The Big Ten has been Ohio State's playground the past several seasons so the rest of the conference will be looking to knock the four-time defending champions from their throne in 2021. In the East division, Indiana took a big step forward last season while Michigan and Michigan State will try to bounce back from disastrous 2020 campaigns.
In the West, Northwestern is the defending champ with Wisconsin and Iowa hoping to change that. Minnesota endured a rough 2020 campaign while Scott Frost and Jeff Brohm are starting to feel the heat at Nebraska and Purdue, respectively. Below I will provide some thoughts on the win totals for each Big Ten team and see if there's any value in either direction. Sometimes there just isn't and it's not worth a look.
Note: Win total numbers courtesy of DraftKings.
Big Ten East
Indiana (Over 8 +120...Under 8 -152)
Non-Conference Games: Idaho, Cincinnati, at Western Kentucky
Schedule Notes: The Hoosiers have three of their first five games on the road including an opener with Iowa on Sept. 4. There's a potential sandwich situation with a road trip to Maryland in between a home contest against Ohio State and a road matchup with Michigan.
QB: Michael Penix Jr.
Roster Notes: We'll see if Indiana can get more from their run game with Tim Baldwin back and USC transfer Stephen Carr joining the fold. Their leading wide receiver went pro so it's up to Ty Fryfogle as well as a deep stable of options behind him to pick up the slack. Linebacker Micah McFadden leads a defense that returns plenty of experience but will be led by a new coordinator (Charlton Warren).
Prediction: Lean to the under, but not at this price. Indiana is going to go 2-1 out of conference and could lose a couple of Big Ten contests.
Related: Big Ten Football 2021 Predictions
Maryland (Over 6 +100...Under 6 -125)
Non-Conference Games: West Virginia, Howard, Kent State
Schedule Notes: The Terrapins get four of their first five games at home before an Oct. 9 road trip to Ohio State. Maryland also gets Michigan and Penn State at home with manageable road trips late.
QB: Taulia Tagovailoa
Roster Notes: There are eight returning starters from an offense that scored 80 points against Minnesota and Penn State, but only 38 combined in the other three contests. The Terrapins need more from a run game that lost its leading rusher in Jake Funk. The offensive line did some shuffling as well with a couple of transfers leaving the program. The secondary had just two interceptions in five games, but the unit is returning almost intact. We'll see if a full offseason can make a difference for this defense.
Prediction: Six wins seems to be a pretty solid number.
Michigan (Over 7.5 -152...Under 7.5 +120)
Non-Conference Games: Western Michigan, Washington, Northern Illinois
Schedule Notes: There's a chance to start out 4-0 with four straight at home, but then things ramp up in conference where the Wolverines travel to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. Jim Harbaugh needs his team to get off to a fast start after last year's poor effort.
QB Battle: Cade McNamara vs. J.J. McCarthy vs. Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman
Roster Notes: Bowman threw for more than 5,000 yards for the Red Raiders and could be what the offense needs. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum take over the backfield from Zach Charbonnet, who left for UCLA, while three of the top four wide receivers from last season are back. There's a new defensive coordinator in Mike Macdonald and he inherits nine starters from a unit that struggled in 2020.
Prediction: I came up with seven or eight wins here. The Wolverines need to start showing more consistency before I blindly jump on win total overs with them.
Michigan State (Over 4.5 -143...Under 4.5 +112)
Non-Conference Games: Youngstown State, at Miami, Western Kentucky
Schedule Notes: It's a Big Ten road season-opener for the Spartans, who will kick things off in Evanston against Northwestern. Three of the first five are at home and Michigan State ends its slate at Ohio State and home vs. Penn State.
QB Battle: Temple transfer Anthony Russo vs. Payton Thorne
Roster Notes: The quarterback battle will be interesting in the coming months between someone who knows the system and someone who may be able to move the ball better. The offensive line was brutal last year, but returns four starters. With a full offseason, I'll be interested to see what this coaching staff can do on both sides of the ball. The defense was horrific in 2020, but the talent is there. Shakur Brown's five interceptions will be missed but the secondary should feature four Power 5 transfers.
Prediction: I like the over here a little bit. Michigan State should get two non-conference victories and has winnable home games against Maryland and Nebraska in Big Ten play.
Ohio State (Over 11 -125...Under 11 EVEN)
Non-Conference Games: Oregon, Tulsa, Akron
Schedule Notes: After a Thursday night opener in Minnesota the Buckeyes have five of their next seven at home. They host Penn State on Oct. 30 and travel to Michigan to close out the slate.
QB Battle: CJ Stroud vs. Jack Miller vs. Kyle McCord
Roster Notes: It all starts under center as Justin Fields is gone and three players who haven't thrown a pass yet in college football take over. Luckily for them, wide receiver Chris Olave decided to return for his senior season and Garrett Wilson is back as well. There's a solid group of running backs and offensive linemen to support the new QB. The top two tacklers are gone so the linebackers could be an issue although not as much if the Buckeyes change to a 4-2-5 alignment. The secondary will have a new look after giving up the most passing yards in the Big Ten last season.
Prediction: I hate these totals as it's basically deciding if you think Ohio State is going to go undefeated. I don't think so which means it's either a push or an under for me.
Penn State (Over 9 EVEN...Under 9 -125)
Non-Conference Games: Ball State, Auburn, Villanova
Schedule Notes: Penn State opens up at Wisconsin and then has five of the next six at home. The Auburn game in week 3 will be interesting while the Nittany Lions have an Oct. 30 road date with Ohio State.
QB: Sean Clifford
Roster Notes: A new offensive coordinator (Mike Yurcich) is charged with improving an offense that turned the ball over 17 times, including nine interceptions thrown by Clifford. The offensive line struggled with pass protection and Penn State's running attack was mediocre. There is talent out wide with Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington. The defense has some holes to fill but the back end could be good if cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields stays healthy.
Prediction: This one comes down to the Auburn game. If you think Penn State beats the Tigers from the SEC at home, then you probably like nine wins. But if you think the Nittany Lions lose that game, then you probably lean to the under here.
Rutgers (Over 4 -113...Under 4 -113)
Non-Conference Games: Temple, at Syracuse, Delaware
Schedule Notes: Rutgers is home just twice for its last six games and one of those is against Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights are playing a regionalized non-conference slate.
QB: Noah Vedral
Roster Notes: It all starts at quarterback as the level of play from this position has not been good the past couple of seasons. Artur Sitkowski transferred to Illinois so Vedral has to succeed with a lack of talent behind him. The offensive line is back intact and Isaih Pacheco is a solid running back. There are a lot of options out wide as well led by Bo Melton and Aron Cruickshank. The defense was bad last year, but eight starters are back with a couple of key transfers coming in to help patch some holes.
Prediction: Four is a great number. I can't go higher than that until the Scarlet Knights show me they can win the games they should.
Big Ten West
Illinois (Over 3.5 -152...Under 3.5 +120)
Non-Conference Games: UTSA, at Virginia, Charlotte
Schedule Notes: Illinois has a home-friendly start to the year with five of the first seven in Champaign. The Illini get Wisconsin at home as part of that stretch so early confidence could be built. The closing stretch features road trips to Minnesota and Iowa with a bye week in between.
QB: Brandon Peters
Roster Notes: I understand why Illinois hired Bret Bielema as Lovie Smith's replacement, but it's a relatively uninspiring choice for me. I know Bielema can recruit the area and is familiar with the conference, but there weren't other options? A bunch of the top skill position guys last year are gone, but the new staff brought in several transfers including Jafar Armstrong from Notre Dame. Former Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters takes over a unit with seven starters back. Linebacker Jake Hansen's return is important after he flirted with the NFL draft.
Prediction: I like the over here, but definitely not at this price. I think Illinois gets two wins out of conference and picks up a couple more at home in Big Ten play.
Iowa (Over 8.5 -113...Under 8.5 -113)
Non-Conference Games: at Iowa State, Kent State, Colorado State
Schedule Notes: Iowa has just five road games with two of them being at Maryland and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes will be tested early against Indiana and Iowa State. Penn State comes to Iowa City on Oct. 9.
QB: Spencer Petras
Roster Notes: The offense returns just five starters and has to find new top wide receivers with Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith both gone. Petras showed some things last season and can take the next step in his progression. Tyler Goodson is a solid running back but depth behind him is an issue. The defensive line has to replace a lot of talent, but the linebackers and secondary are pretty solid.
Prediction: I see eight or nine wins so no play here.
Minnesota (Over 7 -113...Under 7 -113)
Non-Conference Games: Miami (Ohio), at Colorado, Bowling Green
Schedule Notes: Minnesota can certainly send an early message with a home win over Ohio State. The Golden Gophers get Iowa and Indiana back-to-back on the road in November. After that, Wisconsin comes to town so Minnesota needs to make noise early before navigating a tough finishing stretch.
QB: Tanner Morgan
Roster Notes: Morgan had mediocre numbers last year with just seven touchdown passes to five interceptions in seven games. He won't have top wide receiver Rashod Bateman but Chris Autman-Bell is back. It'll be the run game that carries Minnesota especially early with a fantastic offensive line blocking for Mohamed Ibrahim. The defense was disappointing last year and returns a lot of the same players. We'll see if the Golden Gophers can improve after going through a full, more normal offseason.
Prediction: Seven wins seems about right here.
Nebraska (Over 6 -139...Under 6 +110)
Non-Conference Games: Buffalo, at Oklahoma, Southeastern Louisiana
Schedule Notes: The Cornhuskers need to start the season with a win at Illinois or they face the prospect of a rough start with trips to Oklahoma and Michigan State coming up later in September. Nebraska gets Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa at home, but has road dates with Minnesota and Wisconsin.
QB: Adrian Martinez
Roster Notes: Martinez is back and fully entrenched as the starter with Luke McCaffrey transferring to Rice (after a brief stop at Louisville). Wan'Dale Robinson also departed (transferred to Kentucky), so there's some uncertainty about the receiving corps. USC transfer Markese Stepp got hurt in spring ball, but when healthy he'll stabilize the backfield with Marvin Scott and Gabe Ervin Jr. Nine starters are back on defense, but will the Blackshirts improve after a dreadful 2020 campaign?
Prediction: At this price, I like the under. There's just not enough depth on this roster in key places.
Northwestern (Over 6 -134...Under 6 +105)
Non-Conference Games: Indiana State, at Duke, Ohio
Schedule Notes: Northwestern has just one true home game in November (vs. Iowa) before trips to Wisconsin and Illinois as well as a neutral-site game at Wrigley Field with Purdue. The Wildcats do have a chance to start fast though with four of their first six at home.
QB Battle: South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski vs. Hunter Johnson
Roster Notes: The offense last year was ugly and brutal and will be without Peyton Ramsey at quarterback. Hard to believe a transfer from Kansas will be a huge help but wide receiver Stephon Robinson is a solid playmaker to add to the fold. The backfield also adds Bowling Green transfer Andrew Clair, who was productive despite playing for one of the worst teams in the nation. New defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil comes over from the NFL and has big shoes to fill in replacing Northwestern legend Jim Hankwitz. O'Neil also inherits just four returning starters from a unit that led the Big Ten and finished fifth in the FBS in scoring.
Prediction: I have six or seven wins which means a slight lean to the over, but I'm not confident enough to play it at that price. Pass here.
Purdue (Over 5 -125...Under 5 EVEN)
Non-Conference Games: Oregon State, at UConn, at Notre Dame
Schedule Notes: Purdue can start fast with a couple of winnable games, but November features some tough matchups with Ohio State and Indiana.
QB Battle: Aidan O'Connell vs. Jack Plummer
Roster Notes: Both quarterbacks will see time most likely, but whoever wins the job will have a fantastic WR corps even with Rondale Moore going pro. David Bell had eight touchdowns last year. The offensive line will be strong blocking Zander Horvath, who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Brad Lambert is an awesome hire as the new defensive coordinator as last year's Purdue squad was last in the conference in several categories. There are seven starters back with the talent spread among all the levels.
Prediction: Five wins are a really good number so no play here.
Wisconsin (Over 9.5 -113...Under 9.5 -113)
Non-Conference Games: Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, Army
Schedule Notes: Wisconsin's first true road game doesn't come until Oct. 9 and it’s at Illinois. The Badgers' toughest road trip will be their last one, at Minnesota. Wisconsin hosts Michigan and Penn State in the first half of the slate.
QB: Graham Mertz
Roster Notes: It just didn't feel like Wisconsin football last year as the run game didn't dominate like usual. Three starters are back up front and so is Jalen Berger, who could be the Badgers' next great back. Mertz hopes to have a better year as well after dealing with COVID-19 and injuries. Jake Ferguson is one of the better tight ends in the nation while Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor are solid out wide and return after injury-plagued campaigns. The defense has eight starters back as well as respected coordinator Jim Leonhard so this unit should be stout as usual.
Prediction: Like the over here as the schedule sets up so nicely for potentially 10 wins. There are no real scary road trips for the most part.