Each week for the 2016 season, I will inspect and break down the betting lines for each Big Ten game. Though we at Maize n Brew do not condone or encourage betting in any illegal manner, I will offer my picks as well to provide even more information as to what I expect will happen each weekend. Last season, Alex Kolodziej was our resident Vegas expert, tallying a 62-53 record (53.9%) against the spread. Alex left Maize n Brew to join the FanRag Sports Network, so I have inherited the title. Now it’s time to earn it.
On that note, let’s kick off 2016 with a bang. Here are the Week 1 Big Ten lines:
Byes/FCS Opponents: Illinois; Maryland; #12 Michigan State; Purdue
Indiana at Florida International
Line: Indiana -9; O/U: 61
Indiana is the #CHAOSTEAM. They were last season, and they should be again this season. Despite the loss of their top option at quarterback (Nate Sudfeld), running back (Jordan Howard), and offensive line (Jason Spriggs), the Hoosiers should field another potent offense (29th via S&P+). However, a #CHAOSTEAM with an explosive offense usually comes with a disastrous defense (93rd via S&P+), which, in turn, leads to points. Lots of them. When Indiana was a road favorite in 2014 and 2015, the over hit all four times. And, to add the cherry on top, the over has hit each of the last five times and six of the last seven times that Florida International was a home underdog.
Pick: Over 61
Oregon State at Minnesota
Line: Minnesota -13; O/U: 55.5
Minnesota may return what Todd McShay believes is a first-round quarterback in Mitch Leidner, which transformed me into J. Jonah Jameson, but the Gophers struggled to put points on the scoreboard last season. They were 106th in points per game, and, of their six wins, they outscored their opponent by double digits only once (41-13 vs. Purdue). Then, to add injury to the mix, Minnesota’s leading rusher, Shannon Brooks, is expected to miss at the opener with a foot injury. These nuggets suggest that the Gophers may be unlikely to cover a 13-point spread on Thursday night. However, Oregon State is bad. So bad that, in the past two seasons, the Beavers are 0-9 in games in which they are a road underdog, losing all nine by double digits and an average of 22.7 points per game. They did cover the spread in two of those games, but they were 26.5- and 34-point underdogs in those. Minnesota doesn’t have such a hurdle to climb.
Pick: Minnesota -13
Western Michigan at Northwestern
Line: Northwestern -5; O/U: 52
This is a much more intriguing matchup than a 10-3 Big Ten team versus an 8-5 MAC team would suggest. The advanced metrics viewed the Wildcats as an average team that converted some luck into a double-digit win season. The expectation is that Northwestern will take a step back in the win department, and it could happen in Week 1 with the Wildcats only a five-point home favorite against Western Michigan. What makes this matchup so intriguing is that it will be strength versus strength. Northwestern had an excellent pass defense in 2015 (9th via S&P+) and returns three of its five regulars in the secondary, while Western Michigan brings back Zach Terrell (67.0 cmp%, 3,526 yards, 8.0 YPA, 29 TD, 9 INT) and future first-round receiver Corey Davis (91 rec., 1,446 yards, 12 TD) from the 16th-best passing offense via S&P+. The edge goes to Northwestern because the Broncos weren’t near as sharp through the air against higher-caliber opponents and the Wildcats’ offense with a sophomore Clayton Thorson and junior Justin Jackson should do enough to beat a bad Broncos’ defense (106th via S&P+). Sorry, P.J. Fleck, but the boat will be taking on some water Week 1.
Pick: Northwestern -5
Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State
Line: Ohio State -27.5; O/U: 63.5
Ohio State is used to being a monstrous home favorite. In the last nine home games in which they were a favorite, the Buckeyes were favored by at least two touchdowns in all of them and more than 30 points (!) five times. With spreads that large, it should not be too surprising that the Buckeyes covered only once (2015 Penn State). So they are 1-8 in their last nine games as a home favorite. And now, despite being 127th out of 128 FBS teams in returning production, Ohio State is a 27.5-point home favorite against Bowling Green, the reigning MAC champion who is undergoing a massive transition of its own. Nonetheless, S&P+ projects that the Falcons will lose by only 16.5 points. That is a significant margin between the Vegas spread, and, given that Ohio State will be unwrapping many new toys, they likely will need to work out the kinks.
Pick: Bowling Green +27.5
Rutgers at #14 Washington
Line: Washington -26.5; O/U: 55
Last year, Washington outscored its six opponents that were ranked outside the top 50 by an average of 34 points per game. Rutgers has lost its last four road games against top-25 teams by at least 33 points. I hope that Chris Ash scheduled some nice Seattle tourist attractions for his team to visit. That likely would be the best part of its trip.
Pick: Washington -26.5
#5 LSU vs. Wisconsin
Line: LSU -10; O/U: 44.5
I hope you haven’t placed a bet that a Badger or Tiger will do a Lambeau Leap after a touchdown on Saturday. That’s because it might draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, so the coaches should be discouraging their players about it all week. But, even moreso, there likely will not be many touchdowns in this game. LSU’s strength offensively is on the ground (7th via S&P+ in 2015), but Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette may still be gimpy after spraining his ankle and Wisconsin returns its top three tacklers on the defensive line and five of its top six linebackers to a run defense that was 13th. On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin’s rushing attack vanished (97th) and, even with Corey Clement healthy, it’s difficult to imagine the Badgers’ offense bouncing back against a fierce LSU defense guided by former UW DC Dave Aranda.
Pick: Under 44.5
Kent State at Penn State
Line: Penn State -21.5; O/U: 45
Even with weapons at the skill positions (Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders, Chris Godwin), Penn State will be testing out its new uptempo offensive scheme under Joe Moorhead and breaking in a new quarterback (Trace McSorley). There is likely to be a few hiccups in the Nittany Lions’ first live run, especially since Kent State returns almost all of their starters from a defense that was 29th in S&P+ last season. Though the Golden Flashes were much better defending the pass than the run, so it should be in Penn State’s best interest to feed Barkley over and over again. Conversely, Kent State’s offense was abysmal in 2015, ranking dead last out of 128 FBS team, and even though Penn State must replace their three most productive defensive linemen, they should smash Kent State’s offense. Add in that the under was 5-1 in Penn State’s six games as a home favorite in 2015 and that the under was 5-1 in Kent State’s six games as a road underdog in 2015, and this Week 1 game is shaping up to be a low-scoring snoozefest.
Pick: Under 45
Miami (OH) at #17 Iowa
Line: Iowa -27.5; O/U: 51.5
Iowa opened 2015 with 12 straight wins, but the Hawkeyes were not in the business of beating up on teams. Most of their wins were close, and they truly dominated only two teams on the scoreboard (North Texas by 46 and Northwestern by 30). Further, in recent years under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa seems to have had slower starts out of the gates — at least offensively — because the over has hit just twice in an Iowa home opener since 2005. Plus, Miami (OH) is projected to have only the 118th-best offense in 2016. This seems like the type of game that Ferentz’s Hawkeyes win in conservative fashion.
Pick: Under 51.5
Fresno State at Nebraska
Line: Nebraska -28.5; O/U: 62
I stared at this line for too long and could not make a decision. The recent trends indicate that the over might be the play. The over was 3-1 in Nebraska’s four games as a home favorite in 2015 and 5-1 in Fresno State’s six games as a road underdog. However, I do not think I can trust Tommy Armstrong, Jr. or Fresno State’s offense, which was 110th last season and has a huge question mark at quarterback and running back, to rack up those points. So I’ll take the four touchdowns and see what happens.
Pick: Fresno State +28.5
Hawaii at #7 Michigan
Line: Michigan -40.5; O/U: 54.5
According to OddsShark, this is the second-largest spread in Michigan’s favor this millennium, with only Michigan’s -45.5 line over UMass in 2012 besting it. There is little question that Michigan will win this game and win it by lots of points. However, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines had a tendency to take their foot off the pedal once they had built a large lead last season. A 21-0 halftime lead against UNLV ended 28-7. A 28-0 halftime lead against BYU ended 31-0. A 28-0 halftime lead against Northwestern ended 38-0. A 35-16 halftime lead against Rutgers ended 49-16. And not once did Michigan win a game by more than 40. Hawaii’s defensive line should be overmatched, so Michigan likely will feed its running backs to move the chains and keep the pressure off its new quarterback. This will limit mistakes but also limit possessions. And, as a result, the Wolverines will cruise to a big win but not big enough to cover the spread.
Pick: Hawaii +40.5