Entering year two of the Jim Harbaugh era, Michigan is level with archrival Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten champion futures board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
Harbaugh’s revival of the maize and blue has led to the Wolverines being installed as co-favorites alongside the Buckeyes, with each holding identical +175 odds. Michigan’s climb up the board also means that the Michigan State Spartans might be undervalued at +700.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will need to call upon his proven ability to reload quickly. The Buckeyes return only six starters from a year ago, although one is star quarterback J.T. Barrett. The talent level at Ohio State is still mouth-watering, but bettors will have to decide how they feel about the Buckeyes’ chances in a daunting September 17 road game against the Oklahoma Sooners. That top-ten matchup won’t affect conference standings, but a loss could affect the Buckeyes’ morale.
Michigan returns 14 starters, including eight on a defense now coordinated by Don Brown, who oversaw the nation’s No. 1 defense last season at Boston College. Whether the Wolverines will push Ohio State – which has home field for their November 26 rivalry game – might come down to quarterback play. Michigan is counting on Houston transfer John O’Korn to deliver the ball to their trio of senior receivers that includes tight end Jake Butt.
It is possible some fans might not identify Michigan State as one of the six Power 5 teams which has an .800 winning percentage since 2010. The Spartans, with likely high NFL draft pick Malik McDowell as the fulcrum of their rugged defense, should give offenses headaches once again. Michigan State’s offense is a blank slate. Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor might represent a step down from Connor Cook, while there isn’t a wide receiver on the roster who had more than seven catches last season.
The Big Ten West offers two darkhorses, with the Iowa Hawkeyes and Nebraska Cornhuskers each listed at +900 on the college football betting lines. Of the two, Iowa is the one whose prop owes more to past performance. Everything went right for Iowa early last season while starting 12-0, but that eventually culminated in losses in both the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl. They could be due for a step back, even with quarterback C.J. Beathard and shutdown cover cornerback Desmond King among their 13 returning starters.
The law of averages would suggest a better fate is in store for Nebraska after a 6-7 season where it lost five games by less than a one-touchdown margin. The Cornhuskers project to have seven seniors starting on offense, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., so they will be well-equipped for high-scoring games. To get in contention, though, Nebraska needs to coach up their inexperienced front four. Their pass defense, which ranked No. 122 (of 128 teams) last season, has nowhere to go but up.
The Wisconsin Badgers, who are listed at +1400 odds, appear to be on a downswing. The Badgers’ famed rushing attack was garden-variety last season. Meanwhile, post-Christian Hackenberg Penn State is listed at +1800, followed by the Northwestern Wildcats (+3300) and Minnesota Golden Gophers (+4400). The Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini and Maryland Terrapins are all listed at +5000, with the Purdue Boilermakers and Rutgers Scarlet Knights at +10000 each.