When the 14 Big Ten presidents voted 11-3 to postpone the season in mid-August due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked like the season was in serious jeopardy. A month later, the presidents unanimously voted to resume the season with a nine-week all-conference schedule. Eight regular-season games will be played followed by a new Championship Week format. The teams from the East will play the teams from the West who finished in the same place in their division in Week 9. So, Big Ten is back with a bang, and BetUS Big Ten College Football preview ready for you.
The Week 1 slate features Nebraska at Ohio State, Michigan at Minnesota, and Penn State at Indiana, which is coming off of a surprise eight-win season. Ohio State has won the conference three years running, but could the shortened season mean a new Big Ten champion?
Big Ten College Football Preview: Teams That Will Surprise
Big Ten Conference Odds: +2200
It was a tumultuous offseason for Iowa football. Longtime head coach Kirk Ferentz’s program was accused of racial discrimination and a lawsuit was filed by former players. In the wake of the news, Iowa dismissed strength coach Chris Doyle in June. Things stayed quiet until a few days ago when eight former black players demanded the removal of Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and AD Gary Barta. Kirk Ferentz responded to the letter, stating that substantive changes had been made in the offseason and his focus remains on the upcoming season. A culture is certainly hard to change overnight and it remains to be seen whether this ongoing story will affect the commitment and performance of the team.
But from a talent standpoint, this Hawkeyes team has the potential to win a wide-open Big Ten West. They went 10-3 last season and had the fifth-best scoring defense in the country, only allowing 14 points per game. Iowa is returning its top four receivers from 2019 and has a solid offensive line. Sophomore running back Tyler Goodson became the first true freshman to lead the Hawkeyes in rushing yards. A lot rests on the shoulders of sophomore QB Spencer Petras. But, the Hawkeyes have three winnable games to start the season, which should give them momentum. The next three-game stretch, in which they play Minnesota, Penn State, and Nebraska will define their season. It’s possible they may only need to win one of these games if they’re able to defeat the Badgers. They are scheduled to play in Iowa City in Week 8.
Their two biggest competitors in the division are Wisconsin, a perennial Big Ten contender, and Minnesota, who is coming off of an 11-2 season. Both teams have tough stretches of schedule which should open the door for Iowa to have a chance to make the conference championship game.
Big Ten Conference Odds: +30000
Last season’s 3-9 finish was anomalous for a program that went 36-17 in the previous four seasons and won the Big Ten West in 2018. The Wildcats didn’t take their performance in the 2019 season lightly. They fired longtime offensive coordinator Mick McCall and brought on former Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB coach and Boston College offensive coordinator, Mike Bajakian.
To shore up a shaky quarterback situation, Northwestern brought on graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey from Indiana. Ramsey started 23 games over the past two years and led the Hoosiers to their best season in 26 years. Junior running back Isaiah Bowser will give the offense a boost after only playing in five games last year. Landing the No. 4 center nationally in Peter Skoronski should immediately improve an already solid offensive line and the defense will return All-Big Ten selections Paddy Fisher (LB), JR. Pace (S), and Travis Whillock (S). Five of the Wildcats’ eight games before Championship Week will come against opponents with losing Big Ten records last year. Expect a much-improved Northwestern team in 2020.
Team That Will Disappoint
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Big Ten Conference Odds: +2200
P.J. Fleck’s third season as Head Coach of Minnesota yielded the most wins in one season for the Gophers since 1904. It was a historic 11-2 season capped off by an Outback Bowl win against 9 Auburn. It’ll be hard to recreate the success of last season in this shortened Big Ten schedule. As good as last season was, the teams the Gophers defeated in the Big Ten had a combined 19-44 record in Big Ten games. They’ll have a much tougher go of things this time around. The Gophers have to travel to Ann Arbor to play Michigan in Week 1 of the Big Ten season. It’s also been reported that multiple players will be unavailable for their game against the Wolverines due to Covid-19. The Gophers are also playing Wisconsin in Madison, Nebraska in Lincoln, and an Iowa team they lost to last year.
Quarterback Tanner Morgan led one of the best offenses in the Big Ten last year. He’ll be back along with WR Rashod Bateman, who initially opted out of the season. A defense that was 10th in total defense last season will be significantly altered, which might cause some problems. Four of their defensive starters were drafted last year and nine of their top twelve tacklers are gone. Expectations are high for this Gophers team but they should be tempered.
Ohio State currently has the third-best odds to win the NCAAF Championship in the sportsbook and it once again has a team that will be absolutely loaded with talent. The Buckeyes have beaten rivals Michigan eight years in a row. The Buckeyes have won the Big Ten three years in a row. The conference is theirs to lose, and their interdivisional schedule is favorable, as they drew Nebraska and Illinois. They’ll likely be playing for a conference championship game bid in Week 2. They’ll travel to State College to play Penn State. Despite this tough early-season matchup against an elite team and an unprecedented season, I wouldn’t bet against Ohio State taking the Big Ten title once again.
Prediction: Ohio State Buckeyes wins Big Ten