By Marc Lawrence ……2016 Big Ten Conference Football Betting Preview
Getting To Know You
All Big Ten teams will take part in a nine-game conference schedule for the first time since 1984. Teams from the East Division will host five conference home games during even-numbered years, while teams from the West Division will host five home games during odd-numbered years.
With nine conference games and the schedule rotation, every player will have the opportunity to play against every other team in the conference at least once during a four-year period.
Yea, We Can Play
The 2016 campaign will feature 31 All-Big Ten players (11 first-team, 12 second-team, 8 third-team) and 42 honorable mention selections from last season.
Ohio State had 10 picks in the 1st 3 rounds of the draft. The other 13 Big Ten schools combined for 13. Ohio State joins 2004 Miami as the only schools to have 5 players selected in the Top 20 of a single draft.
Ironically, Big Ten has not had a QB taken in the 1st round since Penn State’s Kerry Collins in 1995.
The Big Ten welcomes three new head coaches in Illinois’ Lovie Smith, Maryland’s DJ Durkin and Rutgers’ Chris Ash. Smith takes over at Illinois after serving as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons.
Five current Big Ten mentors have been college head coaches for 10 years or more – Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (20 seasons), Nebraska’s Mike Riley (15), Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (14), Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (12) and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (10).
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2016 PLAYBOOK College and Pro Football Preview Guide magazine, on sale now at newsstands nationwide. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2016 BIG TEN EAST PREVIEW
INDIANA Off – 8/3 Def – 8/1 57 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: WILSON’S WARPATH
It took Kevin Wilson five years but Indiana’s 7-year bowl drought ended last season. Like Tulsa, though, a high-powered offense wasn’t enough to overcome a porous defense as both schools gained over 500 YPG – but also surrendered over 500 YPG, and ended the season on the losing side of the ledger at 6-7. Wilson has assembled the highest-rated recruiting classes in school history over the past 4 seasons. The hard work on the recruiting trail has paid off as eight freshmen earned All-Big Ten freshman recognition in 2013, five in 2014 and three in 2015. QB Richard Lagow replaces Nate Sudfeld. Formerly at UConn and Oklahoma State, Lagow threw for 4,516 yards and 38 TDs in two JUCO seasons.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Wilson’s offenses have set 54 school records, including single-season points, total yardage, passing yardage and rushing yardage.
PLAY ON: vs. Michigan State (10/1)
MARYLAND Off – *7/3 Def – 5/2 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HEADS UP
Last year the Terrapins were a team that improved its stats on both sides of the ball, yet slipped from 7 wins to 3. Enter D.J. Durkin, former DC at Michigan, who takes the reins as a head coach for the first time in his career. Ironically, Durkin is the neophyte on this coaching staff with his top three assistants Pete Lembo, Mike London and Scott Shafer, each head coaches last year at Ball State, Virginia and Syracuse, respectively. Senior QBs Perry Hillis and Caleb Rowe need to do a better job protecting the football while all-Big Ten DB and KR William Likely is the first defensive player in Maryland history to surpass 3,000 all-purpose yards.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Terrapins had 29 passes intercepted last season – the most in the nation.
PLAY ON: at Michigan (11/5)
MICHIGAN Off – 8/4 Def – 6/3 52 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HAIL HARBAUGH
How big an impact did Jim Harbaugh actually have on Michigan’s 2015 season, you ask? Try doubling Michigan’s win total in one year, tossing three consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1980, and leading the nation in pass efficiency defense – all on the heels of having missed a bowl game for only the 3rd time since 1978. One potential problem is that Wolves’ seniors made a total of 186 starts last season, the 3rd most in the nation. They’re gone. So, too, is DC D.J. Durkin, now the head coach at Maryland. Fear not: UM faces a slate of teams that went only 57-86 ATS in 2015, and doesn’t meet a foe with a winning ATS mark until hosting Maryland in Game #9. Har-ball at its best!
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Former Wolverines head coach Lloyd Carr has been appointed to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
PLAY ON: at Michigan State (10/29)
MICHIGAN STATE Off – 3/2 Def – 6/3 53 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: WHO’S GONNA FILL THEIR SHOES?
A fortuitous band of Spartans won 7 one-possession games last season – the best in the nation. That’s not to take away from all they have accomplished of late: a school-record 9 consecutive bowl game appearances… ranked in the AP Poll for a school-record 41 consecutive weeks, including 32 weeks in the Top 10… the winningest senior classes in MSU football history… and on and on it goes. This year, though, they must get by without QB Connor Cook, the most successful signal-caller in MSU history… and a top-heavy group of seniors that made 152 starts (6th most in the nation) last season. Fifth-year senior QB Tyler O’Connor, who orchestrated the monumental upset at Ohio State last year, looks to fill his shoes.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Spartans are 26-10 (.722) in Big Ten road games under head coach Mark Dantonio, including a 20-4 record (.833) since 2010.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Ohio State (11/19)
OHIO STATE Off – *3/2 Def – 3/1 39 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: URBAN RENEWAL
Football fever has never been as high as it is today at Ohio State. Just ask any of the 100,189 fans in attendance at the Buckeyes’ SPRING GAME this past April. That’s simply amazing, especially considering Urban Meyer’s kids didn’t win the Big Ten title last season. They did, however, outscore conference foes over 20 PPG, the best in the league last year. You’ll be hard-pressed to find much of that talent on hand this season, though, as 12 players were selected in this year’s NFL draft – including a record 9 in the first three rounds. Now downgraded with the fewest amount of returning starters by any FBS team, Meyer’s recruiting prowess suddenly takes center stage.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buckeyes will face 10 teams this year that played in a bowl game last season.
PLAY AGAINST: As a favorite at Wisconsin (10/15)
PENN STATE Off – 9/4 Def – 5/1 41 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: MOOR HEAD THAN EVER
After navigating their way through scholarship reductions and wallowing two straight years in mediocrity under HC James Franklin (finishing second-to-last in the conference in offense), the Lions have decided it’s time to put an aggressive attack together. Enter new OC Joe Moorhead who, in 4 years at Fordham, led his charges to 3 FCS playoff appearances. Now touting a full allotment of 85 scholarship players, the Nits are ready to go toe-to-toe with the Big Ten’s big boys. “Forget about the past, we’re moving forward,” insists Moorhead. “We want to be the hammer and not the nail. We want to be the aggressor.” Batten down the hatches and expect PSU to react on the fly to a breakneck tempo.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Nittany Lions will face 8 bowl teams this season, 5 of who won 10 or more games last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Temple (9/17)
RUTGERS Off – *7/4 Def – 7/3 50 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: FROM ASHES TO ASH
You know your team is having a rough season when your head coach is levied a 3-game in-season suspension. As a result, former HC Kyle Flood is history and Chris Ash, former DC with Ohio State, is the new man in town. Ash will look to recondition the team by having it hit the gym and the weight room for extra sessions. After all, the Knights were outscored and outyarded by conference foes, -20.5 and -167 YPG, worst in the Big Ten last season. Now it’s on to a new era with sharp new uni’s. Having to tackle 9 teams that played in bowl games last season toughens the task, for sure. But having no back-to-back road games helps.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Knights rallied from 25 points down late in the 3rd quarter to defeat Indiana, 55-52, last season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Indiana (11/5)
2016 BIG TEN WEST PREVIEW
ILLINOIS Off – *7/3 Def – 4/3 38 Lettermen
Team Theme: LOVE IS IN THE AIR
It’s been said that a new coach’s best friend can be a veteran quarterback. If that’s the case, then 5th year senior QB Wes Lunt, who has spent his collegiate career dealing with change, and new HC Lovie Smith should bond like Gorilla glue. “I see the vision, and we’re going in the right direction with this staff,” said Lunt. Gone is Illinois’ no-huddle spread offense. Unfortunately, also gone is former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, WR Mike Dudek, with yet another ACL injury for the second straight year. Unlike Dudek, only one starter returns in the back 7 on defense. Leave it to Lovie, though. The Illini will be back – sooner than later.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Illini are 6-32 SU and 13-25 ATS in their last 38 Big Ten games, including 1-7 SU and 2-6 ATS as a favorite.
PLAY ON: vs. Minnesota (10/29) – *KEY
IOWA Off – *6/4 Def – 7/2 41 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: TIME TO FINISH
After setting a school record with 12 wins last season, the Hawkeyes were left salivating for more after dropping both of their final two games of the campaign (Iowa 1-9 SU in its final 2 games over last 5 years). Coming this-close to playing in the College Football Playoff (a last-second 3-point loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game sent them to the Rose Bowl instead), Iowa will turn again to SR QB C.J. Beathard (13-0 SU as a regular season starter) and his newest weapon, QB-to-WR convert Ryan Boyle, who dazzled this spring. The best news of all? DB Desmond King, the Jim Thorpe Award winner, consensus All-American and Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, returns for his senior season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hawkeyes’ Kirk Ferentz shares the distinction (with Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops) of being the longest tenured head football coach in the nation.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. Wisconsin (10/22)
MINNESOTA Off – *7/3 Def – 6/2 41 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: KILL THE DEAL
Jerry Kill is gone, and the Tracy Claeys era is underway. And with it, alterations have begun. Claeys gave the pink slip to Kill’s offensive coordinator/line coach and quarterbacks coaches. New OC Jay Johnson comes from UL-Lafayette where he ran a spread offense out of a pistol formation. It’s what you do when your offense ranks dead last in the conference in scoring and 2nd to last overall. Hence, the coaching staff is no longer the longest tenured in college football. It’s understandable that Claeys wants to create his own identity. Here’s hoping they begin winning games on the field (in the stats) as well as on the scoreboard. Then he can breathe easier.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Golden Gophers have been to seven bowl games since 2006. Until last year, they were outyarded in every season.
NEBRASKA Off – *8/2 Def – 7/1 51 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SILK SLIPPERS
You knew the winningest football program in America since 1975 (395 wins) was in trouble after last year’s loss to BYU snapped a nation-best skein of 29 straight season-opening victories. It was the first of FIVE one-possession losses for the hard-luck Huskers under 1st year head coach Mike Riley, who suffered a staggering 4 defeats on the last play of the game. Big Red managed to close the season by winning 3 of their final 4 games, while managing to slip past unbeaten and eventual Big Ten champion Michigan State. QB Tommy Armstrong returns with 33 career starts under his belt. He is the first player in NU history with two 3,000-yard total offense seasons. Beware of the silk.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskers have sold out 347 consecutive games at Memorial Stadium, dating back to the 1962 season.
PLAY ON: at Iowa (11/25) – *KEY as a dog
NORTHWESTERN Off – *7/5 Def – 6/2 57 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SIGN ‘O’ THE TIMES
Thank goodness the Wildcats won all 5 one-possession games (best in the nation) last season. After losing 5 contests the previous 3 seasons on the final play of the game, Northwestern hunkered down and took care of business last year, dominating defensively while doubling their win total from each of the previous two seasons. Led by 1st-team All-Big Ten sophomore LB Anthony Walker’s 122 tackles, including 20.5 for losses (2nd best in the nation), the Wildcats are now focused on becoming the best defense in the nation this season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald confirms the notion saying, “From my perspective, we’re much further along.” Unless the offense comes, it may not matter.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Northwestern and Kansas State are the only two FBS teams with the same 10 full-time assistant coaches the last four years.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Nebraska (9/24)
PURDUE Off – *8/3 Def – 8/3 47 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: FRY BABY
Rest assured, behind the Big Ten’s poorest recruiting classes over the last two years, HC Darrell Hazell is sitting on one red-hot chair. With a 2-22 SU mark in conference games – to go with a 1-13 SU log on the highway – even Johnny Cochran would have a difficult time defending Hazell’s follies. After being pressed to play 70 underclassmen in 2014 with a group that improved its offense 62 YPG and its defense 44 YPG, the forced infusion didn’t matter. And not having Ohio State and Michigan on the schedule for a 2nd straight season (and again this year) should have helped matters. Nada. Now this year, with the most returning starters in the Big Ten, will it matter?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Boilermakers are 0-7 SU in one-possession games versus FBS foes under Darrell Hazell.
PLAY AGAINST: at Nebraska (10/22)
WISCONSIN Off – 6/4 Def – 6/2 51 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HOLY CHRYST
Paul Chryst’s first year with the Badgers was a hallowed success. A 10-win season, albeit against the 2nd softest schedule in the Big Ten, was capped with a bowl win over USC. All that was lacking was a rushing attack and an anchor back, almost always a staple in the Wisconsin offense. Without those, the ground attack slipped a whopping 170 YPG. Unless addressed immediately, it could be a harbinger of degeneration this season. Nonetheless, thanks mainly to a stellar defensive effort, the Badgers outyarded conference foes by 108 YPG, the best in the Big Ten in 2015. Behind the top scoring defense in the land, the Badgers allowed the fewest plays per game defensively (60.8) in the nation last year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Wisconsin will face 9 opponents in their first nine games this year that participated in a bowl game last season.
PLAY ON: at Northwestern (11/5)
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc’s 2016 Big 12 Football Preview!