Big Ten Picks, Predictions and Odds
WagerTalk handicapper Tony Mejia offers his thoughts on the Big Ten football landscape this season from a variety of handicapping angles. Northwestern and Wisconsin have flip-flopped division titles for each of the last four seasons, but neither has been able to take down Ohio State in the conference championship game. Will a new team jump into the mix this year and advance to Indianapolis this season?
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Team to Watch
When last we saw the Buckeyes, they were getting squashed by Alabama in the National Championship game. Ohio State lost QB Justin Fields as the first of 10 players drafted by NFL teams, tying the Crimson Tide for most selections. Can they reload again to win the Big Ten for a fifth straight season? That’s the expectation. Ryan Day is 23-2 when you count his interim work while Urban Meyer was suspended and he beat Trevor Lawrence-led Clemson in the Sugar Bowl to reach the final, so it’s hard to envision the Buckeyes falling off their pedestal. An interesting test awaits at Minnesota to open the season and they’ll host Oregon on Sept. 11, so we’ll get a good look at this year’s group immediately. C.J. Stroud will take the reins from Fields after serving as a backup as a true freshman but he’s never thrown a pass in live action at the college level and will be thrown to the fire. Backups Jack Miller and Kyle McCord are in the same boat. Fortunately, they’ll have a pair of elite receivers to work with in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, not to mention an experienced back in Master Teague who will be joined by stud freshmen in Treveyon Henderson and Evan Pryor. If a retooled defense responds under second-year coordinator Kerry Coombs and Stroud is up to the challenge early, Ohio State should again emerge as the class of the Big Ten and be in the championship mix when all is said and done. You might want to pump the brakes on laying those big numbers early though.
Team to Fade
Wisconsin is favored to win the Big Ten West again but went just 4-3 last season. The loaded offensive lines we typically see the Badgers throw out there may not be a thing of the past, but last year’s group produced the lowest rushing numbers since Paul Chryst’s first season back in 2015 and first-team All-Big Ten left tackle Cole Van Lanen was drafted by the Packers. QB Graham Mertz has struggled despite being such a highly-rated recruit. The Badgers defense is typically solid but lacks star power outside of LB Jack Sanborn, so maybe the first three-game losing streak of the Chryst era shouldn’t be written off as a pandemic-related aberration. Wisconsin opens the season hosting Penn State and plays Notre Dame in Chicago on Sept. 25 in a game that will reunite it with ex-QB Jack Coan. The Badgers may emerge as the class of the Big Ten West, but considering they’ll be favored often at home, taking points against them could yield profits.
Sleeper to Watch
Last season was a disappointment for Minnesota, which suffered its second losing season under P.J. Fleck despite having first-round pick Rashod Bateman available at receiver for five games. The Golden Gophers lost games at Maryland and Wisconsin in overtime but have pretty much been in every game since late 2018 after beating the Badgers in Camp Randall and Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl to finish with a winning record, they’re 16-6. Half of those setbacks have come by three points or fewer. With 10 starters back on defense and a new anchor up front in DT Nyles Pinckney, a Clemson transfer, Minnesota should be improved. They return all five starters on the offensive line, QB Tanner Morgan, 1,000-yard rusher Mohamed Ibrahim and junior WR Chris Autman-Bell having escaped a serious leg injury in practice that will have him week-to-week, the Gophers have a great chance to be a factor down the stretch. They open at home against Ohio State on the first Thursday of the season and close with Wisconsin after road games at Iowa and Indiana, so they’ll be worth watching early and late.
Player to Watch
Perennial Big Ten football doormat Indiana has gone 14-7 over the last two seasons and is expected to do big things in 2021 due to a superb secondary and an excellent receiving corps. The key to coming up with the best season in Hoosiers history is QB Michael Penix. They’re opening the season ranked for the first time since 1968 in part because Penix has been so effective, compiling a 12-2 record as a starter. Unfortunately, he’s torn his ACL twice and hasn’t made it through an entire season yet in his three-year career. The mobile lefty will have to hit the ground running since IU opens at Iowa and will play a higher- ranked Cincinnati team in Bloomington on Sept. 18. If Penix opens the season with his knee at 100 percent, Indiana could have a huge season. It also hosts Ohio State and Minnesota later in the season, putting itself in position to play a large role throughout the Big Ten season if Penix can stay healthy.
Game of the Year
Ohio State closes at the Big House in Ann Arbor, which could be interesting for multiple reasons. The Buckeyes figure to be there on the cusp of another Big Ten Championship game appearance. Jim Harbaugh could be on the cusp of the end of the line or may be looking to pull off a stunner to wrap up a successful season if Cade McNamara or Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman can give the Wolverines consistent play at quarterback and the defense improves under Mike Macdonald, who came up with Harbaugh’s brother John and the Ravens but has never been a coordinator. Michigan backed out of last year’s game, which means these rivals didn’t play for the first time since 1918. Harbaugh hasn’t beaten Ohio State, which has won 15 of the last 16 meetings. The Wolverines are 1-7 at home since ’05. If nothing else, the Nov. 27 matchup to close out the regular season should have some good story lines.
|Big Ten Championship Odds from Caesars||As of August 19|
|Ohio State Buckeyes||-190|
|Penn State Nittany Lions||+800|
|Minnesota Golden Gophers||+2000|
|Michigan State Spartans||+6000|
|Illinois Fighting Illini||+15000|
|Big Ten Regular Season Win Totals||As of August 19|
|Ohio State Buckeyes||11 (-110 each way)|
|Penn State Nittany Lions||9 (o +110 / u -130)|
|Wisconsin Badgers||9.5 (o -120 / u EV)|
|Iowa Hawkeyes||8.5 (o +110 / u -130)|
|Michigan Wolverines||7.5 (o -115 / u +105)|
|Minnesota Golden Gophers||7 (-110 each way)|
|Indiana Hoosiers||7.5 (o -105 / u -115)|
|Nebraska Cornhuskers||6.5 (o EV / u -120)|
|Northwestern Wildcats||6.5 (o EV / u -120)|
|Maryland Terrapins||6 (o +105 / u -125)|
|Michigan State Spartans||4.5 (o -140 / u +120)|
|Purdue Boilermakers||5 (o -120 / u EV)|
|Illinois Fighting Illini||3.5 (o -130 / u +110)|
Meet the Capper: Tony Mejia
A leading handicapper in the industry, Tony Mejia has handicapped most major sports and events and got his start by opening his career as a writer at SportsLine.com, which was then bought by CBS. Mejia handicapped under a pseudonym due to compliance issues but also created Mejia’s Selections, a popular feature projecting scores for most major sports. He landed the national NBA beat for CBS SportsLine from 2005-09, so Mejia took a break from handicapping to handle stories and analysis with more of an emphasis on writing. He moved on to Pro Basketball News as a writer/publisher before taking on more of a full-time role at VegasInsider, providing written analysis and winning multiple titles over the course of the season in NFL, NBA, college football, college basketball, and soccer. He utilizes a combination of making his own lines to open the week, seeking discrepancies, tracking weather, injuries, and line movements to try and secure every advantage before getting in on a ticket. He believes watching is the key to it all, so odds are he’s watching a sport if it’s on regardless of whether it’s the Super Bowl or a mid-week college hoops matchup between Quinnipiac and Iona. Mejia was born in Queens, New York, and roots only for the Yankees, Colombia’s soccer team, and the UCF Knights since he attended the University of Central Florida in Orlando. They won a national championship once, whether you believe it or not. Ride Mejia to make some dinero because he’s always hustling to seek out an edge.
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College Football Offseason Previews
In this week’s edition of The Best Damn College Football Show, Drew Martin and Rob Veno offer an early look toward the Big Ten West Division. Rob and Drew take a look at the new coaches and quarterback transfers that are coming into the Big Ten West this season. Who is a mid-pack team that might surprise some people and make a move up this year, and who is a team to fade that might struggle this year?
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