The balance of power in the Big 10 is weighted heavily towards East division, but the Big 10 West is gradually improving.
Wisconsin is one of best programs in the country, but it’s the rest of the division that has been lagging in recent years. Northwestern and Iowa have been consistent winners but not necessarily nationally relevant.
Can another contender emerge? Nebraska could be next, but it might take Scott Frost a couple of years to turn things around in Lincoln.
The Big 10 West appears to be Wisconsin’s to win, but the division should be more competitive in 2018.
Throughout July, we are giving out our over/under picks for every team in college football. We are also giving out best bets for each division and conference. Here are our over/under picks for each team in the Big 10 West. Also, check out our picks for the ACC Atlantic and ACC Coastal.
Note: all win totals are for regular season only. Conference championship games and bowl games do not count towards a team’s over/under projection. All win totals are from BetDSI.com.
Big 10 West Over/Under
A perfect season ended with a 27-21 Big 10 Championship Game loss to Ohio State, but it was a terrific season for the Badgers. Paul Chryst is 34-7 in three seasons in Madison, and he will have another contender this year.
Running back Jonathan Taylor is the Heisman frontrunner, and he’ll be running behind perhaps the best offensive line in the country. Nine starters return offensively, but only four are back on defense.
Wisconsin took advantage of a very favorable schedule en route to the undefeated regular season in 2017. The schedule is tougher this year, including road games at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue. The home slate is much easier, and they should be 7-0 at Camp Randall. Western Kentucky, New Mexico, Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois should be easy wins. Nebraska might be slightly tougher, but Wisconsin has a bye week before the Cornhuskers visit.
The Badgers probably won’t run the table again, but they’re the favorites in the Big 10 West for a reason. A push is the most likely scenario as Wisconsin will only be underdogs at Michigan and Penn State. There are too many opportunities for road losses to take the over, so while we’re taking the under, we’re actually calling for a push.
The Pick: Wisconsin UNDER 10.
The Wildcats are coming off of their third 10-win season since 2012, and they return 14 starters. So why is this total so low? For starters, quarterback Clayton Thorson tore his ACL in the bowl win over Kentucky, and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to play. Thorson is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and the Wildcats need him healthy in week one as they travel to Purdue.
Northwestern also lost its all-time leading rusher in Justin Jackson to graduation. He’ll be tough to replace — especially if Thorson misses any time.
Even if Thorson is healthy, the schedule is much more difficult than a season ago. The season opener at Purdue won’t be a cakewalk, and Northwestern returns home week two to face a Duke team that beat them 41-17 last year. The easiest games on the schedule are Akron, Illinois and at Rutgers.
The Wildcats host three top 15 teams in Michigan, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. They also travel to Michigan State and Iowa. Northwestern will have to win one of those to hit the over. As good as Pat Fitzgerald is, it will be challenging for him to win eight games this year.
The Pick: Northwestern UNDER 7.5
Despite a very tough schedule in 2017, the Hawkeyes still managed to win eight games. Iowa has finished 8-5 the last two seasons, and in 2015 they were a perfect 12-0 and nearly made the playoffs.
Kirk Ferentz is entering his 20th season as head coach, and he has a veteran team returning that will contend for the Big 10 West title. The Hawkeyes will be solid at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Nathan Stanley was consistent a season ago.
Iowa starts the season with four straight home games in September. Back-to-back games against Northern Illinois and Iowa State won’t be easy to start the year, but Iowa is normally very tough to beat at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes welcome Northern Iowa a week before an important Big 10 West showdown versus Wisconsin.
Five of Iowa’s nine Big 10 games are on the road but most are winnable. The Hawkeyes travel to Minnesota (after a bye week), Indiana, Penn State, Purdue and Illinois. They also host Maryland, Northwestern and Nebraska. This should be a better team overall than the last two years, and the schedule is very favorable.
The Pick: Iowa OVER 7.5.
There wasn’t a lot of boat rowing going on in Minnesota during PJ Fleck’s debut season. The Golden Gophers missed out on a bowl as they finished 5-7, and they were outscored 70-0 in the last two games of the season in losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin.
The good news is that Fleck returns 14 starters — seven on each side of the ball. Running back Rodney Smith returns, and he just missed out on consecutive 1,000-yard seasons last year.
For the Gophers to get back into a bowl game, they’ll have to avoid three non-conference landmines to start the season. Minnesota hosts New Mexico State, Fresno State and Miami (OH) in the first three weeks. They will be favored in all three, but none of those games are guaranteed wins.
The road schedule has winnable games at Maryland and at Illinois, but they also travel to Ohio State Nebraska and Wisconsin. Minnesota might only be favored in one of those games. The home schedule is more promising as they host Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern. Nonetheless, Minnesota fans will probably need to show some patience with Fleck has he rebuilds the roster.
The Pick: Minnesota UNDER 6.
The Scott Frost era begins in Lincoln as the prodigal son returns home. It only took two years for Frost to turn an 0-12 UCF team to a 13-0 squad. Nebraska fans hoping for an instant rebuild probably shouldn’t hold their breath, but it won’t Frost more than a couple of years to get the Huskers rolling.
Frost inherits a four-win team that lost six of its last seven games a season ago. However, 15 starters return, including one of the best receivers in the league in Stanley Morgan Jr.
For Nebraska to hit the over and make a bowl game, they have to start 3-0. That would include home wins over Akron, Colorado and Troy. The rivalry game against the Buffs could be tricky, but a 3-0 start is doable. A loss at Michigan in week four is expected, and they’ll be underdogs in remaining road games at Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa. They will also be a home dog versus Michigan State.
But the home slate in conference play has a few winnable games. The Cornhuskers will be favored against Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois. If they can win those three, they’ll go bowling. Plus, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Huskers pull off an upset at some point this season. Perhaps Frost can work his magic at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 17 against the Spartans.
The Pick: Nebraska OVER 5.5.
Jeff Brohm had one of the best coaching performances of any coach in the country last year. In his first season, Brohm led the Boilermakers to their first winning season since 2011. No one expected Purdue to reach a bowl game, but they won seven games.
The path back to a bowl game will be strenuous for the Boilermakers. Though they should have a potent offense with nine starters returning, the defense will have to be rebuilt. Only four defensive starters return from a unit that only allowed 20.5 points per game last season.
To reach a bowl game this year, the Boilermakers have to start fast. They open the season with four straight home games against Northwestern, Eastern Michigan, Missouri and Boston College. None of those will be guaranteed wins, and they might need three victories to hit the over for the season.
Purdue has road games at Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota and Indiana. The home slate includes Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. That’s a brutal schedule, and Brohm will have to rebuild the defense quickly if they’re going to make it back to a bowl game. We’re calling for a push with Purdue, but if we had to pick a side, we’d take a slight over.
The Pick: Purdue OVER 5.
Lovie Smith is 5-19 in two seasons at Illinois. It hasn’t been a successful experiment, and he might not get a fourth season unless the Illini show substantial improvement this year.
Illinois does return 16 starters this fall, and they should be more competitive. If that’s the case, and Illinois only wins somewhere between 2-4 games, Smith should get another year. He played several freshmen last year, and the team will likely be in a better spot next season.
As for this year, Illinois should match last year’s win total in the first two weeks. If they don’t beat Kent State and Western Illinois, Lovie won’t last the season. South Florida and Penn State head to Champaign the next two weeks, and the Illini will be heavy dogs in those two contests.
The remaining road schedule includes Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, Nebraska and Northwestern. Illinois will host Purdue, Minnesota and Iowa. After going winless in conference play last season, can the Illini still one or two wins this year? They’ll probably need to win two Big 10 games to go over the total. It seems like a stretch, but we’ll take a slight over with the Fighting Illini.
The Pick: Illinois OVER 3.5.
Big 10 West Best Bets
Northwestern UNDER 7.5
Iowa OVER 7.5
Nebraska OVER 5.5
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