This article is part of our College Football Fantasy Five series.
Summer is here and it's a perfect time to take a look at some college football futures and identify some early value plays before people buy their college football magazines and place their wagers. Last week I examined the Big 12 over/unders (linked below) and now I'll take a look at the Big Ten.
College Football Fantasy Five: Big 12 Over/Under Win Totals Check-In (7/6)
*BEST BET - Iowa State Over 9.5 Wins & Oklahoma Over 11.0 Wins
College Football Fantasy Five: ACC Over/Under Win Totals Check-In (6/28)
*BEST BET - Georgia Tech Under 5.0 Wins
College Football Fantasy Five: Conference Champion Odds Check-In (6/21)
*BEST BET - Arizona State (+450 to win Pac-12)
College Football Fantasy Five: Heisman Odds Check-In (6/14)
*BEST BET - Iowa State's RB Breece Hall (+4000 or 40/1 to win Heisman)
College Football Fantasy Five: Championship Futures Check-In (6/7)
*BEST BET - Georgia (+800 or 8/1 to Win 2022 Championship)
For these win total articles, I'm going to utilize a similar format where I mention my fade (a team too tough to call), my two best under plays and my two favorite over plays. Odds are subject to change over time.
Let's get in to the Big Ten that breaks down as follows with a 12-game schedule:
11.0 - Ohio State
9.5 - Wisconsin
9.0 - Penn State
8.5 - Iowa
7.5 - Indiana
7.5 - Michigan
7.0 - Minnesota
6.5 - Northwestern
6.0 - Nebraska
5.5 - Maryland
5.0 - Purdue
4.5 - Michigan State
4.0 - Rutgers
3.5 - Illinois
FADE ALERT (TOO TOUGH TO CALL)
5.) Minnesota (7.0 Wins)
Over the last two years, the Gophers have been all over the map. They were hot as ever at 9-0 in 2019 and even beat Auburn in a bowl game. However, as a popular pick to win the West in 2020, they stumbled out to a 3-4 record, including a loss to Maryland. They open the season against Ohio State and have tough road games at Colorado, Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana. Yet, they also return 20 starters and will be one of the more experienced teams in the conference. Vegas projecting at seven wins seems like the right number and that's why this is a fade because I could see it going either way.
BEST UNDER PLAYS
4.) Michigan State (4.5 Wins)
This under play has everything to do with the Mel Tucker hire because while he's expected to be a great recruiter, he inherited a squad from Mark Dantonio void of talent. Dantonio's path to success was to develop unheralded recruits and Tucker's philosophy is an abrupt change for the Spartans. Which philosophy is better is up to debate, but what is a sure thing is that Tucker will need a bit of time to get his recruits in there and change the culture at Michigan State. The Spartans have some extremely tough games at Northwestern, at Miami, at Indiana and at Ohio State which don't seem to be winnable. That means they would need to go 5-3 in the remaining games for the over to hit and that doesn't seem feasible for this team.
3.) Maryland (5.5 Wins)
The Terrapins are the wild card of all wild card teams in the Big Ten this season. They have a high ceiling if everything goes right with QB Taulia Tagovailoa as it did in thrilling wins over Minnesota and Penn State in 2020. However, it could just as easily fall apart as Maryland is not known for their team-building skills and consistent team identity. They looked like a completely different squad in back-to-back losses to Indiana and Rutgers to finish the season in 2020. It will be fun to watch Tagovailoa sling the ball to Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus and Jeshaun Jones, yet I'm not willing to commit to six wins for this team as that seems highly unlikely.
BEST OVER PLAYS
2.) Penn State (9.0 Wins)
Considering that the Nittany Lions went 4-5 after dropping their first five games in 2020 and still came out with a 9-win over/under says to me that Vegas really likes this team. Makes sense too when you consider the talent they have accumulated from great recruiting classes. QB Sean Clifford and WR Jahan Dotson will be one of the most explosive duos in the conference and will put them in a good position to compete in tough match-ups at Wisconsin, at Iowa and at Ohio State. This team looked much improved in their four-game winning streak to end 2020. When it comes to the East Division, I like this pick a lot more than betting that Ohio State will have an undefeated season with a brand new quarterback.
1.) Wisconsin (9.5 Wins) *Best Bet
At first glance, it appears the Badgers have a tough schedule with Notre Dame, Penn State and Michigan, but it's not as bad as it seems. While they did draw decent Penn State and Michigan squads from the East Division, they get both opponents at Camp Randall where the Badgers have been tough to beat. Moreover, they play Notre Dame in Chicago where the fan split should be half and half when they meet on Sept. 25. Wisconsin's defense should be one of the best in the nation and the offense was understandably down in 2020 due to wide receiver injuries and breaking in a new quarterback in the strange COVID-19 environment. RB Jalen Berger should be a breakout star in 2021 and expect a big second-year jump for QB Graham Mertz who will have reliable targets in TE Jake Ferguson, WR Danny Davis and WR Kendric Pryor.