Seasons Greetings

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College Football: A Review of the Big Ten Season Win Totals

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College Football: A Review of the Big Ten Season Win Totals

2021-12-14 15:35:21


-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Michigan running back Hassan Haskins scores in Big Ten Championship Game win. (Image Source: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Let me start by admitting this feels a bit awkward and like a vanity play, but I’ve seen many others do it…and I can’t deny I’m proud of my record this season!

Championship Week: 2-0 (+3 Units); Season: 47-30-1 (+23½ Units)

Sides: 37-21-1 (+20 Units); Game Total: 1-4 (-1½ Units); Team Total: 9-5 (+5 Units)

B1GGEST BETS (2 Units): Last Week: 1-0; Season: 10-4-1 (+12 Units)

B1GGER BET (1 Unit): Last Week: 1-0; Season: 23-11 (+12 Units)

B1G BETS (1/2 Unit): Last Week: 0-0; Season: 14-15 (-0.5 Unit)

Preseason Win Totals: 10 Plays (9-1); 4 Pass

Here’s a look at my preseason over/under season win totals in the Big Ten:

Ohio State: Over/Under 11 Wins 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Pass: This is a pass for me…11 wins sound right, doesn’t it? So, the question is, is 10-2 (or worse) more likely than 12-0? Reasonable cases can be made for both sides, but this program and headman Ryan Day have earned the benefit of the doubt. If you’d have to bet, over is probably the play knowing the Buckeyes will be favored in every game and they’d have to go down twice in order to lose your bet.”

Well, I wasn’t wrong. The Buckeyes were favored in all 12 games but managed to lose twice so I’m glad it was a pass. If you took over 11 wins hopefully you hedged in The Game.

Wisconsin Over/Under 9.5 Wins:

What I said: Play or Pass? “Pass: Favored in all 12 games but the number is only 9.5? Hold your horses, don’t get too excited. Vegas isn’t in the business of giving money away. Wisconsin is only favored by 1.5 over Notre Dame, 4.5 against Penn State, and 9.5 over Michigan per Draft Kings. Heck, the line at Purdue is only 10.5, so it’s safe to assume that vs. Iowa and at Minnesota wouldn’t be much more than a touchdown. Now, we’re up to six losable games. I’ll lean towards the over (10-2) but not with a lot of confidence. The number at 9.5 is on the nose. This feels like a pass.”

The Badgers ended up losing four of those losable games (a couple of which could have gone either way) due in part to their lack of an elite running game—typically their bread and butter—early in the season, which was my X-Factor going into 2021.

Penn State: Over/Under 9 Wins:

What I said: Play or Pass? “Under 9 Wins: I don’t trust Sean Clifford on the road against Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio State. Do you? If the Nittany Lions lose those road games—did I mention James Franklin is 1-9 on the road against ranked foes since taking over at Penn State—that means they have to go 9-0 in their other games just to push! Auburn, Indiana, and Michigan at home are far from gimmies, while at Maryland (sandwiched between Ohio State and Michigan) and at Michigan State (season finale) are also potential upset spots. Take the under without much worry.”

Maybe I was a little harsh on Clifford but was right to be concerned about the quarterback position as a whole, including the lack of depth behind him (“Cause for Concern”) which certainly impacted the Nittany Lions in 2021.

Iowa Over/Under 8.5 Wins: 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Pass: The optimist would say every game is winnable and that Iowa will likely be favored in 10 of them, with one of the games in which they will be an underdog coming against Iowa State (+5.5), a program the Hawkeyes have beaten five straight times. Nine wins? Why not ten or eleven! Now, the pessimist would point out in addition to impending losses at Wisconsin and ISU, Iowa will be a single-digit favorite six times, less than a touchdown against Indiana (-4.5), Penn State (-3), and at Nebraska (-4.5) so they should be happy if they even get eight wins. Like Wisconsin, the number feels right, so I don’t see the value. If you forced me to bet, I’d lean towards the under. Because of the quarterback and tough schedule, you might convince me to change my lean to a like.”

Why not 10 indeed?! I thought the defense might be elite (“Origin of Optimism"), especially if the defensive line came along quicker than expect (“X-Factor”) while the quarterback issues (“Cause For Concern”) were very real. Iowa had some wins that could have gone the other way so the pass was probably the right play.

Michigan Over/Under 7.5 Wins:

What I said: Play or Pass? “Over 7.5 Wins: The schedule is challenging but that’s nothing new and the Wolverines are likely to be favored in nine of their games. While Harbaugh has failed to beat Ohio State and get the Wolverines into the playoffs, what he has done prior to last season was win the games he’s supposed to win. In his first five years back in Ann Arbor, Michigan won nine, ten, eight, ten, and nine regular-season games. Going back to Stanford, Harbaugh has won at least eight regular-season games in seven straight full seasons (9.3 average). As a bettor, all you need is a “disappointing” campaign (8-4) to cash in on the over.”

The Wolverines were the most undervalued team in the Big Ten and went over 7.5 wins well before their upset of Ohio State. We banked on Michigan’s inexplicably underrated talent and Jim Harbaugh’s track record to get over the low number.

Indiana Over/Under 7.5 Wins: 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Under 7.5 Wins: When looking at IU’s schedule they have about eight or nine games that are losable. Now, to be fair, other than Ohio State and maybe at Penn State, Indiana can win most of their games too. Things fell Indiana’s way last season (a whopping 17 INTs in 8 games for example), including unusually subpar seasons by Penn State and Michigan, as well as new coaching staffs at MSU and Rutgers without a proper offseason. It will be a lot tougher in 2021 and 7-5 or even 6-6, when looking at the schedule, shouldn’t be viewed as a big step back.”

With their lack of talent in the trenches (“Cause for Concern”) and a challenging schedule, IU never had a shot to reach eight wins this season. No one saw a 2-10 campaign but as we said, 6-7 wins would have been a good year for the Hoosiers.

Nebraska Over/Under 6.5 Wins: 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Under 6.5 Wins: When a program can reach their team goal (bowl game) and still finish under the number that might be an indication the number is a wee bit high. Nebraska should have their best team under Frost, but 1) that can happen and they still go under, 2) why should we trust Frost now, 3) or a Huskers program that has consistently underachieved more than any other B1G program, 4) finally, did you check out the schedule? We’ll give them wins over Buffalo and S.E. Louisiana, but that’s it. Nebraska is favored by a touchdown or less at Illinois (-7), at MSU (-4), vs. Northwestern (-6.5), and Purdue (-6.5). Even if the Huskers win all four—which is unlikely—they’d have to pull off at least one upset (vs. Michigan/Iowa or at Minnesota) to beat you. The schedule is set up for a 6-6 season at best. I’d be very surprised if Nebraska won eight games, but who can’t see them winning just four or five games if things don’t break right?”

While the 6.5 wins were way too optimistic considering this team’s history under Scott Frost and the schedule, even my pessimistic outlook didn’t envision just three wins.

Minnesota Over/Under 6.5 Wins: 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Over 6.5 Wins: Let’s start the Gophers at 3-3 but know they are more likely to win one of the expected losses (OSU, at Iowa, vs. Wisconsin) than they are to lose an expected win (vs. Miami-Ohio, vs. Bowling Green, vs. Illinois), which leaves us with six “toss-up” games. The Gophers should be favored in five of them: at Colorado, at Purdue, vs. Nebraska, vs. Maryland, and at Northwestern. They’re about a touchdown underdog at Indiana on DraftKings. So, even if the Gophers don’t pull off a single upset, they can still lose one of their remaining eight games to reach seven wins. I love a team with a potentially dominant offensive line and even though I’m not the biggest Tanner Morgan fan, I believe he’ll be better in 2021 (although not as good as he was in 2019). Look for the Gophers to win seven, maybe eight games behind a strong ball-controlling run game and stellar senior back Mohamed Ibrahim. Bet the over.”

Despite two major upset losses (Bowling Green and Illinois), the Gophers managed to hit the eight-win mark behind their strong offensive line (“Origin of Optimism”) and were in the thick of the Big Ten West race until the final week of the season.

Northwestern Over/Under 6.5 Wins:

What I said: Play or Pass? “Under 6.5 Wins: Boy do I love coach Fitz, which is why this is hard. Despite the easy schedule…outside of Indiana State and maybe Rutgers or Ohio at home, would any loss surprise you? I expect the Wildcats to fall to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa, which leaves six tossup type games in Michigan State (-4.5), at Duke, at Nebraska (+6.5), vs. Minnesota (+2.5), vs. Purdue (-1.5), and at Illinois (-6.5). (Note: Bill Connelly has Ohio as a toss-up game with Purdue, Minnesota, and Purdue all likely losses). I’ll give them a split in those six games for a 6-6 season and a bowl, which comes in at the under. Not only do I believe Northwestern will only win six games, I believe five is more likely than seven, and four is more likely than eight with a roster that appears a year away.” 

With the potential for terrible quarterback play (“X-Factor”) I should have added that I believe three wins were more likely than nine because that’s what they ended with.

Purdue Over/Under 5 Wins: 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Over 5 Wins: When you’re hunting for wins to be bowl eligible, playing three of your four toughest games on the road isn’t the worst thing. They’re probably not beating Ohio State at home (again) anyway, but Michigan State (-5.5) and Indiana (+6.5)? Why not? Let’s give the Boilermakers a 3-1 start with Oregon State (-7), at UConn (-27.5), and Illinois (-10) in September. Add MSU, IU, Minnesota (+2), at Nebraska (+6.5), and vs. Northwestern (+1.5), which gives the Boilermakers five more winnable games. I say they get at least two with a chance for three or more. Who knows…maybe they even put a scare into Notre Dame (+12), Wisconsin (+10.5), or Iowa (+14.5). I make the floor for Purdue four wins and the ceiling 8, with 5-6 wins most likely. Take the over.”

The Boilermakers started 3-1, picked up home wins over both Michigan State and Indiana, as well as Nebraska and Northwestern so we didn’t even need the upset over Iowa, but it did allow us to cash this ticket with three games to spare. My faith in the passing offense (“Origin of Optimism”) and coach Jeff Brohm was rewarded.

Michigan State Over/Under 4.5 Wins: 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Over 4.5 Wins: It will come down to the “toss-up” games. Assuming there are no major upsets. Can Michigan State get a split at Northwestern (+4), vs. Nebraska (+4), at Purdue (+5.5), and vs. Maryland (-2.5)? I believe yes, so a lot depends on the number you get with Sparty. At 4.5, I think MSU can get to five with wins over Youngstown State and Western Kentucky (-14), two division wins (probably over Rutgers and Maryland), and just one victory against their three B1G West opponents. Now, if I needed Michigan State to reach six wins (O/U 5 or 5.5), I wouldn’t be as confident with the over.”

Sparty didn’t get a split in their “toss-up” games, MSU won three of the four to go with numerous upsets along the way as they went over 4.5 wins by mid-October. Who knew Kenneth Walker III (among the “X-Factor” transfers in East Lansing) would be the best back in the country?

Maryland Over/Under 5.5 Wins:

What I said: Play or Pass? “Pass: This might be the toughest team to pick in the Big Ten East. With recruiting classes ranked fourth, sixth, eleventh, and fifth in the B1G since 2018, the Terps have more “talent” than Indiana. Heck, they’ve accumulated more “team talent” than Wisconsin in four of the past five seasons (per 247Sports) and Iowa in each of the past six years. But, it hasn’t mattered, as Maryland has consistently underachieve compared to their recruiting. Moreover, Mike Locksley is 8-43 as a head coach, 6-17 at Maryland, 5-12 since being hired prior to the 2019 season. This feels like a five- or six-win team and in order to collect on the over, Locksley will have to turn in his best season as a coach. With so many games that could go either way, it’s hard to have faith in the coach or the program, which is why I’d lean towards the under if I had to make a pick.”

Even though it was a pass, we were pretty spot on with the Terps who had a strong passing game (“Origin of Optimism”), a poor defense (“Cause For Concern”), and their opening win over WVU was the difference to them getting over 5.5 wins in the final week of the season (which was when we put our faith and money on the Terps) …one of the few Big Ten teams whose O/U was still in doubt in Week 13.

Rutgers Over/Under 4 Wins: 

What I said: Play or Pass? “Under 4 Wins: Winless in the Big Ten is still on the table and I write that with great respect for Greg Schiano’s coaching ability. They are still the least talented team in the Big Ten which is why I take the under. In order to beat me, Rutgers will have to win three of four from at Syracuse, at Illinois, vs. Michigan State, and vs. Maryland (last game of the year so a hedge opportunity). Is it possible? Of course, but not likely. Four wins sound right (push) with 3-9 more likely than 5-7.”

I was right about their lack of talent and to respect Greg Schiano’s coaching ability, which is why I should have passed. Three Power 5 road wins were unexpected, which led to my only loss on Big Ten season totals.

Illinois Over/Under 3.5 Wins:

What I said: Play or Pass? “Over 3.5 Wins: If we can agree that the Illini should be able to take two out of three in out of conference (+11 at UVA, -6.5 UTSA, -13 Charlotte), then gain a split against Maryland (+4.5) and Rutgers, that leaves us with a 3-3 mark against non-B1G West opponents. (Four wins from those six games is also very possible.) Between Nebraska (+7), at Purdue (+10), and Northwestern (+6.5) I believe Illinois is good enough to find one more W to at least get to four in Bielema’s first season with a chance for five. With a strong offensive line and running game, this should be his kind of offense, one that can ball control and minimize turnovers.”

I felt great about this pick when Illinois upset Nebraska to start the season, however, when the Illini were unable to secure two out-of-conference wins doubt crept in. They made up for the inability to beat either Maryland or Rutgers in very winnable games, by pulling off monster road upsets over Penn State and Minnesota. The W over Northwestern was gravy.

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe, Maxwell, Bednarik, and the Rotary Lombardi Awards, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. You can reach him via email:                      


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