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2013 Outlook - Big Ten
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Skinny: Ohio State went unbeaten in Urban Meyer’s first season as head coach, but the Buckeyes were unable to go bowling or play in the Big Ten Championship due to the NCAA violations committed on Jim Tressel’s watch.

With nine starters returning on offense and four on defense, the Buckeyes are the clear-cut favorites in the Big Ten. In fact, they have the second-shortest odds to win the BCS Championship at 5Dimes (+800).

5Dimes has Ohio State as the -110 ‘chalk’ to win the Big Ten Championship Game. Meyer’s team has a season win total of 11.5 ‘under’ (-195, +155 for ‘over’ wagers).

Ohio State averaged 37.2 points per game last year and has all of its skill players back, including junior quarterback Braxton Miller. The Big Ten Player of the Year in 2012 rushed for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore. Also, Miller threw for 2,039 yards with a 15/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

The defense returns only four starters, but they are the top four tacklers from last season’s squad. Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, junior CB Bradley Roby and senior safety Christian Bryant are All-American candidates.

Remember, the Bucks won six one-possession games in 2012, including a pair of overtime victories. If they find themselves playing from behind this season, will Miller and the passing game be able to produce?

Michigan has the second-shortest odds to win the league at +500 (risk $100 to win $500). The Wolverines have a season win total of 9.5 (-165 for the ‘under,’ +125 for ‘over’ plays).

Brady Hoke’s squad returns 12 starters (6 offense & 6 defense) from last season’s team that finished 8-5 after dropping a 33-28 heartbreaker to South Carolina at the Outback Bowl.

With Denard Robinson out of the picture, the offense now belongs to junior QB Devin Gardner. He got plenty of action last year and was taking most of the snaps in the last few games of the season. Gardner completed 59.5% of his 126 throws for 1,219 yards with an 11/5 TD-INT ratio.

Gardner also rushed for seven TDs. His favorite target will be senior WR Jeremy Gallon, who had 49 receptions for 829 yards and four TDs in 2012.

Michigan’s defense allowed only 19.8 PPG last season. Hoke’s hope is that this unit will once again be led by linebacker Jake Ryan, who had a team-high 88 tackles last season. Ryan, who also had 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, tore his ACL in the first padded practice in the spring. His recovery has reportedly been going remarkably well and the Wolverines hope to have him ready by October.

Northwestern nearly went undefeated in 2012. The Wildcats finished 10-3, capping the campaign by blasting Mississippi State, 34-20 at the Gator Bowl. They allowed fourth-quarter leads to get away in all three losses – 39-28 at PSU, 29-28 vs. Nebraska and 38-31 at Michigan in overtime.

Pat Fitzgerald’s team returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Northwestern has the third-shortest odds to win the Big Ten at 5Dimes (+600). The Wildcats have a season win total of 8.5 (-140 for ‘under’ bets, +100 for the ‘over’).

Like South Carolina with Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, Northwestern has two QBs it can win with. Senior Kain Colter is the starter but he can also play at RB and WR when Trevor Siemian takes snaps under center.

Colter rushed for 894 yards and 12 TDs last season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He completed 101-of-149 passes (67.8%) for 872 yards with an 8/4 TD-INT ratio. Colter also had 16 receptions for 169 yards. Siemian connected on 128-of-218 throws for 1,312 yards with a 6/3 TD-INT ratio.

Senior Venric Mark might be the Big Ten’s best RB and is one of the nation’s elite special-teams players. Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 TDs while rushing for 6.0 YPC. He averaged 18.7 yards per punt return with a pair of TDs.

Northwestern’s defense gave up 22.5 PPG in 2012. The Wildcats return senior LB Damien Proby, who had a team-high 112 tackles last season. Also, senior DE Tyler Scott is back after recording nine sacks last year.

Nebraska has +700 odds (risk $100 to win $700) to win the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers have a season win total of 9.5 (-130 to the ‘over,’ -110 for ‘over’ bets) at 5Dimes.

Bo Pelini’s squad went 10-4 in his fifth season, but the year ended on a sour note. First, Nebraska got embarrassed in a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin at the Big Ten Championship Game. Next, the Cornhuskers dropped a 45-31 decision versus Georgia at the Capital One Bowl.

The boys in Lincoln returns eight starters on offense and four on defense. Senior QB Taylor Martinez is already the school’s all-time leading passer with 6,591 passing yards. The four-year starter will try to build on those numbers in 2013.

Martinez threw for 2,871 yards as a junior with a 23/12 TD-INT ratio. He also rushed for 1,019 yards and 10 TDs. Junior RB Ameer Abdullah rushed for a team-high 1,137 yards last year to garner second-team All Big Ten honors. Abdullah rushed for eight TDs while averaging 5.9 YPC.

Martinez will have the benefit of all three starting WRs returning, including his favorite target. Kenny Bell was that guy last season when he hauled in a team-high 50 receptions for 863 yards and eight TDs.

The concerns for Nebraska are not on the offensive side of the ball. Pelini has to get the defense straight after three consecutive declining years since giving up only 10.4 PPG in 2009. The ‘Huskers allowed 27.6 PPG last season and the five top tacklers from this unit are gone.

Unless Nebraska is a home ‘dog vs. UCLA in Week 3 (unlikely since the ‘Huskers are currently 6.5-point ‘chalk’ at 5Dimes), it will be favored in its first eight games. The year will be decided by a four-week stretch from Nov. 2 through Nov. 23 when they host Northwestern, face Michigan at The Big House, face Michigan State at home and then travel to Happy Valley to challenge Penn State.

Speaking of the Nittany Lions, they remain ineligible for the Big Ten title and the bowl season. Nevertheless, the school has to feel better about its future after watching Bill O’Brien field a feisty 8-4 squad that could’ve easily gone 10-2 in his first year.

PSU lost 17-16 at Virginia because its place kicker Sam Ficken had a day from hell in Charlottesville. To his credit, though, he put that nightmare behind him and made every field goal of consequence inside of 40 yards over the next 10 games.

Penn State got robbed of a crucial fourth-quarter TD and its backers suffered a horrendous beat in a 32-23 loss at Nebraska as an 8.5-point underdog. But the Lions managed to compile a 9-3 spread record nonetheless, including a 5-1 ATS mark in six spots as home favorites.

PSU brings back eight starters on offense and six on defense. Despite the massive NCAA penalties, O’Brien brought in a solid recruiting class, including a pair of five-star players in QB Christian Hackenberg and TE Adam Breneman.

Hackenberg could be the starter from Day 1. On that note, the PSU faithful will be happy to see he won’t have a true road game until October. The Lions play Syracuse in their opener at Giants Stadium before three straight home games.

Penn State returns its top seven pass catchers from last season, including first-team All Big Ten performer Allen Robinson. The junior WR had 77 catches for 1,013 yards and 11 TDs. Also, junior RB Zach Swinak is back after rushing for 1,000 yards and six TDs as a sophomore.

Penn State has a season win total of 8.5 (-195 for the ‘under,’ +155 for ‘over’ backers) at 5Dimes. We should mention that the Nittany Lions have just four true road assignments.

We have already covered three of the four legitimate contenders to win the Leaders Division. The fourth is Michigan State, which has +750 odds to win the league.

I’ve always said that teams like the 2012 Spartans, who got mediocre QB play all year, can steadily improve if mediocre QB play can be turned into quality production from the signal caller.

Senior QB Andrew Maxwell struggled mightily in his first season as a starter. He completed just 52.5 percent of his throws and had three interceptions returned for TDs. The result was an offense that averaged just a meager 20.0 PPG.

An improved offense will mostly be determined by Maxwell, but the Spartans are also in dire need of finding a replacement at running back. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 TDs in his final campaign with the Spartans. Junior Nick Hill and true freshman Gerald Holmes are the leading candidates to replace Bell.

Mark Dantonio’s squad returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. The ‘D’ will be led by first-team All Big Ten LB Max Bullough. The senior Butkus Award candidate had a team-high 111 stops last season to go with 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

Michigan State has a season win total of 8.5 (-130 to the ‘over,’ -110 for the ‘under’). The Spartans open with three straight home games before venturing into South Bend to face Notre Dame.

The biggest obstacle for Ohio State in the Leaders Division is Wisconsin, which has won three consecutive Big Ten titles. The Badgers only went 8-6 last year but they lost three games in overtime and each defeat came by seven points or less.

Wisconsin lost its head coach Bret Bielema to the SEC when he bolted for the Arkansas job. However, Barry Alvarez made a solid hire with his selection of Gary Andersen from Utah State as Andersen guided the Aggies to an 11-2 record both SU and ATS last year.

Wisconsin returns eight starters on offense and six on defense. Unlike last season, the QB situation appears to be settled with sophomore Joel Stave scheduled as the starter. Stave led the offense to an average of 34.2 PPG in his first five starts as a freshman. He completed 58.8 percent of his throws for 1,104 yards with a 6/3 TD-INT ratio.

The school’s second all-time leading rusher Montee Ball is off to the NFL, but Wisconsin looks stacked at the RB position. James White has been the nation’s best back-up RB for several years and is back for his senior campaign. White had 12 rushing TDs and a 6.4 YPC average as a junior.

But White might not even be the starter. Sophomore Melvin Gordon showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman when he rushed for 621 yards and three TDs. Gordon averaged an amazing 10.0 YPC.

Kirk Ferentz is the Dean of Big Ten head coaches as he enters his 15th season at Iowa, but his days could be numbered if the Hawkeyes don’t improve in 2013. They finished a disappointing 4-8 last season. The ‘Hawks bring back six starters on offense and seven on defense, but they must find a replacement for QB James Vandenberg.

Games to Watch:

1-Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 30) – Will this be the first of two meetings in as many weeks? Possibly. 5Dimes has the Buckeyes as five-point road favorites with an ‘over/under’ total of 50.5. The Buckeyes have won eight of the last nine meetings, but they lost a 40-34 decision in their last trip to Ann Arbor in 2011. Michigan has only been a home ‘dog once under Hoke, beating Notre Dame 35-31 two seasons ago.

2-Wisconsin at Ohio State (Sep. 28) – This game will almost certainly decide the Leaders Division before the calendar hits October. Both schools will be playing for the fifth time in as many weeks. Wisconsin will be looking to avenge a 21-14 home loss to the Buckeyes in overtime last season. The Buckeyes are 10-point home favorites at 5Dimes.

3- Michigan at Northwestern (Nov. 16) – Northwestern has an open date leading into this game, while Michigan will be coming off a 60-minute battle vs. Nebraska. This game will go a long way toward deciding the Legends loop. The Wildcats are currently two-point home ‘chalk.’

4- Nebraska at Penn State (Nov. 23) – PSU can play the spoiler role on Nebraska in this spot. After the controversial loss in Lincoln last season, this would be a sweet victory for the Nittany Lions in the next-to-last game. PSU has three fairly easy games leading into this spot – vs. Illinois, at Minnesota and vs. Purdue. On the flip side, Nebraska will be at the tail end of a four-game gauntlet that includes home games vs. Northwestern and Michigan State sandwiched between a trip to The Big House. 5Dimes has this game as a pick ‘em.

5- Ohio State at Northwestern (Oct. 5) – This might be the second toughest game of the year for Urban Meyer’s team. From a situational standpoint, the advantage goes to Northwestern since it has an opening date the previous week. Furthermore, Ohio St. will fall into a letdown spot after hosting Wisconsin the prior week. In 29 head-to-head meetings, Ohio State has only lost once to the Wildcats (2004). 5Dimes has the Bucks favored by seven (-115).

Fearless Predictions
(Championship Game - Ohio State over Northwestern)

2013 Win-Loss Projections
School Record Win Total (5Dimes) Bowl Projection
Leaders Division
Ohio State 11-2 11 ½ Rose vs. Stanford
Wisconsin 10-2 8 ½ Capital One vs. ACC #2
Penn State 9-3 8 ½ -
Indiana 5-7 5 ½ -
Purdue 3-9 5 ½ -
Illinois 3-9 3 ½ -
Legends Division
Northwestern 10-3 8 ½ Outback vs. Florida
Michigan 9-3 9 ½ Buffalo Wild Wings vs. Oklahoma
Nebraska 9-3 9 ½ Gator vs. LSU
Michigan State 8-4 8 ½  Texas vs. Kansas State
Iowa 5-7 5 ½ -
Minnesota 4-8 5 ½ -

Best Season Win Total: Northwestern ‘over’ 8.5 at even money.

Best Week 1 Bet: Take Northern Illinois +6 at Iowa.

Players to Watch:

1-Braxton Miller (QB, Ohio St.): According to, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has the second-shortest odds to win the Heisman (+500) behind only Johnny Manziel. The Buckeye faithful are hoping Miller can lead the team to a national title.

2-Venric Mark (RB, Northwestern): This Northwestern squad has a chance to be really good but that will only happen if Mark stays healthy and has a monster season.

3-Taylor Martinez (QB, Nebraska): If the defense doesn’t improve, Martinez and the offense are going to be on the hook for scoring a bunch of points against quality foes. He has 25/1 odds to win the Heisman at

4-Max Bullough: (LB, Michigan St.): The two-time All Big Ten performer will anchor a Spartans defense that didn’t get much help from the other side of the ball in 2012. If the Spartans are going to win the Legends, they will have to slow down high-octane offenses in back-to-back road assignments at Nebraska and at Northwestern in late November.

5-Melvin Gordon & James White (RBs, Wisconsin): This combo will have to replace Montee Ball. White is the steady veteran that has always produced, while Gordon is the speedster who can take it the house on any given touch.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- Michigan is only 1-4 against the spread in four road underdog spots during Brady Hoke’s tenure. The Wolverines might be road ‘dogs (or not?) in three games: at Penn St., at Michigan St. and at Northwestern. The Wildcats have an open date before facing Michigan, which will be coming off a 60-minute battle vs. Nebraska.

-- Michigan State went 0-6 ATS as a home favorite last year. The Spartans will be favored in every home game in 2013 with the only possible exception being a Nov. 2 showdown vs. in-state rival Michigan.

-- 5Dimes has the Spartans as 5.5-point underdogs at Notre Dame in Week 3. They are 8-6 ATS as road ‘dogs during Dantonio’s six previous seasons at the helm.

-- Wisconsin has a season win total of 8.5, so I like it ‘over.’ However, I won’t recommend it because of the expensive -210 cost to back the ‘over.’

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