2021 Big Ten win totals, odds, picks: Predictions for each team as Ohio State, Wisconsin face big numbers


It’s that time of the year. The sun is shining in the sky longer, the air feels thicker and I’m walking face-first into spiderwebs nearly every time I take the garbage out. That’s right, it’s summer, and the best thing about summer is that it’s the last season we need to get through before fall — the season during which there’s college football.

Summer also means win totals for the upcoming season have been posted, and even if we’re a couple of months away from the season starting, that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start betting on what will happen. Win totals are a great way to prove to yourself just how right or wrong you are about the upcoming year, as they set the foundation of what expectations are for each school.

So who is going to exceed them? Who will come up short? Let’s figure it all out, team-by-team, with odds below provided via William Hill Sportsbook.

Over/under 3.5 wins

Analysis: Bret Bielema’s first season is a unique situation. He’s inheriting a team coming off a disappointing 2020 season, but it’s also a team with a lot of experience as nearly everybody from last year’s team has returned. Unfortunately for the Illini, with a schedule that includes a nonconference road game against Virginia and other somewhat “winnable” conference games on the road, it’s hard to imagine this team getting back to a bowl game. I do believe it can get to at least four wins, however. Pick: Over 3.5 (-145)

Over/under 7.5 wins

Analysis: I already had Indiana fans mad at me after I was openly skeptical of the Hoosiers performance last season, and I can’t imagine these projections will do a whole lot to endear myself toward them. I’m sorry, Hoosiers fans! Nobody can ever take 2020 away from you! I just don’t see a lot of scenarios in which Indiana can get to eight wins this season, even if I do believe in what Tom Allen is doing with the program. This team just hasn’t built enough credit to take an over here. It’s a difficult road slate. Pick: Under 7.5 (+105)

Iowa

Over/under 8.5 wins

Analysis: You don’t always know what the journey will look like with the Hawkeyes, but you always have a pretty good sense of how it’s going to end. Iowa will finish somewhere between 7-5 and 9-3. Looking at a schedule that includes road games against Northwestern, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska, as well as tough home dates with Indiana and Penn State, it’s difficult to see the path to nine wins. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but the more reasonable outcome is eight wins or fewer. Pick: Under 8.5 (-115)

Maryland

Over/under 6 wins

  • Wins: Howard, Kent State, Indiana
  • Losses: West Virginia, at Illinois, at Ohio State, Iowa, at Minnesota, Penn State, at Michigan State, Michigan, at Rutgers

Analysis: All right, truth be told, I went through the process of analyzing the wins and losses of the schedule before looking at the individual win totals. I didn’t want them influencing my decisions in any way, so I have to say I was stunned to see Maryland’s total posted at six after the exercise. The Terps can get there, but they’ll need to win nearly all of their coin flip games to get there, and most of those games are on the road. It’s hard to have confidence in that happening. Pick: Under 6 (-125)

Michigan

Over/under 7.5 wins

Analysis: Given Michigan’s recent history under Jim Harbaugh, it feels safe to assume that the Wolverines will lose their three games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State. It’s a program that has had trouble with the top teams in the Big Ten the last few years. This means that Michigan has to be nearly perfect in the rest of its schedule to reach the over. I think it can do enough more times than not, as I believe every reaction to anything Michigan does — good or bad — tends to be an overreaction. Also, when it comes to figuring out what will happen in 2021, I don’t want to read too much into anything we saw in the COVID-impacted 2020 season. So, in my eyes, the sky isn’t falling in Ann Arbor nearly as quickly as many others seem to believe. Pick: Over 7.5 (-135)

Michigan State

Over/under 4.5 wins

  • Wins: Youngstown State, Nebraska, Western Kentucky, Michigan, Maryland
  • Losses: at Northwestern, at Miami, at Rutgers, at Indiana, at Purdue, at Ohio State, Penn State

Analysis: When considering that Michigan State hired Mel Tucker shortly before COVID shut the world down last year, Michigan State’s 2020 season was impressive. Not impressive enough to make me believe we’re going to see the Spartans challenging for the Big Ten East, but enough to convince me this team will be flirting with bowl eligibility come the end of the season. That makes this total of 4.5 wins seem a bit low. While some may disagree with me having Sparty take down Michigan again, even if it does lose that game, it could just as easily replace that victory with possible road wins against Northwestern, Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue. Pick: Over 4.5 (-140)

Minnesota

Over/under 7 wins

  • Wins: Miami (OH), Bowling Green, at Purdue, Nebraska, Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin
  • Losses: Ohio State, at Colorado, at Northwestern, at Iowa, at Indiana

Analysis: I hate when sportsbooks give even numbers for win totals. It feels so cowardly. If you have to juice one side or the other heavily, go ahead and do it, but take a dang stand! What fun is it to have a win total bet that can end in a push? Who wants to place a bet in the summer and then sit around for six months only to have the bet refunded? Nobody! Anyway, this seems like a waste of a bet to me. I don’t think Minnesota was nearly as poor as it looked last season, but I don’t think it’s going to be the same team we saw in 2019, either, as it’s lost some talent at the receiver spot. Pick: Push

Nebraska

Over/under 6 wins

  • Wins: at Illinois, Fordham, Buffalo, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa
  • Losses: at Oklahoma, at Michigan State, Michigan, at Minnesota, at Wisconsin, Ohio State

Analysis: Here we go again with another cowardly number. Now, if you’re a Nebraska fan reading this, there’s a good chance you aren’t going to be excited to see me projecting a 6-6 season for the Huskers. It’s the summer, and that means it’s time for unhealthy optimism about your favorite team. But while 6-6 might not be what you want to see, I will point out that it would be the team’s best record under Scott Frost to this point, and it would result in the program’s first bowl appearance since the 2016 Music City Bowl. It’s also one of the more realistic optimistic outcomes considering the schedule includes Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan outside the Big Ten West games. Pick: Push

Northwestern 

Over/under 6.5 wins

  • Wins: Michigan State, Indiana State, at Duke, Ohio, Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue
  • Losses: at Nebraska, at Michigan, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Illinois

Analysis: It’s an interesting year for Northwestern. One of the factors behind the program’s success under Pat Fitzgerald has been the year-to-year consistency within it. This season will be the first time Mike Hankwitz isn’t the team’s defensive coordinator since 2007, and there’s even a new athletic director in charge. The Wildcats also lost some talent from last year’s division-winning team, but I don’t see the bottom falling out completely in Evanston. Honestly, while I have the Cats pegged to finish 7-5, I think 8-4 happens more often than 6-6 does, making the over seem like the obvious play. Pick: Over 6.5 (+100)

Ohio State 

Over/under 11 wins

  • Wins: at Minnesota, Oregon, Tulsa, Akron, at Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, Penn State, at Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State, at Michigan
  • Losses: None

Analysis: OK, do not bet this over. I know I’m picking the over, but do not bet it. It is nearly impossible to find the right kind of value needed to justify taking an over when the total is projected at the cowardly 11 or 11.5. It’s very difficult to go undefeated no matter who you are. Ohio State is more likely to lose a game during the regular season than go undefeated, but in this exercise, I have them finishing 12-0. So you either bet the under and cross your fingers, hoping the Buckeyes slip up twice, or you bet the over and find yourself likely just to push. It’s a pointless bet to make, so don’t. Pick: Over 11 (-120)

Penn State 

Over/under 9 wins

  • Wins: Ball State, Auburn, Villanova, Indiana, at Iowa, Illinois, at Maryland, Michigan, Rutgers, at Michigan State
  • Losses: at Wisconsin, at Ohio State

Analysis: This is another situation like Michigan where the total takes a little too much from the 2020 season in the projection. It’s also another pick in which I think there’s a strong chance you’re sitting around for months waiting to push. In the end, I don’t see Penn State winning road games against Wisconsin and Ohio State very often, but I do think it will be favored in its other 10 games. Even if it slips up somewhere, I see 9-3 happening a lot more often than 8-4. Pick: Over 9 (+110)

Purdue

Over/under 5 wins

  • Wins: Oregon State, at UConn, Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana
  • Losses: at Notre Dame, Minnesota, at Iowa, Wisconsin, at Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Northwestern

Analysis: Purdue is a difficult team for me to get a read on this season. I feel like the Boilermakers could end up being one of the biggest surprises of the season in the Big Ten. The problem is the surprise could be on either end of the spectrum, where the team either exceeds expectations or falls well short. I think this cowardly projection of five is where it is for a reason because, in the end, 5-7 does seem like the most reasonable outcome. There are the games against Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Ohio State that all feel like losses, but you can argue Purdue’s other nine games aren’t much more than coinflips. My official advice here is to stay away, and not just because I’m projecting a push. Pick: Push

Rutgers

Over/under 4 wins

  • Wins: Temple, Delaware, Michigan State, Maryland
  • Losses: at Syracuse, at Michigan, Ohio State, at Northwestern, at Illinois, Wisconsin, at Indiana, at Penn State

Analysis: So the question that needs answering here — and it’s not an easy one to answer! — is whether or not Rutgers winning three games last season was a clear sign of improvement under Greg Schiano or just the result of a strange COVID season. It only gets more complicated when you realize all three of the team’s wins came on the road, but they also came against three teams (Michigan State, Purdue, Maryland) that finished a combined 6-12. In the end, I’m leaning more toward a mixture of improvement and circumstance, and in 2021, I’m expecting a bit more improvement. It doesn’t hurt that the Knights have a couple of winnable nonconference games they weren’t afforded last season as well as some winnable home games against two of the teams they beat last season. All that said, I do think 3-9 is more likely than 5-7. Pick: Push

Wisconsin 

Over/under 9.5 wins

  • Wins: Penn State, Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan, at Illinois, Army, at Purdue, Iowa, at Rutgers, Northwestern
  • Losses: at Minnesota

Analysis: All right, so I was not expecting to project Wisconsin as an 11-1 team when I began this exercise. It happened organically. Still, even if unexpected, it’s not unrealistic. Yes, the Badgers have some very tough games (Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan) on the schedule in 2021, but they’re all at home or a neutral site. Also, even if the Badgers lose two of those three games, they’re still very capable of finishing 10-2. Considering that the Badgers could have the best QB, offensive line and defense in the West this season, 10-2 seems like a reasonable expectation. Pick: Over 9.5 (-120)





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