The 2021 college football season is coming up fast with the opening games only weeks away. As always, the Big Ten should command a lot of national team with traditional powers trying to stake their place among the best in the nation. It’s a great time to settle down and take stock of the conference from a wagering perspective with this 2021 Big Ten college football preview.
In many ways, the 2020 college football season was a bit of a mess. Health and safety protocols made it difficult for games to be played, and impact was certainly felt. On top of that, the games that were played were often contested without fans, which certainly had an impact on any kind of home field advantage, which is such a big part of the college football landscape.
It’s impossible to say if there will be any interruptions on this upcoming CFB season. At least for right now, it looks at teams will have a good chance at playing a full schedule of games. That’s good news for bettors, and it’s good news for the Big Ten Conference, which was hit hard by the restrictions a year ago.
Last year, it was originally doubtful whether there would be any Big Ten action at all. Once the games did start, there were no nonconference tilts on the schedule and cancellations still ran rampant. As a result, the whole 2020 college football season felt like a shadow of its usual self.
The Hope Is That 2021 Features a Return to Normal
Taking a look at the Big Ten landscape, it looks like Ohio State once stands well above the rest of the league in terms of national championship hopes. But there are several up can coming teams that could make 2021 the most competitive Big Ten race in quite some time, which also means excellent betting opportunities for those who know how to look for them.
We’re here to help you get you set for the season at top college football betting websites with this preview of the 2021 Big Ten college football season. To do that, we’ll give you a quick look at all teams, with previews of their strengths and weaknesses, their schedules, and their over/under total on wins for the season. By the end of this article, you should be ready to make your wagers once the Big Ten football season officially kicks off.
2020 Big Ten Recap
Big Ten East
Ohio State: 5-0 conference, 7-1 overall, won Big Ten Championship game over Northwestern, won Sugar Bowl CFP semifinal over Clemson, lost CFP Championship Game to Alabama
Indiana: 6-1 conference, 6-2 overall, lost Outback Bowl to Mississippi
Penn State: 4-5 conference, 4-5 overall
Maryland: 2-3 conference, 2-3 overall
Rutgers: 3-6 conference, 3-6 overall
Michigan: 2-4 conference, 2-4 overall
Michigan State: 2-5 conference, 2-5 overall
Big Ten West
Northwestern: 6-1 conference, 7-2 overall, lost Big Ten Championship game to Ohio State, won Citrus Bowl over Auburn
Iowa: 6-2 conference, 6-2 overall
Wisconsin: 3-3 conference, 4-3 overall, won Duke’s Mayo Bowl over Wake Forest
Minnesota: 3-4 conference, 3-4 overall
Nebraska: 3-5 conference, 3-5 overall
Purdue: 2-4 conference, 2-4 overall
Illinois: 2-6 conference, 2-6 overall
2021 Big Ten Team Previews
Preseason national ranking: 5
Over/under win total: 11
First game: September 2 (at Minnesota)
Whoever takes over at quarterback will have the benefit of knowing that Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are a pair of NFL-caliber receivers waiting to pull in their passes. The running game should pick up right where it left off with Master Teague as the feature back. And the defense has stars in waiting in linemen Zach Harrison and Haskell Garrett and cornerback Sevyn Banks.
Although the Buckeyes always get the best recruits at the position, a brand new starting quarterback is always a bit of a cause for consternation. As talented as they are, the Buckeyes defense was never dominant a year ago, and they’re likely still having nightmares about what Alabama did to them in the title game. There is a need to fill several spots at linebacker, a crucial position on any defense.
The big nonconference game on the schedule is a Week 2 clash at home against Oregon, who should once again have a solid team in 2021. But the Buckeyes Big Ten schedule is a bit on the weak side. All eyes will be on the road battle against Indiana on October 23 after the Hoosiers gave the Buckeyes by far their biggest scare of the regulars season a year ago.
Because the Buckeyes avoid a lot of the trap-type teams in the Big Ten this year (such as Iowa and Wisconsin), that 11-win total looks very doable. But the only way they go over is by being perfect, which is a bit of a daunting prospect. That’s especially the case with what should be an untested freshman quarterback (probably either C.J. Stroud or Kyle McCord) taking over the helm.
Preseason national ranking: 13
Over/under win total: 9 ½
First game: September 4 (home vs. Penn State)
The Badgers will try to build through running and defense, which has always been a good formula for them. Look for Jalen Berger to take a big step forward at running back in his second year the program. Wisconsin’s defense was smothering a year ago and returns of the best linebacking units in football, led by All-America possibility Jack Sanborn.
The hope is that quarterback Graham Mertz can do more damage through the air this year, because Wisconsin was severely lacking in big plays. If the defense is to return as stout as a year ago, they’ll need reinforcements on the defensive line. Without that, opposing quarterbacks might have the time to hurt the Wisconsin secondary.
The Badgers’ opening week tousle with Penn State should go a long way in establishing the Big Ten pecking order behind Ohio State. In their third game of the year, they play a neutral contest with Notre Dame in Chicago. But there is no Ohio State on the schedule, so that gives the Badgers an edge over some of their Big Ten brethren.
It will take a ten-win season for the Badgers to go over according to the preseason lines set by oddsmakers at top gambling sites. That might be a tall order for a team without a lot of obvious firepower on the roster. If they do go over, it will because coordinator Jim Leonhard’s defense once again overachieves.
Preseason national ranking: 18
Over/under win total: 8 ½
First game: September 4 (home vs. Indiana)
Look for this year’s Hawkeye team to have an offense that catches up with the defensive production of a year ago. They feature one of the best offensive lines in the conference, led by All-American center Tyler Linderbaum at center. The running game is in good hands with Tyler Goodson carrying the rock, while Spencer Petras should improve at quarterback now that he’s had some experience at the position.
The Hawkeyes don’t quite have things synched up, as their defense, which was tough last year, might step back. They lost a number of key contributors to graduation, leaving them a bit on the shallow and inexperienced side of the ball. With Big Ten teams having more time to prepare this offseason, that could mean an offensive resurgence in the conference, which could lead to problems if the Hawkeyes fall back in that department.
One of the key games in the conference takes place right off the bat when Iowa hosts Indiana in Week 1. They then go into a rivalry game on the road against Iowa State, a team that’s capable of big things this season. It’s a rude start to the season for the Hawkeyes, and road tests against Wisconsin and Northwestern in the second half of the season don’t exactly lighten things up.
Iowa comes into 2021 on a six-game winning streak, and they’ll need that momentum to carry over to get through the tough start of the season. This is a team that could improve and see their winning percentage drop from where it was a year ago. For those reasons, we believe that, if you were betting right now, the under bet would be the way to go.
Preseason national ranking: 20
Over/under win total: 7 ½
First game: September 4 (at Iowa)
It’s hard to believe, but there might not be a team in the conference with more potential All-Big Ten than the Hoosiers, who look to continue their incredible transformation under Coach Tom Allen. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. should be back from injury and hurling to wideouts Ty Fryfogle and Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews. Meanwhile, Micah McFadden and Tiawan Mullen lead an opportunistic defense.
Indiana won’t sneak up on anybody this year after they very nearly prevented Ohio State from a Big Ten crown a year ago. Penix’s health will be on everybody’s mind as he tries to bounce back from another ACL injury. And security blanket running back Steve Scott will be difficult to replace.
In the season’s first three weeks, the Hoosiers go on the road to Iowa and host Cincinnati, a top 10 team from a year ago. By their seventh game, they’ll have played both Penn State and Ohio State. The schedule takes it a bit easier from there, but there is no doubt that Indiana is going to have to earn their way back into college football’s elite.
How bullish you are on the Hoosiers depends on how much you believe in Allen’s magic with this problem. They went 7-1 against the spread a year ago, proving that they have a way of defying expectations. If they can get to nine wins with that schedule, it will be one of the top stories in college football.
Preseason national ranking: 21
Over/under win total: 8 ½
First game: September 4 (at Wisconsin)
If quarterback Sean Clifford can start to play with a bit more consistency from week to week and even within games, this offense has a chance to sing. Rasheed Wallace is one of the best offensive linemen in the nation and Jahan Dotson continues the program’s tradition of big-play receivers. But Clifford needs to tie it all together for this team to reach its potential.
The reason that the Nittany Lions’ four-game winning streak to end the season was so notable is because they were so bad in losing their first five games of 2021. This program recruits well under James Franklin but sometimes performs like less than the sum of its parts on the field. And there are holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, which wasn’t all that solid last year anyway.
The nonconference schedule isn’t too demanding, especially with Auburn, normally a college football power, coming into State College in rebuilding mode. But the big negative here isn’t so much who Penn State plays as it is where they play them. They have to go on the road to face Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State, the trio of teams many believe are the best in the conference.
Penn State has had a habit of keeping teams they’re supposed to beat in games, which means that it’s hard to project many sure-thing wins on the schedule. The hope is that this is a year where all the talent comes together. But going the over considering all those tough conference road games on the slate is a pretty big leap of faith.
Preseason national ranking: 28
Over/under win total: 7 ½
First game: September 4 (home vs. Western Michigan)
At some point, you would have to believe that all of these excellent recruiting classes year after year will help Michigan regain its mojo. They certainly bottomed out last year in their severely shortened season, so maybe they’ll be able to sneak up on teams this year. A scheme change on defense might be just what the doctor ordered to help unlock the talents of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and safety Daxton Hill.
Another year, another quarterback controversy in Ann Arbor, which certainly hasn’t helped offensive production in any way. At this point, the hot seat underneath coach Jim Harbaugh is more like a cauldron. One early loss and the bad vibes could set in and upend any progress that gets made.
The big nonconference game comes in Week 2 when the Wolverines host Pac-10 power Washington. They host Ohio State this year in the rivalry game, a game that was cancelled last year (probably a good thing for Michigan.) Other league powers Indiana, Wisconsin and Penn State are all on the schedule, so there won’t be any free lunch for the Wolverines.
It seems strange to say considering Michigan’s exalted place in college football history, but an eight-win season would seem like an overachievement this year. But when have Harbaugh’s teams ever overachieved? Name recognition alone isn’t enough to win college football games in this day and age.
Preseason national ranking: 34
Over/under win total: 6 ½
First game: September 4 (home vs. Michigan State)
The good vibes from their 2021 run to the Big Ten Championship game, their second in their last three years, could be enough for a few surprising wins here and there. Northwestern’s excellent coaching staff knows just how to get the most out of their personnel. And that personnel includes some serious talent this year, including bulldozing running back Cam Porter and ballhawking cornerback Brandon Joseph.
There are a lot of losses to address, particularly at wide receiver and cornerback. Quarterback play was inconsistent last year and there should be a battle to see who starts there this season. Northwestern won a bunch of nailbiters a year ago, and sustaining that kind of success in close games from year to year can be very difficult to do.
Northwestern will benefit from one of the softest nonconference slates in the Big Ten this season, with the only Power 5 team being Duke, not exactly a football power. They also avoid Ohio State, with a two-game stretch against Iowa and Wisconsin being the toughest of the season. But they end soft as well with Purdue and Illinois, which could give them momentum heading into a bowl game.
If they can get the quarterback situation in order, there’s no reason to think the Wildcats can once again be a factor in their division. Their style of hard-nosed, no-mistakes football never goes out of style, even in this high-concept spread era of college football. A winning regular season record, which would put them over their number, seems well within reach.
Preseason national ranking: 35
Over/under win total: 7
First game: September 2 (home vs. Minnesota)
The Golden Gophers are just a few years removed from being a league power, so there is precedent for a big performance. In Mohamed Ibrahim, they have a running back who can control the game even against the best defenses in the league. Defensively, an experienced defensive line, lead by sack specialist Boye Mafe, could create havoc in opposing backfields.
The Gophers need quarterback Tanner Morgan to prove he can put up numbers with less than All-American talent around him. He seemed lost a year ago without star receiver Rashod Bateman, who opted out early and is now in the NFL. Minnesota better have a pass rush, because their secondary might not offer much resistance if quarterbacks get time to throw.
Some might look as a season-opener against Ohio State as a bad thing, but the glass-half-full approach would say that getting them early (and at home) provides the best upset opportunity for the Gophers. If they can get through their MAC-heavy nonconference schedule, they won’t really have too many games where they’ll be underdogs for a stretch. But then the final three games put them up against Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin, all tough outs.
Was the Minnesota rise of a few years back just an aberration?
Last year was such a mess with delays and cancellations, you might be willing to write off their poor season. Still, it’s worrisome that they didn’t put up too much of a fight against the better teams in the league until an overtime loss in the season finale against Wisconsin.
Preseason national ranking: 52
Over/under win total: 6 ½
First game: August 28 (at Illinois)
Look for the Cornhuskers to stake their reputation this season on defense, with nine returning starters that kept six out of eight teams under 30 points a year ago. If quarterback Adrian Martinez can build on his strong finish a year ago, Nebraska could also be a better offensive team this year. Add in All-Big Ten kicker Connor Culp and you’ve got a team that could be solid in all three phases.
When Coach Scott Frost came back home three years ago, the storyline was supposed to be a return to prominence for the once-proud program. Instead, they’ve managed just 12 wins in that span and Frost is on a hot seat. They just seem a notch below the top teams of the league in terms of dynamic, NFL-ready talent.
A “Week Zero” August road game against league doormat Illinois is a must-win, especially because the Huskers resume their traditional series with Oklahoma in Norman a few weeks later, a tall task indeed, The conference schedule gets really tough in the last month. That’s when Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa all take on Nebraska.
The good recruiting that Frost has been doing figures to start paying off this season. But it’s not likely to be enough to show significant progress in the win-loss department, not against that schedule. Look for .500 at best from the Cornhuskers this year.
Preseason national ranking: 57
Over/under win total: 5
First game: September 4 (home vs. Oregon State)
Even as the team usually stays stubbornly in the mediocre range, Purdue seems always to produce some dynamic playmakers, and this year is no different. David Bell is one of the Big Ten’s most productive returning receivers, and the running game is in good hands with Zander Horvath leading the way. On defense, end George Karlaftis and cornerback Cory Trice could start for anybody in the league.
Purdue’s defense never seems to get over the hump, and this year brings yet another new coordinator in Brad Lambert. They’ve been particularly weak in terms of getting to the quarterback. This team needs to learn how to win close games, as all of their losses were on the narrow side a year ago.
A Week 3 trip to Notre Dame is undoubtedly the toughest of the nonconference tests. Most of the top Big Ten teams are on the schedule as well, including Ohio State, Northwestern and Indiana in a season-closing three game stretch. You have to squint a bit to see games in which the Boliermakers will be favored.
Purdue once again has the look of a team that can put up points but will struggle to keep those points from being scored against them. A .500 record in conference seems like a stretch considering they don’t avoid too many of the powerhouses. And two Power Five games out of three nonconference battles won’t make getting to that over/under total any easier.
Preseason national ranking: 65
Over/under win total: N/A
First game: September 4 (home against Temple)
Greg Schiano’s return as coach, while maybe not triumphant, certainly put Rutgers back on the Big Ten map, as they churned out three conference wins. Next up is possible improvement, which could come on the offense with ten returning starters. The Scarlet Knights also can be testy defensively, in large part thanks to the play of linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi.
While it’s probably not fair to call him a weakness, Noah Vedral might not be the quarterback to lead this team back to a winning record, which is why freshman Evan Simon might be in the picture. Rutgers returns a lot of players, but they are returning from a ream that was in the bottom third of college football in most offensive and defensive stats. In other words, some freshman and transfers might have to come in and contribute.
An opening week battle against Temple should be interesting considering Schiano’s squad will have several players who recently transferred from the Owls. Michigan and Ohio State are the first two Big Ten games, so there won’t be any easy adjustment periods to conference play. They also miss Purdue, one of the three teams they beat a year ago, on this year’s slate.
BetOnline.ag for some reason neglected to include Purdue on their early over/under lines. But we’ve seen the line listed as five wins on other top football betting sites. The over is doable if Rutgers can get through their nonconference schedule unscathed.
Preseason national ranking: 72
Over/under win total: 6
First game: September 4 (home vs. West Virginia)
There is another Tagovailoa on the college football scene who can make a splash, as junior Taulia Tagovailoa looks to build on a promising first year as starter. He could lead an explosive passing game, with wideout Dontay Damus Jr. one of the league’s best. Coach Mike Locksley brought in one of his best recruiting classes.
Many of those recruits will be needed on the defensive end to stop the bleeding the Terrapins suffered attempting to stop the run a year ago. The linebacking depth was depleted with some transfers by key contributors a year ago. Although the secondary has promise, opponents won’t have to worry about attacking them if the run defense doesn’t improve.
Besides a rivalry game with West Virginia, the nonconference schedule that the Terps will face is forgiving. But four of the first five league games are against Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana and Penn State, and the Terps will likely be underdogs in every one of those contests. That leaves they precious few chances for wins on the slate.
Taigovailoa has people excited about Maryland football once again, and a great quarterback can certainly cure a lot of ills. You can expect most Maryland games to be offensive slugfests this season. But whether they can turn those shootouts into enough victories for a winning record remains to be seen.
Preseason national ranking: 76
Over/under win total: 3 ½
First game: August 28 (home vs. Nebraska)
The arrival of Bret Bielema, a proven Big Ten winner, as head coach provides some excitement in Illini country for the future. There is experience on the offensive line and some running backs who can exploit some holes. Illinois has the makings of a strong special teams unit, which might help in close contests.
The defense has been a longtime problem, and with two freshmen listed on early depth charts on the defensive line, things might not get any easier. Quarterback Brandon Peters has been around a while but doesn’t light it up numbers-wise. It might take time for any positive effects from the Bielema hiring to show in the record.
Of the three nonconference contests, only a road game at Virginia seems like a tough one (and even that one is winnable.) Illinois also gets many of the other lower-tier Big Ten teams on the schedule, while avoiding Ohio State. The toughest road tests are at Penn State and at Iowa.
The schedule is there for the taking, and Bielema be the just right tonic for an ailing program with the formula he used to such great success at Wisconsin. And the target for the over/under isn’t that high. We can see this team squeaking their way to five wins when all is said and done.
Preseason national ranking: 79
Over/under win total: 5
First game: September 4 (at Northwestern)
The hope is that a full offseason will give Coach Mel Tucker a better chance to install his program in Year 2 in East Lansing. And 2020 wasn’t a complete lost cause, as evidenced by wins over Michigan and Northwestern. This program doesn’t seem to be that far off from a rejuvenation.
That rejuvenation can’t come soon enough, as the bad taste left over from the past few seasons is lingering. Although there are some big-play guys on the edge, a quarterback has to be found to engage them. And the Sparty defense has to get better after letting opponents ring up 35 points a game a year ago.
The Spartans will find out right away about themselves with an opening week grinder at Northwestern. Two of the three nonconference games are winnable, but the third, a road test at Miami, looks like a rough outing. On top of that, the Spartans will have to travel to face most of the tougher opponents on their 2021 schedule.
Don’t expect the Spartans to get back on track too soon. The recruiting might pick back up in a bit, but it hasn’t happened yet, meaning they are bit undermanned compared to some of the conference’s top teams. They seem like an under bet waiting to happen in 2021.
We hope that this article has you prepared for what’s to come in 2021 in the Big Ten conference. As you make your bets at top real money football gambling sites, both before the season on futures or over/unders and during it when individual games are played, use this as a resource. It should be an exciting Big Ten campaign, and let’s hope it’s a lucrative one for you.
Jim Beviglia joined Gamblingsites.org as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for GamblingSites.org and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog.
For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h ...
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