Marc Lawrence’s Big Ten Football Betting Preview

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Big Ten Football Preview from Las Vegas

Athlon Sports reports the 2020 All-Big Ten is led by 15 selections from Ohio State, with Michigan at 12 and Iowa and Penn State with 11 each. Meanwhile, seven other programs had at least seven selections on the 2020 All-Big Ten squad. College football handicapper Marc Lawrence offers his thoughts on how to bet the Big Ten during the 2020-21 season.

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Bowlers Welcome

Like last season, twelve Big Ten teams will square off against at least one non-conference team that participated in a bowl game last season, with 22 of all 42 non-conference games featuring opponents coming off bowl trips. And like last year, Purdue will face bowl teams in all three of their 2020 non-conference contests, while Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin will each face a pair of non-conference foes that won bowl games.

Counting conference and non-conference contests, every Big Ten team will face at least six teams that played in a bowl game last season. Purdue leads the way facing nine such opponents, followed by Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Ohio State each with eight such contests.

Welcome Aboard

Like last season, the Big Ten will welcome a pair of new head coaches to the sidelines for the 2020 campaign in Michigan State’s Mel Tucker and Rutgers’ Greg Schiano.

Tucker brings a wealth of coaching experience to MSU. He began his coaching career in 1997 as a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban in 1997. Along the way back to the Spartans, Tucker followed Saban to LSU before becoming a DB coach at Ohio State under Jim Tressel when the Buckeyes won the National Championship is 2002. Tucker moved on to the NFL as a DC and DB coach with the Cleveland Browns from 2005-07. He served as DC and interim head coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars between 2009-11 before moving on to the Chicago Bears in 2013. In 2016 he became the Georgia Bulldogs DC before becoming the head coach at Colorado last season.

Meanwhile, Schiano returns for a second-stint as head coach with the Scarlet Knights where he first served from 2001-2011. Prior to that, Schiano started his college coaching career as a graduate assistant at Rutgers in 1989 before moving on to Penn State from 1990-95. From there he moved over to the NFL as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bears from 1996-98. After serving two seasons as DC with Miami Florida, Schiano accepted the head coaching position at Rutgers. From there he became head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFL for two seasons before becoming the DC at Ohio State from 2016-2018.

Safe to say both “newbies” bring plenty of coaching experience.

Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2020 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine – on sale at newsstands nationwide or at Playbook.com. The numbers following each team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.

BIG TEN EAST

INDIANA
TEAM THEME: HOOSIER MANEUVER

2020 Recruit Rank: 58 • Ret Starters: Off – *8 / Def – 9 • RPR: Total: 11 (37 O / 13 D)

The Hoosiers posted both a winning conference record and 8 wins for the first time since 1993 last season. With the bar raised, uncertainty looms: OC Kalen DeBoer is now Fresno State’s new head coach, and QB Peyton Ramsey enrolled at Northwestern as a graduate transfer, meaning the Hoosiers must rely heavily on a unit that was 11th in the country in terms of returning production prior to Ramsey’s departure. With it, IU will be favored in five of its first six games, and will not face back-to-back road games this campaign for the first time since 2016, when last they earned a nod to the Foster Farms Bowl. Meanwhile, sophomore QB Michael Penix Jr. is a star in the making.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Over the last 24 years, the teams for which Allen has been a member of the coaching staff have posted a combined 240-88 record (.732).

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY ON vs. Penn State (10/31)

MARYLAND
TEAM THEME: TURTLE SOUP

2020 Recruit Rank: 31 • Ret Starters: Off – *7 / Def – 4 • RPR: Total: 90 (73 O / 100 D)

It’s now been five years since Maryland last enjoyed a winning season. In that span they’ve gone through three head coaches and stand 5-10 in close-call games. Hopefully, a solid recruiting class this offseason will come to its aid. Perhaps the best handicap of the Terps is backing them in games in which they figure to outgain an opponent, and fading them in games in which they don’t. That’s because they’re 8-1 SU and 7-1 ATS when they win the stats, and 0-16 SU and 3-13 ATS when they lose the stats the past two seasons. And for what it’s worth, Maryland was ranked No. 129 in Red Zone Offense and No. 129 in Time Of Possession last season. Ugh.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Terrapins are 0-11 SUATS following a win from Game Seven out the last seven years.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PASS

MICHIGAN
TEAM THEME: MASTADONICITIS

2020 Recruit Rank: 14 • Ret Starters: Off – 5 / Def – 6 • RPR: Total: 125 (119 O / 110 D)

Second year OC Josh Gattis’ offense was hit hard by losses this offseason. He loses two-year starting QB Shea Patterson and four starters on the OL, including first round center Cesar Ruiz. In fact, only LSU had more players lopped off their roster in the 2020 draft than did the Wolverines (10). That figures to keep Jim Harbaugh up late at night. The elephant in the room, though, is the fact that Michigan has lost 8 straight games against hated rival Ohio State. Another loss this season will tie the record for the longest losing skein in this series. If you like their chances to snap the streak, you won’t like our ‘Stat You Will Like’ below, that’s for sure.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Wolverines are 1-15 SU in their final two games of the season since 2012.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY ON: vs. Penn State (10/3)

MICHIGAN STATE
TEAM THEME: TOUGH TIMES IN EAST LANSING

2020 Recruit Rank: 43 • Ret Starters: Off – 7 / Def – 3 • RPR: Total: 117 (112 O / 111 D)

Mark Dantonio collected a $4.3 million dollar bonus at the end of last season in a one-time payout. It’s a good thing the check cleared as he resigned less than three weeks later. Dantonio was replaced by Mel Tucker, who inherits a tough situation as the Spartans football team has gone 14-12 the past two seasons behind one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten. MSU lost a quarterback, two main receivers, a tight end, an All-Big Ten linebacker, a former All-Big Ten safety and two starting cornerbacks – not to mention the entire defensive line. FYI: Tucker, a one-and-done head coach at Colorado last season, was also an interim head coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars for five games in 2011.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Dantonio was the first Big Ten coach to record five 11-win seasons in a six-year span. Prior to his arrival, MSU had never won 11 games in a season.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PASS

OHIO STATE
TEAM THEME: JUSTIN TIME

2020 Recruit Rank: 5 • Ret Starters: Off – *5 / Def – 4 • RPR: Total: 93 (66 O / 114 D)

When Ryan Day accepted the keys to the machine from Urban Meyer, he inherited a team that ranked No. 2 overall in recruit wars the previous five years. Safe to say the cupboard was well stocked, and it culminated in the Buckeyes’ 3rd College Football Playoff appearance. The task at hand this year will be replacing 10 players from last year’s squad that were drafted by the NFL. They managed to land Oklahoma RB Trey Sermon (1691 yards and 18 TDs) as a grad transfer in the offseason. Last year was QB Justin Fields’ first year in the offense and his first full healthy year as a starter since 2016. Color him a Heisman finalist and the Buckeyes lethal again in 2020.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Buckeyes have been double-digit favorites in 52 of their last 63 regular season games the past five years.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Oregon (9/12)

PENN STATE
TEAM THEME: PORTAL POWER

2020 Recruit Rank: 15 • Ret Starters: Off – *8 / Def – 5 • RPR: Total: 47 (38 O / 66 D)

Like him or not, James Franklin is having a huge impact on recruiting classes coming to Happy Valley. Keeping them, however, is another story. It appears Franklin had shaken off the Penn State portal party as over 16 Nittany Lions transferred last season. And while the Penn State portal class of 2020 is much smaller, the quality – based on both prized WRs Justin Shorter and Ricky Slade leaving – was even higher. With it, Franklin is bringing in five freshmen wide receivers to be tutored by his fourth WR coach is as many seasons. Coupled with an abundance of coaching staff changes, including new OC Kirk Cairrocca from Minnesota, it means everything old is new again at Penn State these days.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Head coach Franklin is 3-13 SUATS away in his career versus greater than .666 conference opponents.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY AGAINST: vs. Iowa (10/17)

RUTGERS
TEAM THEME: A NEW MEANING OF ‘R’ RATED

2020 Recruit Rank: 64 • Ret Starters: Off – *9 / Def – 8 • RPR: Total: 15 (29 O / 25 D)

Greg Schiano is back for another tour of duty where he last roamed the Rutgers sidelines from 2001-11. Rest assured, Schiano is thankful for the opportunity, especially after the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State (where he was a coach on the PSU staff) and when the University of Tennessee backed out of a deal to name him the Vols’ head coach after being pressured by social media, alumni and state representatives. Remember: in Schiano’s most recent three seasons as defensive coordinator with Ohio State, 18 defensive players were drafted by the NFL, including 8 first round picks. Still, Rutgers was 129th in the country in scoring offense and 123rd in the country in scoring defense last fall.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Schiano is 16-3-1 ATS as a non-conference pick or dog with Rutgers.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY ON: vs. Penn State (11/28)

BIG TEN WEST

ILLINOIS
TEAM THEME: RANCH FOR SALE

2020 Recruit Rank: 87 • Ret Starters: Off – *9 / Def – 5 • RPR: Total: 12 (11 O / 46 D)

Lovie Smith earned his stripes last year, leading the Fighting Illini to their first bowl game since 2014. Now he needs to summon a winning season, something Illinois has not enjoyed since 2011 – which was also the last time the Illini appeared in consecutive bowl games. Smith will lean heavily on an experienced squad in 2020, one that ranks No. 12 in the nation in overall Returning Production, and one that ranked No. 1 in Defensive TDs and No. 2 in Fumbles Recovered last season. But before you bet the ranch on Illinois this year, you’d better have a backup ranch. After winning 6-plus games the previous season, the Illini have won more than 5 games only one time since 1993.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Illinois is 6-46 SU in its last 52 Big Ten games against .500 or greater opponents.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY AGAINST: at Wisconsin (10/31) – *KEY

IOWA
TEAM THEME: KIRK PERKS

2020 Recruit Rank: 35 • Ret Starters: Off – 7 / Def – 5 • RPR: Total: 101 (97 O / 91 D)

Leave it to Kirk Ferentz. The winningest coach in Iowa football history welcomed just 10 starters back last season, yet led his troops to their sixth double-digit winning campaign since 2002. It happened with a team that finished No. 4 in the nation in Red Zone Offense and No. 4 in 4th Down Conversion Defense last season. New QB Spencer Petras, the Hawkeyes’ latest plug-and-play signal caller, will have the luxury of tossing to Iowa’s top four wide receivers from last season, all of who caught 37 or more passes in 2019. While the Hawkeyes are exceptionally light in returning production (No. 101 nationally), a recruiting class that has improved annually each of the last four seasons lends hope.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Hawkeyes Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured FBS head coach in the nation.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. Northwestern (10/24)

MINNESOTA
TEAM THEME: FLECKSING THEIR MUSCLE

2020 Recruit Rank: 38 • Ret Starters: Off – *9 / Def – 4 • RPR: Total: 86 (13 O / 125 D)

What does a 10-win season, including a bowl victory over Auburn, get you these days? If you’re Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck, it meant a 7-year contract extension for almost $5 million per year. Better yet, Fleck returns second-team All Big Ten QB Tanner Morgan, who completed 66% of his passes for 10.2% yards per attempt while scoring on 30 TD passes with just 7 INTs. Meanwhile, the Gophers had 6 OL that started games last season and all 6 are back in 2020. Unfortunately, news on the defensive front is grim as they rank 125th in defensive Returning Production, including all 4 DL gone. However, they dodge Ohio State and Penn State and get Iowa and Michigan at home.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
The Golden Gophers won double-digit games last season for the first time since 2003.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY ON: vs. Iowa (9/18)

NEBRASKA
TEAM THEME: FROSTING ON THE CAKE

2020 Recruit Rank: 20 • Ret Starters: Off – *10 / Def – 5 • RPR: Total: 17 (2 O / 83 D)

247 Sports put it best about the Cornhuskers’ chances this season saying, “The 2020 season will be another incremental step forward. Nebraska will get to a bowl game and improve on its 5-7 2019 season but some sort of eight-or-nine win breakthrough will come in 2021.” That’s certainly a positive statement for a team that has had a losing record each of the last three seasons. In fact, Nebraska’s 2020 season win total opened at 6.5, showing that, despite the continuing Huskers woes under expected savior Scott Frost, there is still plenty of love for the program. The frosting on the cake: the last time the Cornhuskers endured three consecutive losing seasons was 1959-61. They then went 9-2 in 1962.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskers have sold out 375 consecutive home games. When full, Memorial Stadium holds more people than all but two Nebraska cities (Omaha and Lincoln).

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY ON: at Wisconsin (11/21)

NORTHWESTERN
TEAM THEME: REVERSAL OF FORTUNE

2020 Recruit Rank: 47 • Ret Starters: Off – *10 / Def – 9 • RPR: Total: 1 (6 O / 23 D)

Look out below! That was undeniably the theme surrounding the Wildcats last year. As defending Big Ten West champions, they entered the 2019 season riding as much momentum as the program arguably has had since the Rose Bowl days of the mid 1990’s. Then in one fell swoop, it was gone as prized QB recruit Hunter Johnson failed miserably. That figures to change in 2020, though, behind the No. 1 ranked unit in the land in Returning Production, plus new blood in graduate transfer QB Peyton Ramsey arriving from Indiana. He’ll work with new OC Mike Bajakian, formerly of Boston College and QB coach for four years with the Tampa Bay Bucs, to breathe some life into the offense.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Ramsey started 23 games at Indiana, completing 65.6% of his passes for 6,581 yards and 42 TDs, along with 832 rushing yards and 14 TDs.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY ON: at Purdue (10/31)

PURDUE
TEAM THEME: CHANGING FACES, CHANGING PLACES

2020 Recruit Rank: 33 • Ret Starters: Off – *9 / Def – 8 • RPR: Total: 20 (32 O / 40 D)

After two steps forward under Jeff Brohm, it was back to their losing ways for Purdue last season as an influx of injuries led to the Boilermakers using three different quarterbacks. Coupled with future NFL star WR Rondale Moore suffering a season-ending injury on the same play that quarterback Elijah Sindelar suffered a broken clavicle, Purdue’s hopes immediately went down the drain. Moore returns, but with Sindelar opting not to return, the QB battle will be between Jack Plummer, who led the team with 1,603 passing yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games as a redshirt freshman, and Aidan O’Connell, who started the final three games. FYI: New DC Bob Diaco, former head coach at UConn and DC at Notre Dame, replaces Nick Holt.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
53.2% of starts made by the Boilermakers last year were by underclassmen, including a nation-leading 32.3% by freshmen.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY ON: at Illinois (10/17)

WISCONSIN
TEAM THEME: NEAR TEARS

2020 Recruit Rank: 25 • Ret Starters: Off – *6 / Def – 9 • RPR: Total: 34 (72 O / 17 D)

Bet you didn’t know the Badgers have played in the Big Ten title game 6 of the last 9 years. The bad news is they’ve come up empty four straight times in those games, and they must replace multi 2,000-yard rusher Jonathan Taylor. But don’t feel sorry for Paul Chryst’s crew. The Badgers are bringing back a successful quarterback in Jack Coan, who finished eighth in Total QBR last season. They also rank No. 17 in overall defensive Returning Production from a second best unit that allowed 2.1 points per game in the first quarter of games last season. Plus, they also avoid Ohio State during the regular season (see more on that below). No tears needed for the Badgers.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:
Wisconsin is 27-1 SU since 1997 versus losing opponents in seasons in which they do not face Ohio State.

POINTSPREAD POWER PLAY: PLAY AGAINST: vs. Nebraska (11/21)

College Football experts Ralph Michaels, Rob Veno, and Drew Martin take a look at the Big Ten’s East Division from a Vegas perspective and go over betting angles and handicapping tips for the upcoming season.

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