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2014 Big Ten Predictions

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SEC · Pac-12 · Big-12 · ACC · Big Ten
Editor's Note: Don't miss out on college football winners this season from Brian Edwards on VegasInsider.com. Click to win!

Skinny:

Ohio State was the favorite to win the Big Ten until senior quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending shoulder injury less than two weeks before the season opener. Since then, Michigan State and Wisconsin have been tabbed as the +240 co-favorites at Sportsbook.ag.

Ohio State now has 3/1 odds to win the conference. Urban Meyer's team saw its future odds to win the national title move from 10/1 to 40/1. Some shops previously had them at 11/1 or 12/1 and there are books currently showing the Buckeyes at 50/1.

At least in terms of its Week 1 opener, oddsmakers have determined that Miller is a six-point difference maker in the line. Ohio State was favored by 17.5 vs. Navy (in Baltimore), and that number moved all the way down to 12. However, it's back up to 14 and even 14.5 at a few shops.

Kenny Guiton filled in remarkably well when Miller was injured last season, throwing 14 touchdowns passes compared to only two interceptions. But Meyer can't turn to a senior this time around. Instead, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has been named the starter. Barrett sustained a season-ending injury in his senior year of high school, so he'll be seeing his first game action since early October of 2012 when he takes his first collegiate snap against the Midshipmen.

The loss of Miller, who was the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year in 2013, also prompted an adjustment in the team's season win total. That number has gone from 10.5 (with an expensive price to take the 'over') to 10 shaded to the 'under' at a -160 price tag.

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After winning the first 24 games of Meyer's tenure, Ohio State followed up the loss to Michigan St. with an Orange Bowl defeat against Clemson. From that team that finished 12-2 straight up and 7-7 against the spread, the Buckeyes bring back four starters on offense and seven on defense.

Even without Miller, gamblers can't count Ohio St. out as a contender because of its super-soft schedule. The Bucks don't face any of the top four teams (Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern) from the West Division, and they get their toughest non-conference test at home against Va. Tech.

Michigan State went 13-1 SU and 10-4 ATS in 2013, posting a third double-digit win season in the last four years. The Spartans return seven starters on offense and five on defense.

The only blemish on Sparty's record last season was a 17-13 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend. After beating Ohio State, Mark Dantonio's team made another statement by taking out Stanford 24-20 as a 6.5-point underdog at the Rose Bowl.

Junior QB Connor Cook rapidly improved as he got more playing time last year, and there's no reason to think he won't have another big season. Cook threw for 2,755 yards with a stellar 22/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Cook has one of the Big Ten's top running backs in Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 TDs while averaging 4.9 yards per carry last season.

Sparty's defense was absolutely nasty last year, surrendering just 13.2 points per game. This until held six opponents to six points or less. Junior DE Shilique Calhoun returns after earning third-team All-American honors thanks to 7.5 sacks, 18 QB hurries and one interception. Free safety Kurtis Drummond (91 tackles, four interceptions) and cornerback Trae Waynes (50 tackles, three INTs) give the MSU 'D' three legit All-American candidates.

After winning 11 games in his first year on campus, Brady Hoke has won just 15 games combined in the last two seasons. This development makes it a crucial campaign in Ann Arbor, where 7-6 ledgers (like LY - both SU and ATS) are unacceptable.

Michigan brings back seven starters on offense and eight on defense. The most important returnee is QB Devin Gardner, who had 11 rushing scores and a 21/11 TD-INT ratio.

The schedule has four daunting road assignments, including division games at Ohio St. and Michigan St. (at Notre Dame and at Northwestern are the others). In addition, Michigan hosts Appalachian St. and Utah, both of whom have come to The Big House and come away with victories recently.

Maryland is off a 7-6 season both SU and ATS in the ACC, but we have to note that its two best players (WRs Stefon Diggs and Deon Long) were lost in October to season-ending injuries. Also, QB C.J. Brown missed a pair of games after sustaining a concussion in a blowout loss at FSU.

This trio is back and that alone gives Randy Edsall's team hope, as it takes a slight step up in class by switching conferences. Brown rushed for 12 TDs and produced a 13/7 TD-INT ratio, while Diggs had 34 catches for 587 yards and four TDs in the seven games prior to tearing his ACL. Long had 32 receptions for 489 yards and one TD.

The Terps get a tough draw from the other division with a home game vs. Iowa and a brutal trip to Camp Randall to face Wisconsin. Even the non-conference slate is challenging with a pair of road games at South Florida (in Tampa's mid-September heat) and at Syracuse. They also play at Michigan in the frigid conditions of late November.

Maryland returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense. The Terps have a win total of 6.5 ('under' -130, even money for the 'over'). They have 33/1 odds to win the Big Ten.

Penn State lost Bill O'Brien after he gave the school two solid years (15-9 SU, 14-10 ATS) under tumultuous circumstance. Considering the fact that PSU was always going to have to worry about him bolting to the NFL, it is probably better off in the long run with new coach James Franklin, who is almost certainly in for the long haul and is a spectacular coach.

Seriously, does anyone think that the game's greatest like Meyer, Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier could've won more game than Franklin did at Vanderbilt the last three years? The Commodores had been to one bowl game since 1982 before Franklin arrived as a relative unknown.

On Franklin's watch, Vandy went to three consecutive bowl games, won 18 combined games in 2012 and 2013 and became a shocking force on the recruiting trail. Speaking of recruiting, Franklin is killing it for Penn St., which is currently in the top five of every publication's team rankings for the 2015 class.

PSU brings back five starters on offense and seven on defense. Most important, sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg returns after a banner freshman campaign. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with a 20/10 TD-INT ratio. Although Allen Robinson (97 catches for 1,432 yards) is off to the NFL, Hackenburg probably has the country's best trio of tight ends, and three of the top four recruits in this year's freshman class are WRs.

Hackenburg has a pair of quality RBs in Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton. Zwinak rushed for 989 yards and 12 TDs in 2013, while Belton had 803 rushing yards and five TDs.

Penn State should be favored in four of its first five games (it is currently a short 'dog for the opener vs. UCF in Dublin, Ireland), and it then gets an open date before an Oct. 11 trip to The Big House. Next, another off week precedes a monster home game vs. Ohio St.

In the fourth season of Kevin Wilson's tenure, Indiana has an excellent chance to get to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. The Hoosiers return eight starters from an offense that averaged 38.4 PPG. They have nine starters back on defense from a team that finished 5-7 both SU and ATS.

With Tre Roberson transferring, QB Nate Sudfeld will get all the snaps. The junior has a career 28/10 TD-INT ratio. Sudfeld lost his favorite target Cody Latimer to the NFL, but he has one of the Big Ten's best RBs to lean on. Tevin Coleman rushed for 958 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 7.3 YPC last year.

Senior WR Shane Wynn is poised for a monster year after hauling in 46 catches for 633 yards and a team-high 11 TDs in 2013. The Hoosiers are looking for an instant impact from its top recruit in freshman WR Dominique Booth.

The defense has been horrible under Wilson, allowing an average of more than 35 PPG each season. The hope is that former Wake Forest DC Brian Knoor can help this unit improve on its abysmal 38.8 PPG average from last season.

Rutgers joins Maryland as new members of the Big Ten, giving the league a presence in huge metropolitan areas of Washington D.C. and New York City. RU has gone bowling in both seasons under Kyle Flood, but a 6-7 SU record last year and the presence of former coach Greg Schiano on the free-agent market makes this a crucial campaign for Flood.

Rutgers has nine starters back on offense and seven on defense. QB Gary Nova enters his senior season with 28 career starts under his belt. Nova had an 18/14 TD-INT ratio last year and for his career, those numbers are 51/39.

Paul James was one of the nation's leading rushers before getting injured last October. Although James missed four games, he still ran for a team-high 881 yards and nine TDs while averaging 5.6 YPC. The Scarlet Knights have experienced depth behind him with Justin Goodwin and Savon Huggins, who is 'doubtful' for opener at Washington St. due to a shoulder injury.

Junior WR Tyler Kroft was a first-team All-AAC selection after making 43 catches for 573 yards and four TDs. RU has experience at this position as well, but we should note that Ruhann Peele (28 catches, 281 yards) is 'doubtful' at Wazzu with an upper-body ailment. Junior WR Leonte Carroo had a team-high nine TD catches last year.

Since 2006, RU owns a 17-8 spread record as a road underdog. The Scarlet Knights will face at least five such spots this season and possibly a sixth (at Navy). The schedule isn't doing any favors for Flood's chances of being back in 2015.

Wisconsin went 9-4 both SU and ATS in its first season under Gary Andersen, who replaced Bret Beilema after a nice run at Utah St. This space has always been a big fan of Andersen, but that won't prevent us from taking more shots at him for completely blowing last season's game at Arizona St. with an atrocious clock-management decision.

UW brings back seven starters on offense and three on defense. Nearly the entire front seven from the 'D' has to be replaced, which doesn't bode well for the season opener against an LSU team that has an excellent o-line and terrific trio of running backs.

Andersen announced a shocker last week when he named Tanner McEvoy as the starting QB over Joel Stave, who started all 13 games last year and six as a freshman in 2012. McEvoy made 27 tackles and had an interception as a safety last season. He suits Andersen's offense better because of his mobility (think Chuckie Keeton at Utah St.).

Junior RB Melvin Gordon is a legit Heisman candidate who had 1,609 rushing yards and 12 TDs last year. Gordon averaged 7.8 YPC en route to earning fourth-team All-American honors. The Badgers are hurting at the WR position after losing their top four pass catchers, including Jared Abbrederis, the school's second all-time leading receiver.

Wisconsin doesn't have to play Michigan St. or Ohio St. from the other division, but it has to face West rivals Iowa and Northwestern on the road. Nevertheless, the Badgers are the team to beat in the Big Ten West.

Iowa has one of the easiest schedules you'll ever see for a team from a Big Five conference. The Hawkeyes only play one team (Wisconsin) that's certain to be ranked and it gets to face the West's best (Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska) at home . They might be favored in their first 10 games unless they are 'dogs at Maryland or at Minnesota.

Kirk Ferentz's squad finished 8-5 both SU and ATS in 2013, dropping a 21-14 decision to LSU at the Outback Bowl. Iowa brings back eight starters on offense and five on defense.

Junior QB Jake Rudock should be improved as a fourth-year junior after making his first 13 career starts as a sophomore. Rudock had an 18/13 TD-INT ratio and has nearly off all of his skill players back, in addition to OT Brandon Scherff, a second-team All-American choice last season.

RB Mark Weisman returns after rushing for 975 yards and eight TDs to earn third-team All Big-Ten honors. The Hawks are deep in the backfield with three back-ups that combined to rush for more than 1,000 yards.

If Iowa can win at Pitt and at Maryland, it's going to be a big year in Iowa City.

Northwestern couldn't buy a break last year, losing four one-possession games and it should've been five actually. The fifth was perhaps the biggest ATS heartbreaker in college football history when the Wildcats lost 40-30 as 6.5-point home underdogs to Ohio St. They were literally ahead of the number for every second of the 60-minute game, but on the final play a series of laterals resulted in a crazy deflection that sent the ball backwards about 20 yards into the end zone where the Buckeyes recovered for a TD.

Pat Fitzgerald's team went 10-3 SU and 11-1-1 ATS just two years ago. It won its first four games in 2013 and led Ohio St. outright for most of the first three quarters. But a crucial interception deep in its own territory and a terrible spot by an official on a fourth-and-inches play in the second half proved to be too much to overcome.

With a 4-1 record, Northwestern lost star RB and special-teams ace Venric Mark to a season-ending injury. Things unraveled from there with the Wildcats losing in overtime at Iowa and in triple OT vs. Michigan. Between those OT setbacks, they lost at Nebraska on a Hail Mary as time expired.

Northwestern returns eight starters on both offense and defense, but bad luck has already struck again here in August. Mark was issued a two-game suspension and then decided to transfer to West Texas A&M. Within 24 hours of that news coming out, WR Christian Jones tore his ACL and was lost for the year. Jones was coming off a 54-reception campaign for a team-best 668 yards and four TDs.

There are still reasons for optimism, however. The defense has several candidates for All Big Ten honors, including safety Ibraheim Campbell, LB Chi Chi Ariguzo (106 tackles, 4 interceptions and two sacks), DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (5.5 sacks) and DE Dean Lowry (4.5 sacks and two INTs).

The 'Cats have only missed the postseason twice in Fitzgerald's first eight seasons, and they'll almost certainly be bowling again this year. They get Wisconsin and Nebraska at home and also have an open date ahead of a key road game at Iowa.

Nebraska has won at least nine games in Bo Pelini's first six seasons, yet the coach's mercurial and explosive personality seem to consistently keep him teetering close to hot-seat status. The Cornhuskers went out in style with a 24-19 win over Georgia at the Gator Bowl, avenging a postseason loss to the Bulldogs from the previous year.

Nebraska returns five starters on both sides of the ball. Injuries in August have taken a toll on the defense. LB Michael Rose is out for the year after recording 66 tackles (six for losses) as a redshirt freshman. Valuable reserves LeRoy Alexander (34 tackles, 1 INT) and Aaron Curry (26 tackles, two sacks) are also out for the season.

The good news in Lincoln is that the three best players on the roster are back. Junior DE Randy Gregory earned first-team All Big Ten honors in 2013 thanks to 66 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 18 QB hurries. RB Ameer Abdullah rushed for 1,690 yards and nine TDs and also had 26 catches and a pair of TD grabs. WR Kenny Bell had 52 receptions for 577 yards and four TDs.

QB Tommy Armstrong could be the most important player, though. He made eight starts as a redshirt freshman, so his average numbers will most likely improve. Armstrong completed just 51.9 percent of his throws with a 9/8 TD-INT ratio.

The schedule featured a pair of challenging non-conference contests. In Week 3, Nebraska has to go West and face Fresno St. on the road. Next, the Cornhuskers play host to Miami. They have four tough road assignments at Michigan St., Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Minnesota is off its best season in a more than a decade, going 8-5 SU and 9-4 ATS. The year ended on a down note, though, as the Gophers lost a 21-17 decision to Syracuse as 4.5-point favorites at the Texas Bowl.

Jerry Kill's team returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. The catalyst will be senior RB David Cobb, who was third-team All Big Ten selection after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven TDs. After starting four games as a freshman, Mitch Leidner will be the starting QB. Leidner rushed for 407 yards and seven TDs, while also throwing for 619 yards with a 3/1 TD-INT ratio.

The 'D' is led by junior DE Theiren Cockran, who had seven sacks and earned second-team All Big Ten honors as a sophomore. The Gophers should be solid on defense again, losing just four starters from a unit that allowed only 22.2 PPG.

Illinois and Purdue are going to struggle mightily again in 2014. The Illini have won just six games in two seasons under Tim Beckman, who is on the hot seat after a 4-8 campaign. Beckman's squad returns six starters on offense and eight on defense.

Purdue went 1-11 SU and 4-8 ATS in its first season with Darrell Hazell on the sidelines. The Boilermakers bring back eight starters on offense and seven on defense.

Fearless Predictions

2014 Win-Loss Projections
School Record Win Total (5Dimes) Bowl Projection
East Division
Michigan State 12-1 9 College Football Playoff #3 vs. #2 Oklahoma
Ohio State 10-2 10 Fiesta Bowl vs. UCLA
Penn State 9-3 7.5 N/A
Michigan 8-4 7.5 Holiday Bowl vs. Michigan
Maryland 6-6 6.5 Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. TBD
Indiana 6-6 5.5 Detroit Bowl vs. TBD
Rutgers 3-9 4.5 N/A
West Division
Wisconsin 10-3 9.5 Peach Bowl vs. Georgia
Iowa 9-3 8 Capital One vs. Ole Miss
Nebraska 8-4 8 Outback Bowl vs. Nebraska
Northwestern 7-5 7.5 Fight Hunger Bowl vs. Oregon St.
Minnesota 7-5 6.5 Pinstripe vs. Miami
Illinois 4-8 4.5 N/A
Purdue 3-9 3.5 N/A


**Players to Watch**

1. Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin RB) - He can take it to the house on any given touch and he's got a strong offensive line in front of him.

2. Connor Cook (Michigan St. QB) - Cook improved with every start last year. He still has talent galore around him and a nasty defense.

3. Stefon Diggs (Maryland WR) - A recent video that went viral proved that he's 100 percent recovered from a torn ACL. I expect him to have another big year and then be a first-round pick next spring.

4. J.T. Barrett (Ohio St. QB) - Barrett was ranked as the 11th-best dual-threat QB coming out of high school in the 2013 class. Although he hasn't seen game action since early October of 2012, Barrett has clearly earned the confidence of his head coach. We'll see what he can do.

5. Devin Gardner (Michigan QB) - Like a hot 3-point shooter in basketball, Gardner can get you a nice lead with his explosive plays but, by the same token, he can allow opponents back in games with his inconsistency and propensity for turnovers. He must cut down on his interceptions for Michigan to thrive and Hoke to keep his job.

**Games to Watch**

1. Ohio St. at Michigan St. - Big revenge game for the Buckeyes, who suffered their first loss on Meyer's watch when Sparty took it to them in a 34-24 win as a five-point underdog at the Big Ten Championship Game. These teams are in the same division now and this showdown in East Lansing will go a long way towards deciding who plays for the conference title.

2. Wisconsin at Iowa - The guess here is that this game will determine the Big Ten West. Last year's game in Iowa City had a very misleading final, with Wisconsin prevailing by a 28-9 count. But the Hawkeyes led 6-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, and they should've easily been ahead by double digits at that point. The Badgers pulled away by extending a 14-9 fourth-quarter lead thanks to a pair of Iowa turnovers deep in its own territory.

3. Michigan St. at Penn State - PSU can play the spoiler role as a home underdog in its regular-season finale. Something tells me James Franklin will have the Nittany Lions fired up for this one.

4. Michigan at Ohio State - If Hoke's job security is in question, he can undoubtedly retain his job by orchestrating a win at The 'Shoe.

5. Ohio State at Maryland - Can C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long make enough big plays to orchestrate a major upset as a home underdog?

  
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