Wilson’s 2019 Big Ten Betting Guide: How to Wager on the Wild West And Established East

Wilson’s 2019 Big Ten Betting Guide: How to Wager on the Wild West And Established East article feature image
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Joseph Maoirana-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jeffrey Okudah

For all the narrative around the Group of 5 not scheduling enough marquee games or the Pac 12’s last appearance coming in 2016, the Big Ten has had equal failures in the College Football Playoff landscape.

No team from the Big Ten has scored a point in the playoff since Ohio State’s championship in January of 2015, the first CFP. Michigan State and OSU were shut out in the following two years, and the Big Ten has been left out in 2017 and 2018.

Well, is this the year the Big Ten gets back to the final four?

This article will take a look at each team in the conference and look for advantages in the futures market and in early betting. Using the Action Network power ratings and win totals, plenty of wagers and a possible playoff bet may be in the cards.

What’s New in the Big Ten East?

Any discussion in the East starts with the heavyweights. There have been plenty of changes to Ohio State, from a new head coach and defensive coordinator. Ryan Day served as interim coach during Urban Meyer’s suspension last season but Meyer still managed the team through those weeks, so it is important to ask just how much of a drop off will there be form a coaching perspective. The Athletic’s Ari Wasserman join The Action Network Podcast to discuss that subject.

The subject of drop-off came up once again, as Justin Fields transfers from Georgia to take the reins from Dwayne Haskins. Tate Martell and other quarterbacks in the pipeline transferred out. The Buckeyes do not have much depth behind Fields.

Ohio State is 117th in offensive returning production. Fields not only has the pressure of a new school, but the loss of Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin at targets will be felt. Those three players accounted for 221 targets in 2018.

Changes were needed on the defensive side of the ball. Ohio State returns as much as anyone in the country, but Greg Schiano’s schemes left the Buckeyes wide open for big plays, so his loss may be addition by subtraction.

Last year’s defense was susceptible to explosive plays with a 122nd rank against the rush and 126th in passing downs. The Greg Mattison hire from Michigan is an interesting one after the Buckeyes beatdown of Michigan to end the 2018 regular season.

While Mattison will pull headlines on the defense, the 2019 season for Michigan will be defined by new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Formerly an analyst at Alabama and protege of James Franklin at Vanderbilt and Penn State, Gattis says he’ll use a ‘mutt offense’ — a mixture of 2017 Joe Moorhead at Penn State and last year at Alabama.

The Wolverines averaged just 70.4 plays per game over the past two seasons, ranking 22nd in standard downs run rate and 123rd in pace.

This season, Michigan will go hurry-up no huddle. Whether the new scheme equals a more efficient and explosive offense, gamblers should keep tabs on Michigan totals early in the season.

One team expected for bounce back is Michigan State. A 7-win season was considered a disappointment with a top 10 defense and bottom 10 offense. As my podcast partner Stuckey will tell you, head coach Mark Dantonio has historically been money on a bounce back season.

The Spartans will only go as far as the offensive line can take them. Michigan State returns all but four starts and one offensive lineman from 2018. This experienced group must rebound from going 96th in stuff rate and 122nd in rush efficiency.

The Penn State defense is loaded, similar to the previous few years under defensive coordinator Brent Pry. Bednarik Award candidates Yetur Gross-Matos and Micah Parsons lead a group that was top 25 in success rate and IsoPPP during 2018.

The Nittany Lions defense will have to carry the water until offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and new quarterback Sean Clifford can get points on the board. The 2017 offense led by coordinator Joe Moorhead was top 20 in efficiency and IsoPPP, while last year’s version under Rahne ranked outside the top 50 in the same categories.

This will be the first season since 2014 Franklin has been without the services of Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley or Joe Moorhead.

Indiana is 12th in overall returning production, but lost three offensive lineman from a unit that was top 25 in sack rate. The Hoosiers offense, led by Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, was 13th in completion percentage but 126th in pass explosiveness. With Ball State, Eastern Illinois and UConn as three of the first four games, there will be plenty of time for a new quarterback to get acclimated.

Mike Locksley comes to Maryland after leading Alabama as the offensive coordinator. But he is just 3-31 as a head coach at New Mexico and as interim coach with the Terrapins in 2015.

Locksley will look to find balance, as both sides of the ball were top 30 in explosiveness and outside the top 80 in success rate. There is plenty to work with on the current Maryland roster from transfer quarterback Josh Jackson (Virginia Tech) to running back Anthony McFarland.

What’s New in the Big Ten West?

Most water cooler discussion on the West division begins with Nebraska. Adrian Martinez led an offense that was No. 7 in rushing S&P+, but lose top running back Devine Ozigbo and 74 career starts on the offensive line. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander will need to improve the Blackshirts in critical situations after a third down success rate of 113th, but the depth isn’t quite there yet — they rank 94th in returning production on D.

This time last year, people thought Wisconsin could challenge for a College Football Playoff spot. Coach Paul Chryst was off a dominating Orange Bowl victory, but lost most of his defensive players from 2017. That resulted in the Badgers passing rank of 104th against explosiveness and 98th in efficiency.

The cross division schedule is unforgiving in 2019 with Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Chryst may be Coach of the Year if he wins the division with that draw and visits to Nebraska and Minnesota.

Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson have departed Iowa City. Quarterback Nate Stanley will look for chemistry when camp opens, as no Iowa wide receiver had  more than 23 catches in 2018. The defense has been hit equally as hard losing their top tackler on the defensive line, linebacker unit and secondary.

While the Hawkeyes look for players on both sides of the ball with Miami of Ohio and Rutgers to start the season, expect AJ Epenesa to feast on offensive tackles.

Purdue comes off a breakout season after beating Ohio State, earning a trip to the Music City Bowl and keeping head coach Jeff Brohm long term. The real work begins this season with an offensive returning production rank of 125th. The non-conference is tough for the Boilermakers with a trip to 4,500-foot elevated Reno, Vanderbilt and TCU. The defense returns plenty, but must improve on a sack rate of 110th.

The Power 5 long shot everyone loves is Minnesota. PJ Fleck has roster flooded with sophomores with an overall returning production rank of 10th. That is a positive considering returning quarterback Zack Annexstad will be out this season with a serious foot injury. Quarterback Tanner Morgan had 152 attempts as a true freshman last season and is expected to lead the fall competition. The Gophers will have to shore up a sack rate outside the top 100 to take advantage of a soft schedule.

Could Illinois make it to a bowl game? A rank of 22nd in APR will make it tough for the Illini to capitalize on 5-win season, but there is a shooters chance Champagne Illinois makes some noise. The schedule includes Akron, UConn, Rutgers and Eastern Michigan, which are all projected outside the top 90 in S&P+.

Quarterback Brandon Peters transfers in from Michigan while highlight reel running back Reggie Corbin returns behind four offensive lineman. Corbin averaged 11.31 highlight yards per opportunity rate, signaling the rusher is a human joystick whether the line makes the proper blocks or not.

Bets to Watch

  • Ohio State Under 10.5/10: Changes with the head coach, quarterback and defensive coordinator leave plenty of signs the Buckeyes may not reach 11 wins. While it is conceivable that their poor advanced defensive statistics were a result of Greg Schiano’s schemes, depth at quarterback and wide receiver continuity is a blaring issue.
  • Michigan +0.5 wins vs. Ohio State: In lieu of taking a juiced win total, Big Ten or playoff prop, elect for a head-to-head battle with Michigan’s rival. The new offensive scheme with Josh Gattis may be a resounding success, but the efficiency of the defense is a concern with the number of plays per game increase. Still, Michigan is -3 in the lookahead line against the Buckeyes, while this prop offers head-to-head action at even.
  • Nebraska Under 8.5: Depth in the back seven is a concern with the Cornhuskers. A depleted linebacker and secondary unit leaves Nebraska open against passing attacks. Adrian Martinez’s health is paramount to the success of Nebraska, and a depleted offensive line may have the quarterback on the run. Wait to hit this number until late August as public inflation may get a 9 to pop in the market.
  • Michigan State Over 7.5: Regardless of Dantonio’s record off disappointing seasons, the offensive line is deep. That should translate to a healthy Brian Lewerke we all loved to back two years ago. The non-conference schedule screams three wins, the Spartans own James Franklin and Rutgers/Maryland to end the season should get this ticket to the window.
  • Penn State Under 8.5: More offensive decline is expected in the post-Moorhead years. Now Trace McSorley departs while Sean Clifford is thrust into an offense full of questions. The defense is one of the best in the nation, but a lack of points and five of nine conference games on the road will get the Nittany Lions no more than 8 wins.
  • Illinois Over 4: Maybe I am a fan of the long term beard growth on Lovie Smith, but this offense has playmakers. A cake non-conference schedule and 5 conference games at home add to the chances this ticket is at least a push.