With graduation, transfers, academic issues, etc., an awful lot can change in a Power 5 college football conference from one year to the next.
For example, the Big Ten was clearly the nation’s best conference in 2016. It nearly became the first to have two schools in the College Football Playoff but landed four teams in major bowls: Michigan in the Orange, Penn State in the Rose, Wisconsin in the Cotton, and Ohio State in the Fiesta, which was a playoff semifinal game.
Alas, perhaps those bowls foreshadowed a bit of a down year coming for the Big Ten in 2017 because the Wolverines, Nittany Lions and Buckeyes all lost those bowl games. Last year for the first time the Big Ten didn’t get a team in the College Football Playoff – although it did land three more in major bowls (Ohio State in the Cotton, Wisconsin in the Orange, and Penn State in the Fiesta) and they all won. Potentially good news for 2018?
To no surprise, annually loaded Ohio State is the +137 favorite to repeat on the odds to win the Big Ten championship at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. It was the Buckeyes’ fault that no Big Ten school landed a 2017 playoff berth because they knocked off unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, and Alabama landed the final playoff spot ahead of OSU.
Coach Urban Meyer always loses a ton of talent to the NFL but reloads with more five-star high school All-Americans. He’s set to welcome back 12 starters but loses record-setting quarterback J.T. Barrett. The Buckeyes should be favored in every game this regular season, with their toughest tests coming September 15 at TCU in Arlington, September 29 at Penn State, and November 10 at Michigan State. The annual Michigan-Ohio State regular-season finale is in Columbus.
The Big Ten East again looks massively superior to the Big Ten West with Ohio State, Michigan (+600 to win Big Ten), Penn State (+450) and Michigan State (+1000) all potentially good enough to be playoff teams. Obviously, they all have to play each other.
The key, then, is to avoid the best team in the Big Ten West on the regular-season slate and that’s Wisconsin (+400). The Badgers don’t see Ohio State or Michigan State – an advantage for those two – but go to Michigan and Penn State. UW is led by running back Jonathan Taylor, one of the country’s leading rushers in 2017 as a freshman. He’s a top candidate on the Heisman Trophy odds for the season ahead.
The Badgers’ top challenger in the West could be Northwestern (+2000), which has the longest active winning streak in the Big Ten at eight straight. The Wildcats host Wisconsin in the potential West Division Game of the Year on October 27.
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