The 2023 NCAA football season will be a historic season for many reasons. It is the last year before the College Football Playoffs finally expand to 12 teams. It is also the final season of the iconic Pac-12, as various members have left the fabled conference for the safer pastures of bigger conferences. While the Big Ten’s footprint will spread from sea to shining sea next year, the battle for the conference title this year promises to be an exciting one. The preseason polls put both Michigan and Ohio State at #2 and #3, respectively, with Penn State in stalking distance at #7. Will that concentration of power cause those three schools to beat each other up and let a school from the West Division like Wisconsin or Iowa sneak in and grab the crown? Or will one of those three schools run the table and set themselves up for a strong run in the final edition of the 4-team CFP?
The Favorite: Ohio State (+175/ +750)
After a string of four consecutive Big Ten Championships, Ohio State has lost to Michigan and finished in second place in the Big Ten East for the past two seasons. They are poised to return to regain their crown with a team that returns seven starters on both offense and defense, but question marks on the offensive line and breaking in a new quarterback make their listing as the favorite is a bit tenuous. However, throwing to the best receiving corps in the country and a stacked backfield should help take some of the pressure off the new starting QB Kyle McCord. They have two tough road games at Wisconsin and also in the Big House making this a very shaky favorite. While many are calling for them to potentially play for a National Championship, I’m predicting they won’t hit their season win total of 10.5
The Challenger: Michigan (+180/ +800)
Pollsters and Vegas differ ever so slightly on these two arch-rivals, with the oddsmakers placing the Wolverines just a bit behind OSU, while the polls have them listed second behind the defending National Champions Georgia Bulldogs. Michigan returns a Heisman finalist in RB Blake Corum and 2nd-team All-Big 10 QB J.J. McCarthy, as well as six other offensive players from a squad that averaged 40.4 PPG. Seven defensive players return, looking to better their impressive 16.1 PPG allowed and 292 total yards per game. Their schedule is backloaded, having to travel to Penn State on Nov. 11th and then hosting OSU two weeks later. I think the pollsters have it right and see Michigan going over their 10.5-win total and playing in the Big Ten Championship.
Best Value: Penn State (+600/ +2200)
Excitement is at a fever pitch in Happy Valley, with the best pair of sophomore running backs in the country running behind the most talented offensive line in the James Franklin era. For the first time in what seems like a millennium, the venerable Sean Clifford is not starting at QB. Drew Allar was a 5-star recruit in high school and showed flashes of brilliance last season. But what will enable this team to potentially win the Big Ten is a defense that would make Joe Pa proud. They have the best secondary in the nation and a linebacking group that includes a Micah Parsons clone. They basically have two off-weeks before traveling to the Horseshoe on Oct.21. If they can win there (they’re 2-11 SU since 1998), they get Michigan at home in the middle of November and have a shot to take the Big Ten East. While I think they’re 1 year away from accomplishing that, going over their 9.5-win total is one of the strongest bets in the conference this year.
The Dark Horse: Wisconsin (+900/ +6000)
While most of the attention is on the Big 3 out of the East, Wisconsin has been loading up for a monumental season ever since they announced the hiring of Luke Fickell as their new head coach. New OC Phil Longo, who is one of the great new offensive innovators in the game today, is working with 10 returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, highlighted by 2nd-team B10 RB Braelon Allen, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards the past two seasons. QB play, which has always been a bit shaky since Russell Wilson left in 2011, will be in the very capable hands of SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai. The defense, which slumped a bit last year allowing 20.2 PPG, returns eight starters and won’t be on the field as much with a better offense eating up more time. A very manageable schedule sees them travel early to Pullman, Washington to take on the Washington St. Cougars the 2nd week. They get Ohio State in Madison on October 28th and then travel to Minnesota for the final regular season game. Their season win total of 8.5 is slam-dunk over and at +900, they represent the best value to win the Big Ten.
The Joker: Iowa (+1000/ +10000)
These guys won eight games last season with an offense that averaged 17.7 PPG. Imagine what they’ll do when they have a legitimate Big Ten QB (ex-Michigan QB Cade McNamara transferred in) and ex-OSU WR Kaleb Brown, with a returning honorable mention RB in sophomore Kaleb Johnson. Iowa has ranked in the Top 20 of scoring defenses for 9 consecutive seasons and this year’s unit returns seven starters. Their 3 toughest games are all on the road and even if they lose all of them, they should win all of their home games and also the “neutral” site game at Wrigley Field against Northwestern, making the over 7.5-season win total another incredibly strong play.
The Pretender: Minnesota (+1600/ +20000)
Last season, the Golden Gophers touted a defense that allowed a measly 13.8 PPG. They get the “Pretender” moniker because those impressive statistics were accumulated against inept offenses. The only team that averaged more than 27 points per game was Penn State, who hung 45 on them. They return 13 starters on both sides of the ball, including their QB who started halfway through the season. Their season wins total of 7 will be difficult to reach with trips to North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio State, and Purdue. The Pretender gets exposed and could end up with a losing record.
Illinois (+2000/ +25000): In just his second season at the helm, Bret Bielema guided the Illini to an 8-5 campaign, their first winning season since 2011. Each side of the ball returns six starters and the Ole Miss transfer QB Luke Altmyer gives Bielema some high-powered talent to work with. They should easily go over their 6.5 season wins total.
Nebraska (+2200/ +30000): Newly hired head coach Matt Rhule has his work cut out for him in Lincoln, where the once-vaunted Cornhuskers haven’t had a winning record or been to a bowl game in six consecutive seasons. The first two games of the season will be a good barometer for Nebraska’s season, opening on the road at Minnesota and Colorado. If they win both of those, the Huskers should be bowling for the first time in almost a decade. Loss to “Neon Deion”‘s Buffalos and it’ll be a long season in Lincoln. Rhule’s first year tends to be rough, making their season win total of 6 looks like an under wager.
Maryland (+10000/+30000): A sexy darkhorse pick besides the usual Big 3 in the B10 East, the Terps have one of the most exciting QBs in the conference with Taulia Tagovailoa. The all-time leader in passing at Maryland (sorry Boomer Esiason), Tua’s little brother led Maryland to 8 wins last season. An incredibly easy out-of-conference slate should give them almost half of the 7 wins their season total is at. Games against Northwestern, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Indiana will give them the others. Take them over the 7.
Michigan State (+10000/ +30000): After an amazing 2021 season that saw them go 11-2, Michigan State fell back to Earth, recording only their second losing season in the last 12 full seasons (not counting Covid). Head coach Mel Tucker’s Spartans return 13 starters from last year’s disappointment. The season win total is set at an incredibly low 4.5 wins and Sparty will have NO PROBLEM going past that.
Purdue (+12500/ +30000): Offensive genius head coach Jeff Brohm left West Lafayette to return to Louisville and the Boilermakers hired first-time coach Ryan Walters. They return six starters on offense and bring in a Texas transfer QB Hudson Card. Things will be bleak this year as Walters works out the kinks, making their win total of 5 a tough road to hoe.
Indiana (+20000/ +100000): The Hoosiers have averaged surrendering 33.5 PPG over the past two seasons. This is one time returning only 3 starters on defense isn’t a bad thing. Each game they play gets them closer to hoops season. Take their win total of 4 UNDER.
Rutgers (+20000/ +100000): Kevin Malone from “The Office” once said, “If anyone gives you 10,000-1 odds, you take that bet”. I could see Kevin taking Rutgers to win the National Championship. I won’t take them to win over their season total of 4 wins.
Northwestern (+20000/ +100000): Things went from bad to worse when the Wildcats were forced to fire head coach Pat Fitzgerald. With players trying to defend him, motivation will be sorely lacking this year. They’ll be lucky to win two games this year, let alone the four that would be needed to go over 3.5. Take the UNDER.