Cats.
Penn State (2011 Record ATS: 5-8)
Ralph Bolden, looks like that transfer opportunity is finally available to you. This article being written the day after the sanctions came down, so we don’t know what the final product will look like come September 1st with possible defects on the way. I really can’t say I have a gauge on how Vegas will handicap them, but my gut is that they’ll be getting a fair amount of points – and it won’t be enough.
Michigan (2011 Record ATS: 8-4-1)
Maybe it’s the brand name, maybe it’s the drool produced from Denard Robinson’s flash, but my issue with the Wolverines is the same many have with Blake Griffin. They went from underrated to overrated real quick. Anyone who’s read this blog during football season knows I love Brady Hoke and count me among those who benefited greatly from Michigan’s record last season. But preseason top 10? I don’t think they’ve elevated to elite team just yet and I’d feel better about them in the 15′ish range. More will be expected this season so I don’t see a match or improvement on 8-4-1
Indiana (2011 Record ATS: 6-6)
I can’t see things ending any other way than really badly for Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers regressed last season under his leadership and the Gunner Kiel saga made fools out of everyone involved. Hopefully we’re looking at a consistent team come October – one that we can count on to not cover and thus bet against week in and week out.