2021 Big Ten Football Conference Preview

Big Ten Picks, Predictions and Odds

WagerTalk handicapper Steve Merril offers his thoughts on the Big Ten football landscape this season from a variety of handicapping angles. This is the 126th season for the Big Ten Conference, but more realistically it will be the eighth season for the Big 14 conference with 14 teams participating in the East and West divisions, with each winner facing off for the conference championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana on December 4th.

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East Division Preview

Ohio State (7-1 SU) was 6-0 SU in conference games last season and won the conference championship for the fourth straight year. Ohio State is once again a very talented and deep team with the second best recruiting class in the nation, but they are young and inexperienced with only 11 starters returning (6 offense, 5 defense), including the loss of quarterback Justin Fields to the Chicago Bears in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. The biggest concern is the Ohio State defense that allowed a mediocre 26 points per game last season and 304 passing yards per game. The offense should reload this season with plenty of talent waiting in the wings, just like in 2019 when the Buckeyes averaged 47 points per game with four returning offensive starters, and then averaged 41 points per game last year with only five returning starters on offense. Ohio State’s only difficult non-conference game will be at home versus Oregon on September 11th, and the Buckeyes will be tested on the road at Indiana and Michigan.

There was only one other team with a winning record in the division as Indiana (6-2 SU) went 6-1 SU in conference games and had a surprisingly good season in 2020, including going 7-1 ATS. The Hoosiers had been just 18-19 SU in head coach Tom Allen’s first three seasons.

Penn State (4-5 SU) should improve as head coach James Franklin is still 60-28 SU in his previous seven seasons, and now has 16 returning starters (9 offense, 7 offense).

Michigan (2-4 SU) also returns 16 starters (9 offense, 7 defense) and will look to rebound after going 19-7 SU the previous two seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh who was 47-18 SU combined in his first five seasons in Ann Arbor, before a disappointing 2020 campaign.

West Division Preview

The Badgers (4-3 SU) will be focused this season after a disappointing 2020 season. Wisconsin was much stronger than their overall record indicated, but the Badgers lost focus and momentum after missing several games due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Wisconsin now returns one of the most veteran and experienced teams in the conference with 17 returning starters (9 offense, 8 defense). Head coach Paul Chryst is 56-19 SU during his six years at the helm, including 31-10 SU the previous three full seasons (2017-2019). Wisconsin also has a very favorable schedule this season as they avoid Ohio State, and play Notre Dame on a neutral field, while getting home games versus Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan and Penn State.

Northwestern (7-2 SU) won this division last year with a 6-1 SU conference record, before losing 22-10 in the Big Ten championship game versus Ohio State as a 16.5-point underdog. The Wildcats will likely regress this season with just eight returning starters (4 offense, 4 defense) and the fifth most inexperienced lineup in the nation.

Iowa (6-2 SU) was also strong last year, outscoring their opponents 32-16 per game, and will likely be the second best team in this division with 13 returning starters (6 offense, 7 defense). However, the Hawkeyes must travel to Wisconsin on October 30th. The Big Ten has one new coach for the 2021 season as Illinois hired former Arkansas and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, replacing Lovie Smith who was fired.

Big Ten Championship Odds from CaesarsAs of August 19
Ohio State Buckeyes-190
Penn State Nittany Lions+800
Wisconsin Badgers+900
Iowa Hawkeyes+1200
Michigan Wolverines+1400
Minnesota Golden Gophers+2000
Indiana Hoosiers+2000
Nebraska Cornhuskers+2200
Northwestern Wildcats+3000
Maryland Terrapins+6000
Michigan State Spartans+6000
Purdue Boilermakers+7500
Illinois Fighting Illini+15000
Big Ten Regular Season Win TotalsAs of August 19
Ohio State Buckeyes11 (-110 each way)
Penn State Nittany Lions9 (o +110 / u -130)
Wisconsin Badgers9.5 (o -120 / u EV)
Iowa Hawkeyes8.5 (o +110 / u -130)
Michigan Wolverines7.5 (o -115 / u +105)
Minnesota Golden Gophers7 (-110 each way)
Indiana Hoosiers7.5 (o -105 / u -115)
Nebraska Cornhuskers6.5 (o EV / u -120)
Northwestern Wildcats6.5 (o EV / u -120)
Maryland Terrapins6 (o +105 / u -125)
Michigan State Spartans4.5 (o -140 / u +120)
Purdue Boilermakers5 (o -120 / u EV)
Illinois Fighting Illini3.5 (o -130 / u +110)


Meet the Capper: Steve Merril

Steve Merril has won consistently for 25+ years as one of the best sports analysts in the nation. He credits his success to employing a variety of different handicapping techniques such as statistical analysis, quantitative systems, and fundamentals such as matchups and emotion. By relying on numerous handicapping methods, Steve continues to beat the pointspread on a consistent basis in both college and pro football, college and pro basketball, baseball and racing. Steve has numerous documented #1 finishes in all major sports and was the first person to ever win the prestigious $100,000 Insider’s Handicapping Invitational. Steve Merril’s unique knowledge and understanding of the gaming industry is what separates him from other handicappers. Steve has spent the past 25+ years studying the odds and probabilities associated with all forms of gambling such as poker, casino games, and even the financial markets. Steve has transferred this unique knowledge and understanding of statistics and probabilities into the sports world, which has enabled him to win on a consistent basis. The most popular part of Steve Merril’s award-winning selections is the fact he backs each game with a full detailed report and analysis. Steve is heard each week on numerous radio and TV shows across the nation. You will learn while you earn with Steve Merril’s daily Best Bets as each selection is packed full of detailed information. Join forces with the most knowledgeable gaming expert in the industry and have your most profitable season ever!

WagerTalk’s Live Odds Screen

Since the conclusion of last season’s National Championship game, WagerTalk has continued to improve and enhance our Live Odds screen. Bettors can view the up-to-the-minute odds from a variety of offshore and Vegas-based sports books. Color-coded alerts will let you know when and how a line has moved. Click on the individual cells to view a line history at each sports book. Interested in knowing what a point spread was on a previous game? Use the “archive” feature to find a previous matchup. View real-time odds on nearly every point spread market: Full games, first halves, first quarters, team totals and moneylines.

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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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